RODEO AND JULIET (2015) WITH SUPER SPECIAL GUEST POST!!!

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Elizabeth

It’s hard to say what the biggest problem with Rodeo and Juliet is. Is it the immediate comparison to Romeo and Juliet, which it kind of follows and then gives up on? Is it the fact that you never get a clear understanding of the main characters’ ages? Is it that all of the main characters are distractingly ugly?

When we first meet Juliet, she is eating pizza (teenager?) and video chatting with her girlfriends (teenager?) and complaining about being forced to spend Christmas break (teenager? college?) with her mom. It’s also difficult to gauge Juliet’s age under the 10 pounds of makeup she constantly wears:

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Juliet’s mother, Karen, doesn’t make it easier to determine age. She dresses like a teenager but looks like she’s had some kind of work done to her face.

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Karen’s father, whom Juliet has never met, has just died and Karen is taking Juliet to Louisiana to collect her inheritance, mainly the “ranch” that Karen’s father worked so hard on it killed him. I’m from Louisiana, too, and found it hard to imagine exactly what kind of ranch they were talking about. All we ended up seeing was a house on a biggish piece of land and one horse. It doesn’t look or sound like a ranch but it was apparently enough of a ranch for Karen’s former love, Hugh, and his nephew, Monty, to work on apparently full-time. Hugh is mentioned a few times before we meet him, and I didn’t know what to expect. Some overly-rugged overly-handsome dude.

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That’s the dude causing all this inner-turmoil in Karen? And she lives in New York now? Uhh, well he apparently wasn’t worth even breaking up with when they were previously ENGAGED, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s not worth it (for both of them, really). Then at a “barn dance” Juliet meets Hugh’s nephew, Monty. Monty looks like a cartoon character and Juliet dresses overly sexy for . . . a . . . teenager? College student? Hmm . . .

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Karen finds out that Juliet and Monty have met and freaks out and forbids Juliet from seeing Monty again. Okay, so at this point JULIET meets a boy and his uncle whom when their names are together make MontyHugh which is a fucked up version of Montague, at a party and his forbidden to see him. INTERESTING! But she also meets a horse named Rodeo. So who is Juliet’s true love: Rod[m]eo or Monty[gue]?

Karen wants to sell Rodeo and Juliet fights to keep him. She starts secretly training with Monty to win a horse show with Rodeo, to win enough money to keep him. Karen finds out Hugh owns part of the ranch and keeps hating him. Juliet’s face gets harder to look at:

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Karen realizes she doesn’t hate Hugh, she loves him and has loved him all along! Juliet loses the horse competition but Karen, her cold bitch heart now full of love, lets her keep Rodeo anyway. She and Monty are told they are on demand on the horse circuit now, and so they all get to stay and be one big (slightly incestuous) family. So I guess . . . Juliet is not in high school? Or school of any kind? Or Karen just doesn’t give a shit and just wants Juliet to do whatever she needs to do to stay. Good thing it doesn’t matter!

I hated this movie. And I would never watch this without the motivation of company:

SUPER SPECIAL GUEST POST: MIKE WILDER OF https://waldersblog.wordpress.com/

First of all I want to say that it is an honor to be featured on Chris and Elizabeth’s wonderful blog. They are both wonderful people with interesting perspectives on cinema and I hope I don’t embarrass either of them but especially Elizabeth. Anyways here comes my take on Rodeo & Juliet!

I came into this movie expecting one of those stories where the stuck-up city girl goes to the country and, despite her shock at the way Real Americans live, falls in love with the hottest guy there. Instead it was exactly like that. This is a powerfully unoriginal movie full of unremarkable performances and plot points that are objectively uninteresting. But keep reading my review of it anyway please.

At the start of the film, Juliet (like from Shakespeare) has to go with her mom to the country for a little while to settle her grandfather’s estate. While they’re out in the country, she learns she is a naturally talented “barrel racer” and meets her hunky country boyfriend who helps her learn to ride. It’s a little bit like Star Wars Episode 1, I guess, with the horse as the podracer and Juliet as Anakin Skywalker: the talented youngster who makes the best of a bad situation by learning to race fast. Anyways, Anakin somehow learns to be one of the best “barrel racers” in the area in like two weeks and goes to the Big Local Competition where she goes head to head with the defending champ. She loses.

Besides the horse sports story line, the central conflict here is that Juliet and her mom might not be able to sell the ranch that kind of belongs to them. They can’t sell it because they don’t have Juliet’s grandfather’s will. BUT the will might be out there somewhere. Every time the will comes up, everybody starts talking about how they haven’t found it but it might exist. This really happens so much throughout. My favorite part of the whole movie was when they finally found the will and everybody had to shut da fuck up about it. Anyways, the will said that Juliet’s mom had to split the ranch with her ex-lover and so they fell back in love and got engaged and (miracle of miracles!) Juliet’s boyfriend is that guy’s nephew/son so they have a perfectly efficient Family Romance Unit! There’s also something about how Juliet and her mother have things they are avoiding in New York, but selling the ranch and falling in love are clearly the important things here.

At the end of the movie, after 90 minutes of things that didn’t really matter at all have happened, Juliet and her mom don’t have to go back to New York. Which is a relief even though that’s where they live. The viewer is left to assume that Juliet and her mother didn’t have any relationships in New York worth maintaining. I guess they just turned their two-week trip into a new life with their new boyfriend/husband combo who are, once again, essentially a father/son combo. Makes sense.  Good movie. Really really good. I strongly recommend this movie. Especially if a horse once kicked you in the head so hard it made you like bad movies about horses but you don’t want to shell out $2.99 to rent War Horse on iTunes.

Christopher

It’s an honor to have a guest reviewer on our blog today. It can be a difficult duty watching these terrible movies and it’s nice when you know another person is going through the same experience as you. Mike also has his own movie blog so you should absolutely check that out right after you read this. 

After watching The Longest Ride, still one of my favorite terrible romance movies we’ve seen, I’ve been interested in love on the ranch. Though there isn’t an attractive person in sight, Rodeo & Juliet was pretty engaging to me throughout 88 minutes.

It’s very apparent that this movie was on a very low budget but nothing said it more than the insane makeup of the main character. There were many moments in the film where it was almost hard to watch her on screen. I feel like the closest I’ve ever come to that before was when I saw Pink Flamingos with my roommates in college. But what’s also distracting is how much older she looks than what I assume the character is supposed to be. She is upset that her mom has to take care of the legal issues surrounding her father’s ranch. This means she has to live in the middle of nowhere indefinitely with her mother. No cell service, yuck. No internet, unfair! Just on her own. But luckily within days there she ends up loving the ranch and wants to ride her grandfather’s horse, Rodeo, in a barrel race. And yes, the horse is called Rodeo. I wonder is this movie helped inspire Travi$ Scott.

When the mom is dealing with the deed of her father’s ranch we meet the town judge. Or some old guy that runs a business out of his home and it’s slightly cluttered but only in the sense that what did clutter the office was only what the producers of the film could find around set. The house the mother and Juliet live in is also very bare and eerie. Did the grandfather need such a giant house if he only had a few belongings? And going with the theme of this movie feeling cheap the audio is very distracting. In multiple scenes the white noise level jumps all over the place depending on who’s talking. It reminds me of freshman film classes at SCAD.

Another frustrating part of the film is the ranch itself. We know the mom wants the land. We know that the mom’s love interest wants the land because he spent most of his life riding with the grandfather and working the ranch. But we never really see the ranch. Is it just the house? At one point they say it makes money. How does it make money? It’s very vague. It’s similar to Tyler Perry films trying to talk about law. It’s just a bunch of very generic terms.

This movie has some bad acting. The two male love interests are the obvious ones. But Rodeo & Juliet gives us lines like this: “Everything looks accurate,” said by a DMV notary documenting a supposed agreement with the grandfather that he owned all the land. And before Juliet starts the barrel race in the not-so-climactic end, Juliet says to Rodeo, “So don’t lose.” Ohhhh how charming she’s just a silly quirky high school adult? Actors such as Juliet’s love interest Monty, mumbles most of the film. When I fist became obsessed with Bob Dylan my mom made fun of a part in “Talkin’ World War II Blues” where he kind of mumbles and doesn’t complete a sentence. While I think it’s perfect and has a purpose in the Dylan song it doesn’t work when people mumble and don’t enunciate most of their lines throughout Rodeo & Juliet.
Anyway, this was fun to watch but I wouldn’t really recommended it to anyone. Instead go see Vampire’s Kiss.

THE WITCH (2015)

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Christopher

I went into The Witch kind of scared that my post-movie self would be way too scared to sleep for a few days. Unfortunately that did not come close to happening. I think the biggest thing against The Witch to me, was how it really wasn’t a horror movie. It had creepy moments/images but nothing ever resulted of it.

I am someone that enjoys some vagueness in films but recent horror movies, to me, are always just left completely open to interpretation. I enjoy when it seems like the director knows what the whole story is and The Witch was not that at all.

I think the name also threw me. I was waiting for the witch the whole movie and she barely showed up. And when she was there, she reminded me of Broom-Hilda with all her witch stereotypes.

I give The Witch one tine!

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

I was so ready to love The Witch. I received an email from the Alamo Drafthouse weeks ago about how The Witch was a “Drafthouse recommends” complete with an endorsement from Drafthouse CEO Tim League and told Chris that we had to see it. So we did, the day it came out. I was hoping for something close to Let The Right One In or maybe, just maybe even something along the lines of The Vanishing. I momentarily forgot my usual skepticism of horror movies and was all in and ready to go for The Witch. And it ended up being not just stupid . . . but insultingly stupid.

I’d like to take a quick moment to clear something up: for some reason, The Witch has a reputation for being a “short” movie. The Drafthouse serves food and when our server came to us before the movie started he warned us that the movie was short. Everything I’ve seen online about The Witch comments on the length being so short. But people . . . it’s fucking 93 minutes long. Per the MPAA, if a movie is 41 minutes it’s feature length. If you think of movies being about an hour and a half long, The Witch is right on the money. If you think of movies being about two hours long, it’s barely 30 minutes short of that. The reason I’m pointing this out is because the movie is not short – it just feels short. Because it has no point. Let us begin.

William (Ralph Ineson) is the head of the most Puritan of Puritan families. The film opens with a judgment by some village elders that more or less outlines that William and his family are even more Puritan than they can handle. William willingly accepts banishment for himself and on behalf of his family: wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), tween son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). They climb on the rickety family wagon and travel an unknown distance to a remote spot of land near some woods. An unknown (well, at least 9 months) amount of time later, they’re settled with a house, some crops, some animals and a new baby, Samuel.

Let’s stop here for a second. At this point, I was still totally ready and into the movie. But as soon as William spoke, I was hit with one of the most fundamental problems of the whole movie: it’s absolutely impossible to understand what the fuck anyone is saying. This is from a combination of thick, inconsistent accents and 17th century English. Here’s what I mean by inconsistent accents: William and Katherine are supposed to be from England, where Thomasin and Caleb were also born, while Mercy, Jonas, and Samuel were all born in America. William has a thick, deep Northern England accent. Katherine has a Scottish accent. Thomasin has an Irish twang and a lisp. Caleb, Mercy, and Jonas all have English accents and sound more like southern England than anything else. Now, I’m not saying Puritans had a modern American accent. But I am saying I expect a family of Puritans to at least sound like they maybe all came from the same place. And then there’s the matter of 17th century English, the worst of the offenses. I’ve read almost every work by Shakespeare (not exactly the same English, but still difficult), The Scarlet Letter, and trudged through The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not like I’ve never heard, or understood, Puritan tongue. But The Witch was just fucking impossible. “COME HITHER, MERTHY!” Thomasin screeches in her Irish-y lisp. It sounds totally fucking ridiculous. I understood, maybe, every 15th or so word that was spoken. I waited for it to get better – at first it was just William, and I thought “Maybe it’s just because his voice is so deep.” Then it was Thomasin, and I thought “Maybe it’s just because this is a super closeup shot of her face.” Then it was the whole family, and I realized that since this will clearly be a movie about an isolated family that’s all we’re going to get and it’s not going to get better – and, of course, it didn’t.

So, if you’ve seen the trailer for The Witch you’ve probably seen Samuel get kidnapped – as Thomasin plays peekaboo with Samuel as he lays on the ground in front of her he suddenly disappears in the couple of seconds she has her hands over her eyes. We see Samuel lay on some kind of table in some kind of house with a shaky, creepy-looking arm touching him. We can assume this is the witch that’s taken Samuel, and she kills him. Don’t worry – your imagination is much worse than what actually happened. One second Samuel is there, the next he’s gone but there’s some blood in his place. So don’t go on thinking this movie has graphic baby killing. The witch is naked and takes the blood and rubs it all over her body (again, this isn’t explicitly shown), then lay down with a broom and rubs the blood over the broom. We then see her silhouette as she flies on the broom into the moonlight.

Katherine is inconsolable over Samuel’s disappearance – which they attribute to a wolf – and spends her time crying and praying over his crib. Thomasin struggles with guilt and Caleb is clearly disturbed by the idea of his unbaptized brother burning in hell. William takes Caleb hunting in the woods where Caleb tries and fails to call William out on his religion – how can William preach that those not baptized go to hell while simultaneously insisting that unbaptized baby Samuel is not? William never comes right out and says Samuel is in hell but he does tell Caleb he took a silver cup of Katherine’s and sold it for hunting supplies without Katherine knowing. They see a rabbit that William fails to kill when his gun backfires. Apparently they didn’t tell Katherine they were going hunting because she’s pretty freaked out when they return. Caleb can’t tell his mother they were hunting because that would lead to her finding out about the silver cup, so he tells her they were looking for apples.

A few times, Caleb steals glances of Thomasin’s cleavage. He’s subtle about it and never does anything more than that, which as gross as it might seem, it also doesn’t seem that crazy considering the isolation these kids are under (plus it really seems more out of curiosity than sexuality). Thomasin never notices and treats him like her little brother as always. Mercy and Jonas taunt Thomasin over losing Samuel, chasing around a black goat while Mercy accuses Thomasin of being a witch. Thomasin plays along, telling Mercy that she is a witch and ate Samuel and will eat her too – just enough to get Mercy away from her. Katherine, convinced it was Thomasin who stole the silver cup, has a loud conversation with William about sending Thomasin away. It’s almost comical how they try to hide their conversation – they live in a hand-built, non-insulated cottage. Katherine calls her children’s names as their bedroom is directly under William and Katherine’s. When they don’t answer, she concludes they’re asleep, so they argue about Thomasin extremely loudly as all the kids listen in. So William and Katherine aren’t very bright.

The morning after overhearing his parents, Caleb decides to go hunting and Thomasin insists she join him. Thomasin gets on the family’s ONE HORSE and off they go into the woods. That’s right, this family of SEVEN out in the middle of fucking nowhere has ONE HORSE. So the family dog sees the rabbit William failed to kill and runs after it, freaking that goddamn horse out enough to throw Thomasin off and knock her out. Caleb runs after the dog, who winces and yelps so you know his fate can’t be good. And Caleb does in fact find the dog’s disemboweled body. So that’s another great thing The Witch has to offer – a mangled dead dog. Caleb leaves the dog and finds a small cottage where a beautiful woman steps out. She smiles and she and Caleb walk toward each other. Because writer/director Robert Eggers has clearly seen The Shining one too many times, the woman bends down to kiss Caleb and as he kisses her back we see her old, grotesque hand reach around and grab the back of his head. Thomasin wakes up and goes home with Caleb’s whereabouts unknown, which Katherine also starts to blame her for. William comments that he can’t do shit because their ONE HORSE is now gone and as Katherine berates Thomasin for taking the silver cup and losing Samuel and Caleb, William finally chimes in and tells Katherine he took the cup, not Thomasin. Later that night Thomasin finds Caleb leaning against the farm’s fence, naked and weak.

Not knowing what to do and having NO HORSE to do anything with, the family prays around a semi-conscious Caleb. He starts having a fit, causing Mercy and Jonas to drop to the floor and have their own fits. He appears to start choking on something but won’t open his mouth so William pries his jaws open with the end of a knife, fishing out a rotten, bloody apple from his mouth. Caleb appears to have visions of Jesus and dies. The twins lay on the ground, motionless, as Katherine accuses Thomasin of being a witch while in turn Thomasin accuses the twins of being witches because they chased around that black goat and talk to it like a pet. William flips out and grabs Thomasin, Jonas, and Mercy and puts them in the goats’ stable and boards it up. They spend the night there and during the night Thomasin notices the witch in there with them, naked and feeding on the blood of one of the goats. When the witch knows she’s seen, she turns and we see her profile which is straight up the most stereotypical witch face ever, complete with a hooked nose, warts, and a cackle. The kids in the stable scream. Katherine has a vision of Caleb and Samuel and talks to Caleb as she breastfeeds Samuel – only for the viewer to discover that in reality there is no Caleb or Samuel there but there is instead a crow pecking at Katherine’s nipple. ‘Cause, you know.

The next morning William finds the stable destroyed, the goats dead, and the twins nowhere to be found. In fact, the twins never show up again and are never mentioned again. So, hope you didn’t give a shit about them because they absolutely don’t matter, apparently. Black Philip, the name of the goat the twins chased (I only caught that Black Philip was the fucking goat until around this time of the movie because of the goddamn language) repeatedly gores William, knocking him into a woodpile that falls on top of him, killing him. Thomasin goes to him and is attacked by Katherine, whom Thomasin stabs to death as Katherine tries to strangle her.

That night, Thomasin starts talking to Black Philip. She demands that he speak back to her – which he does! “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” “Wouldst thou like to see the world?” Thomasin agrees but tells Black Philip she can’t sign his book (what book? guess it doesn’t matter?) because she can’t write her own name. Black Philip tells her to take off her dress and tells her “I will guide thy hand.” Naked Thomasin follows a trotting Black Philip into the woods where she comes across a coven of naked witches chanting around a bonfire. The witches take their brooms and begin to fly. As Thomasin watches, she also begins to fly and she laughs and the movie fucking ends.

So right off the bat – nothing scary happens. They don’t even go for cheap jump scares. You don’t see the baby get kidnapped, you don’t see the baby get killed. The only time you get a full view of the witch is when she’s walking toward Caleb as a beautiful woman. You don’t see the dog get killed. You don’t see what happened to Caleb. You don’t see (or ever even find out) what happened to the twins. You don’t see the devil, which Black Philip apparently is. So, no, nothing scary.

So if nothing scary happened – what did happen? Halfway through the movie I suspected that Thomasin was not a witch but would be driven to become a witch because of her family’s crazy religion and that’s exactly what happened. So for the whole movie we know Thomasin to be a good, moral, Christian girl. She’s heartbroken by the deaths of Samuel and Caleb and feels guilty about them. She cries over her father’s dead body. She cries as she stabs her mother, the only way to get her mother to stop choking her. After she kills her mother, she sits alone and cries. But after she’s done crying – she’s ready to join the devil? The devil that, to a Puritan, is extremely real and horrifying? It’s like a switch goes off inside her. It’s . . .almost as if . . .yes, I do believe this movie is trying to tell us women are inherently evil and/or crazy. The witch-ness of Thomasin is treated like something lying dormant within her that just needed to be triggered. Her evil woman cleavage enticed Caleb who wound up dead pretty quickly. Her evil and crazy mother could never get over the deaths of Samuel or Caleb, despite William being able to easily move on. Her evil and crazy mother was eventually killed by her evil offspring. When Thomasin becomes an evil woman she has no trouble finding other evil women with whom she can be evil and serve the devil with. None of this has any real effect on any men or children – just women. The whole story ended up falling on Thomasin’s shoulders – it was “her fault” Samuel was kidnapped, it was “her fault” Caleb died, it was “her fault” the silver cup was stolen. But the reality is if you want to place blame, which this movie and the characters within it clearly do, it’s all goddamned William‘s fault, who got the whole family banished because of his crazy religion in the first place and stole the stupid cup. And yes, William is killed in a painful way. But it was really Thomasin who had to pay the price – William died but Thomasin watched her brother and father die and had to kill her mother in self-defense all before giving up everything she believes in to work for the devil. So, according to Robert Eggers: getting boobs = turning into a witch.

I wish you could say “at least it was shot beautifully,” but you really can’t. It’s not shot badly, but it’s fucking boring. The shots of the opening of the forest are the shots from a poor man’s Lars von Trier. Making everything gray doesn’t automatically make everything look scary, as the filmmakers clearly thought.

I don’t think it’s the least bit creative to have a movie with a witch as the main villain in 2016 and not expand at all on any stereotypes. What I mean by that is the witches in this movie don’t do anything new. They steal children, use flying ointment, fly on brooms, have hooked noses and warts, cackle, have naked coven bonfire chants . . . and not much more. We get no context or explanation as to why any of that is there, either. So does that mean I get to make a movie that has a Dracula complete with tuxedo, cape, fangs, and gelled hair and it’ll be called original? I guess so!

At the end of the movie, a title card brags about how some of the dialogue in The Witch was taken directly from 17th century accounts. Uh, no shit. I already suspected Eggers hid his lack of plot within the overly-complicated language, but then the end of the movie confirmed he did that plus passed it off as a positive. What the fuck good does accurate language do a film audience if there is no way to understand it?

Is Eggers aware of the Salem witch trials, I wonder? Is he aware that, although over 320 years ago, at least twenty people, mostly women, were wrongly accused of witchcraft and publicly murdered by hanging for it in this very country? Is he aware that, before the Salem witch trials, tens of thousands of people were wrongly accused of witchcraft and publicly murdered for it by being burned alive? I’m not saying that this, or any witch movie, has to be completely sensitive to the real deaths caused by hunting accused witches. But I am saying if you take a movie, drop it in 17th century New England, give the main protagonist dormant witchcraft that comes out after trauma, and argue that classic witches and witchcraft are real and not the products of religious hysteria – yeah, that’s pretty fucking insensitive. Wouldn’t we all be shocked at a movie about an American slave who discovers she really is sub-human and that slavery came about not because of racism or politics but because all of the people accusing her of being sub-human and worthless were right? I’m not saying American slavery and being falsely accused of witchcraft are the same thing. But the women murdered for being witches were certainly victims of a system they couldn’t control and positing the idea of “Hey, wouldn’t it be interesting if those women had been witches and female sexuality was evil and religious fanatics were right?” is so incredibly disrespectful that it made me feel sick after.

The Witch – oh, excuse me, I mean THE VVITCH – is a piece of shit movie that has everyone duped.

THE REVENANT (2015)

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ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

  • Best Picture – Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent and Keith Redmon
  • Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Best Supporting Actor – Tom Hardy
  • Best Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Best Costume Design – Jacqueline West
  • Best Director – Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • Best Film Editing – Stephen Mirrione
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini
  • Best Production Design – Jack Fisk (Production Design); Hamish Purdy (Set Decoration)
  • Best Sound Editing – Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
  • Best Sound Mixing – Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek
  • Best Visual Effects – Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer

Elizabeth

A long time ago, I stopped pretending I didn’t want to see a movie just because Leonardo DiCaprio was in it. When you aren’t even 30 years old and you’ve managed to keep the same favorite actor for about 20 years, I think it’s okay to admit that that actor pulls enough weight to make you see any movie he’s in. But I’m lucky. Leo makes it really easy for me because he keeps putting out incredible performances in equally amazing movies, and his performance as Hugh Glass in The Revenant is no exception.

Overall, other than Leo’s performance, the thing that struck me the most about The Revenant was how director Iñárritu’s style made you feel like you were there, not watching a movie. When “there” is 19th century frozen, battle-ridden wilderness, that’s certainly saying a lot. Iñárritu favors long, winding shots that often give you a total 360 view of what’s going on. So instead of breaking up shots, the camera just moves around as if you yourself are looking around. There is also a decent amount of shots showing the camera almost being interacted with; both blood and breath end up on the camera lens. As someone who wears glasses, there are few things that subconsciously make me feel like I’m living the action as much as seeing a lens fog up.

But obviously, the cornerstone of The Revenant is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. For most of the movie, Leo carries all of his scenes entirely on his own. When there’s a movie with a lack of dialogue and actors and/or you’re mostly following one actor and their actions, I think a good way to determine how successful a performance was is by how compelling they were. I wanted to watch Leo trudge through the wilderness, figure out ways to survive. It was interesting, even if he didn’t have anyone to talk to. Watching his face shows that he doesn’t need anyone to act off of in order to act beautifully. I think the scene I was most impressed with was the now-infamous bear attack. Glass being attacked by a bear is the real inciting action for the whole story, so it’s important. The way it was shot was incredible and so tense; first, like Glass, you only see two bear cubs – with no mother. That never bodes well, and only after the camera pans around the forest do you realize, at the same time as Glass, that the mama bear is behind Glass, ready to attack. Now, I’m not an expert in acting, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to perform a scene where you’re mauled by a bear. We know Leo wasn’t really mauled by a bear, so what do you do – scream a lot? How much acting actually goes into a scene like that? If you’re Leo – a whole lot. In the hands of another actor, the scene would have looked fake or not that vicious. But when Leo screams, it’s from his gut, from his heart. Tears come out of his eyes the moment the bear claws at him, he grits his teeth as the bear throws him around, he tries to suppress his moans as his eyes bug out while the bear stands on him. When you have a bear attack scene where A.) You know the bear attack is not real and B.) You know the character must survive the attack given the context of the movie, and you still manage to make the scene horrific and terrifying, I think everyone involved has really done an incredible job.

And Tom Hardy was sort of perfect as Fitzgerald, a trapper that is dumb, smart, and dangerous all at once. I couldn’t help but think that he sounded exactly like a character from Kroll Show‘s “Pawnsylvania,” but other than that I was totally engaged with his performance. He was the perfect mix of being a bit of comic relief while also being the scariest character of all.

Obviously, if Leo does not win the Oscar for this it will be clear evidence of my long-suspected Don’t-Give-Leo-The-Oscar conspiracy, because he was incredible. And all in all, I really thought the whole movie was incredible and I highly recommend seeing it in theaters – especially if the theater is cold – so you get the full effect of feeling like you’re within the movie.

Christopher

It’s hard to go to a movie like this and not expect the best. It’s from a director that won an Oscar last year, actors that are always at least nominated for awards, and it sounds like it was almost impossible to film. Even knowing and thinking about all that, I still walked away from The Revenant loving it!

I think the biggest thing about the movie is it’s slow pace. However, it did not feel like it took forever to watch the movie. I think the way the movie used time and nature to really demonstrate how hopeless humans can be in nature really made the story compelling. Apart from the bear attack and issues with Tom Hardy, the way the camera used nature to dwarf the characters in this film was very impressive. It never felt like anyone had an upper hand in this long revenge plot. Like Birdman with people walking through doors, the shot we continued to see in The Revenant was looking up at trees as well as people walking with giant mountains behind them. I really like those shots though because each time the trees or mountains were slightly different. It seems weird but it was a nice small way that kept my interest in the film and help make the time really fly by when watching.

I remember too well being really into 21 Grams; I really love that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is still in Hollywood’s limelight. After seeing Birdman and now The Revenant, I really want to go back and watch his earlier work.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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Elizabeth (spoilers!)

I’ll preface this post with the same preface I give whenever I talk about Star Wars, especially the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens: I’m a casual Star Wars fan. By that I mean I’ve seen all the movies, loved the original three, thought the prequels were okay, and I don’t really know more about this franchise than any other that I’ve seen. I prefer to look at the Star Wars movies as just that: movies.

The more Star Wars movies they make, the more important I think it is that the movies stand alone. The first time I saw the original three, those were the only Star Wars movies that existed. With those, you went into it knowing it was a trilogy, so I thought the three should be viewed more as a whole, rather than three individual movies. But now there are three prequels that come before it. And now one sequel that comes after with apparently more to come. So it’s not a trilogy anymore, but an open-ended film series that is closer to the James Bond franchise than something like The Lord of the Rings. So at this point, if any Star Wars movie is unable to stand on its own, I tend to think it’s more of a failure than a success.

Based on that, I would say Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a failure. Every defense I’ve heard of the movie is centered around the idea that it’s a “set up” movie for future Star Wars movies. That would make sense if Star Wars: The Force Awakens was not the seventh goddamn Star Wars movie. But it is, so I thoroughly disagree with that bullshit argument.

But there were many things I didn’t like about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My immediate complaint was from the beginning, I thought it was insanely boring. I fought to stay awake for the entire first hour. It moved so fast that it didn’t let you get a feel for really anything or anyone in that first hour (and it doesn’t get that much better after that). After that, it was the tone I had a huge problem with. It was way too cheeky, way too self-referential. Even aside from the character of Finn (John Boyega), a reformed stormtrooper, the movie seemed to go to great lengths to humanize stormtroopers. It was funny, yes, when two stormtroopers turned away and walked in the other direction to avoid Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)’s hissy fit. But who cares about stormtroopers being funny? Was stormtrooper humor something that was really missing from previous Star Wars movies? That, plus a mind-numbingly high number of Han Solo smirks and things like a thinly-veiled reference to the modern phrase “nigga please,” made me cringe so hard I felt like this movie was an old person’s attempt to attract teenagers – which I’m guessing is exactly what it is.

Another big problem I had: Adam Driver as the son of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Now, do I think all actors who play the son of other actors need to look like each other? No, of course not. But when you have goddamn Harrison fucking Ford say “I know you see him when you look at me,” the “him” at least better be good looking. Instead we got:

Actor Adam Driver attends the Season 2 premiere of the television series "Girls" in New York January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT HEADSHOT) - RTR3C9GF

Who is somehow supposed to remind Leia of:

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Gonna have to call bullshit on that one.

Speaking of, with as little I had invested into the Star Wars universe I still managed to feel betrayed by Ben Solo/Kylo Ren murdering Han Solo. The first time I saw the original trilogy, I was in love with Han Solo and the biggest stressor in all three movies was not knowing if Han Solo was going to live or not. We all made it through that, only for Han to get murdered 2/3 of the way through Star Wars: The Force Awakens? NO THANK YOU.

I had all kinds of other issues with this movie. Like everyone literally saying “Remember the Death Star? Now we have this other thing to deal with, that’s the Death Star but bigger,” and Han Solo suggesting the plan that blew up the original Death Star with “It worked before.” Yes, we know it worked before because we’ve seen the goddamn movie and yet, we get to sit through it again. And R2D2 acting as the absolute definition of a deus ex machina. And Finn being the most happy go-lucky guy after going rogue from a Nazi-like party that stemmed from battlefield trauma. And Leia looking like she got a Brazil facelift.

This is the kind of movie where I don’t think individual opinions even matter at this point. If you want to see it, you should see it and you’re going to see it. If you don’t want to see it, you’re not missing anything.

Christopher

I did not grow up loving Star Wars. My dad watched Star Trek and ever since I was a child that has been my favorite of the two. In high school and college I definitely got into the habit of trying to shit talk Star Wars just because so many people love it. So knowing that, I did not go into Star Wars hoping to relive some vivid childhood memories. However, I was hoping for a good movie. And unfortunately I don’t think I got that.

The issue I have with this movie is how boring it ended up. They briefly touch on so much but we don’t learn about any of it. It is very similar to the older movie but that’s not even what I disliked the most about it. What I really didn’t like it how it ends with no real direction for the next film. At this point it seems like it could go so many directions. Because of this, I really don’t care when the next part of the trilogy comes out. I will watch it, but I did not leave the theater anxious to see any of the characters again

I really wish the film had been focused more on Rey. I wish the whole story line with Kylo Ren had more behind it before the whole catwalk scene. Overall I just felt like the movie was for everyone so it was kind of for no one? If that makes sense. I really hope the next two in the trilogy are good. Either way, I don’t think I have a big interest in seeing The Force Awakens again.

THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

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Christopher

I did not know anything about sleep paralysis before this movie. Now that I know more it’s absolutely horrifying and I feel so bad for any individuals dealing with this issue.

That being said, this was not a very good movie. I did think that it was shot really well and looked beautiful. However, the whole movie is one story over and over and over and over. We just keep talking to people with this issue and what happens to them in their dreams.

I think this movie would have been far more successful if they had some variety in the people they talked to. The individuals with sleep paralysis constantly talk about doctors not believing/understanding this issue but they never once talk to an actual doctor. There is way too much just listening to the individuals with this issue talking about why it sucks. A few long scenes are just watching this one guy almost philosophize about it but it’s shot with very low quality that it just seems like we’re watching this guy rant on YouTube.

I will say I was nervous about sleeping after this, but that’s really the only thing I walked away with from this film.

Elizabeth

I really wanted to like The Nightmare. It’s rare that I come across a documentary that is legitimately scary (actually the only ones I can think of are from the Paradise Lost series), so I was excited about that. And it is sort of scary, but only in the same way that it’s sort of not terrible.

The problem is that The Nightmare does not feel at all complete. The documentary is all about sleep paralysis and follows some people who suffer from it. It grabs you from the beginning with that, recreating the images and nightmares that people see when they suffer from sleep paralysis. And the movie did a great job of showing how scary it must be to experience. But . . . that’s just kind of it.

What causes sleep paralysis? What’s going on in your mind/body when it happens? Questions like that are never answered and are even barely acknowledged. By that I mean, if no one knows what causes sleep paralysis, that’s okay. But tell us that, at least, so we as an audience don’t think it’s just the filmmakers that don’t know. After about the first 30 minutes, the movie just sort of keeps repeating itself – especially because most of the people they follow have very similar experiences. The similar experiences are supposed to come off as creepy, but instead it just sounds repetitive.

So yeah, I don’t know. It might be worth watching if you want to see a weirder-than-normal documentary, but if you actually want to learn anything I wouldn’t waste your time with this one.

CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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Christopher

We ended up seeing this movie because it’s a new Guillermo Del Toro movie but also because the new music video for Joanna Newsom’s “Divers” played in front of it at the Alamo Drafthouse. It was very unclear what movies the video would play before but after Elizabeth worked her detective magic, talking to both Alamo, who never seemed to indicate that they even knew Joanna Newsom was a person, and with Drag City, who seemed surprised what little knowledge the theaters had on the event, we did it and the video was worth it! However, I do wish they played it with the trailers so the theater would be dark and the people quiet rather than the preshow where people are talking but it was worth everything to see it on the big screen. Okay, now Crimson Peak.

I was excited for this movie but I was a little nervous that the story wouldn’t be as interesting as I had hoped. Unfortunately I was completely right. The movie looked very nice and the CG was not as distracting as I had originally thought. The issue was all in the story. It was so bland and boring. There was never really anything I felt like we found out. Everything was very predictable. To a point where I thought we were supposed to know everything the whole time.

There were many interesting themes and ideas but everything fell very flat. It felt like we were watching a collage of old movies where they just barely make a story pieced together. I was into some stuff and I can see this movie getting a lot of praise for its camerawork and costume design, but I think the pleasures of this film end there.

Hopefully his next movie has more layers to it!

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

We saw a trailer for Crimson Peak when we saw Sicario and I was sort of surprised at my own desire to want to see it. I usually don’t think twice about haunted house movies, but with it being Guillermo del Toro and having a strong cast, I was just sort of drawn to it. And then came the announcement that a new Joanna Newsom video would be premiering at the Alamo Drafthouse on October 16. Joanna Newsom happens to be one of Christopher’s all-time favorite artists, so we were then on a mission to find out how we actually see the video. After many phone calls, I finally got word from Drag City Records that the video would be playing before Bridge of Spies and Crimson Peak. It was meant to be!

Now, Crimson Peak is one of those movies that I didn’t start to get too critical of until after it was over. Watching it in theaters was fun and engaging enough to not notice some issues that are more obvious later. There are four main characters: Edith (Mia Wasikowska), Thomas, Edith’s husband (Tom Hiddleston), Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Thomas’ sister, and Alan (Charlie Hunnam), Edith’s childhood friend and doctor. After Edith and Thomas are married, he takes her away from New York to live in his decrepit mansion with Lucille. The mansion is haunted and Edith happens to have a knack for being able to see ghosts. Back home in New York, Alan starts to suspect that Thomas or Lucille killed Edith’s father and are likely going to kill Edith or hurt her in some way.

The biggest problem I had, in the end, was why did Alan need to be a character? As the movie unfolds, Edith learns more and more about the house and Thomas and Lucille, and she figured everything out, just as Alan did. But instead of letting Edith save herself, the movie sends Alan over to be a big hero. Now, granted, Alan is pretty quickly disposed of as Lucille stabs him pretty early on and makes him unusable, but his presence still seemed totally unnecessary. One thing I did like, though, is the last fight comes down between Edith and Lucille, who always had the biggest conflict, anyway. Thomas and Lucille have an incestuous relationship, but once Thomas reveals that he actually loves Edith, Lucille murders him immediately. I really loved that scene – Lucille is so distraught (Edith had just stabbed her, too) that when Thomas puts the icing on the cake by saying he actually loves Edith, Lucille attacks and stabs him in a blind rage. With both Thomas and Alan out of the way, Edith and Lucille have a pretty fantastic and violent fight.

Something else that struck me was there was a scene where Edith is playing fetch with her dog (who came from the house) and the dog’s little red ball. At one point the dog comes back without the ball, but an unseen force rolls the ball back to Edith. This reminded me of the relatively famous scene from The Changeling where George C. Scott is also alerted to the presence of a ghost after a ball is rolled to him. Once that happened in Crimson Peak, The Changeling was in my head and it was hard not to compare the two and think “Huh, The Changeling was better and more original,” which is unfortunate but I think is a risk you take when you make an homage to another, potentially better, movie.

Crimson Peak isn’t the greatest movie ever, but it was legitimately fun to watch and I think it would be better to see in theaters. Also – the costumes were awesome.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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Christopher

With all the hype I was excited to watch Mad Max but I think I might of walked in with my expectations too high. While the movie has high-paced and action-packed, it pretty much stopped there. I’ve never really been a big fan of action films and this was a good example of what I don’t really like. They just end up being super boring.

There was a lot of driving, there were characters that had to work together, they did, the end. It just felt like we watched a super long intro video game movie. I wasn’t too into a bunch of the special effects either, especially of the little girl haunting Max.

I’m glad I watched this so I can talk about it but it really stops there.

Elizabeth (spoilers!)

I should say right off the bat that this was the first Mad Max movie I’d ever seen and I hadn’t really ever had the desire to see the others. And, eh, I still don’t.

So this movie was . . . not that great? I feel like I saw the wrong movie or something based on the majority of opinions about it. There’s not a ton of story, almost no context for the story, not a ton of dialogue . . . it was pretty much just a round-trip car chase. Over and over I heard about how Charlize Theron’s character was finally “a strong female character” and also heard that the movie was “full of strong female characters.” Imperator Furiosa (Theron) appears to be physically strong, yes. But her character isn’t nearly developed enough to say that she’s this really strong character that carries the movie – not even close.

So Tom Hardy plays Max, which is a good start. Max has survived a nuclear holocaust, which happened an undisclosed amount of time ago, and has now been taken prisoner by a tyrant, Joe in The Citadel. Joe has an army of “War Boys,” that are . . . not human? Human? They basically look like this:

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And gain strength from “blood bags,” which in the above War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult)’s case, is Max himself as the blood bags are humans with IVs going into the War Boys. Again, not sure what the War Boys actually are.

Imperator Furiosa goes to get gasoline on behalf of Joe, but quickly goes off course. We learn that Furiosa is traveling with Joe’s five wives in tow to bring them to “the green place,” where Furiosa is from. When Joe realizes what Furiosa is doing, he gets his whole army to go after her, which includes Nux and therefore Max. Stuff happens, Max loses Nux and Furiosa loses the army. Max meets up with Furiosa as she repairs her truck and he tries to steal it – but a kill switch stops him and he goes along with Furiosa instead. I’m not sure what Max was going to do with the stolen truck, or why we should think he’s a great person after choosing to leave Furiosa and the wives (including some pregnant women) behind to die, but whatever.

Some more car chases happen, except now Max and Furiosa are on the same side. Nux is on their side, too, after falling in love with one of the wives, because why not. Eventually, after more chasing and fighting (literally that’s it, there’s miniscule plot development at this point), Furiosa leads Max and the wives to the green place, where she is greeted by women who recognize Furiosa as a child who was once stolen from there. For some reason, even though the Mad Max world as we know it is a desert wasteland, Furiosa still thought this “green place” definitely existed, and many problems would definitely be solved if they could just find it. But of course, the green place doesn’t exist and this comes as a major blow to Furiosa. I understand that, but maybe she should have slightly entertained the idea that maybe this place didn’t exist. The news of the green place not existing is revealed as if it’s supposed to be a big blow to the audience, too. But were we also supposed to be as delusional as Furiosa about that? Because that’s a lot of disbelief to ask us to suspend.

But then Max points out something that no one, including our STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER, thought of before: go back to the now undefended Citadel, where earlier in the movie we saw what seemed to be an unlimited supply of water and well-established greenhouses. GOOD IDEA, MAX! THANK GOD THERE’S A MAN HERE TO DO OUR THINKING FOR US! This is what I mean by not being impressed by these seemingly “strong female characters.” So of course, they all go back to the Citadel, kill Joe in the process, and Max and Furiosa go their separate ways.

Probably the best thing about this movie was that there was no love story between the two leads of Max and Furiosa. Of course, that doesn’t mean the movie is without totally unnecessary love stories, so it’s still not that good. Everything looked great, especially the costumes, but a fucking truck exploding can only look great so many times before you feel like you’ll gouge your eyes out if you see one more goddamn explosion. So I don’t really know what to think. Yes, I’m glad that Furiosa wasn’t this meek, damsel in distress. But if you put her character in a well-developed movie, her one-dimensional-ness would stick out like a sore thumb – and the same goes for every character in Mad Max: Fury Road. So they’re on the right track, I guess, but at the end of the day, Mad Max: Fury Road is just another action movie with 10 times more explosions than plot or character development.