Random Movies: Best to Worst

Coherence

Coherence is so fucking good. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past year – a really tightly-plotted, interesting, smart, suspenseful, disturbing sci-fi story, made on a really low budget, shot in the director’s house, using actors he happened to know – it’s amazing.

The movie just gets more impressive, and more fascinating to watch, once you know how it was made – that the director and one of the actors spent a year mapping out the plot, and then gave each of the other actors notes when they were filming, telling them their characters’ motivations and pieces of information the characters would know and might drop into conversation during the upcoming scene. Then, the actors had to improvise their way through the story, trying to hit all the marks that had been set out for them in the notes, and cooperate to help everyone else hit their marks, all while staying in character and having no idea WTF would happen next.

This is a really special movie, not just because it’s exciting and fascinating on the story level, but because it reminds you what acting actually involves as a craft and a skill – reacting to the other actors you’re working with to try to make something that seems genuine, together.

I streamed it from Cineplex for, like, $3, and that was a ridiculous bargain.

Frances Ha

I actually didn’t expect to like this, which is why I put off watching it so long. I also thought, for some reason, that it was set in France and in French, which made me think I had to wait until I could play it on my TV when I had my glasses on to read the subtitles. None of that was true.

Frances Ha is in English, and set in New York, and Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote and stars in the movie, is completely charming. I could watch this stuff all day.

It’s part of the so-called mumblecore movement, where it’s just 20-something characters mumbling to each other about their money problems and humiliations while trying to learn a lesson about friendship – Adam Driver from Girls is even in it – but this one really hit the right notes for me in a way that isn’t always true. I think Frances Ha works because it has the right mix of humour and emotional sincerity – we pity the title character a little bit, and relate to her a little bit, but, more importantly, because we see her vulnerabilities and humanity, we also like her and want her to succeed at something.

This is, by turns, very funny and a little bit touching – it’s a really good movie.

Birdman

I didn’t like Birdman. I appreciate Birdman as a technical achievement, just like I appreciate Sin City as a technical achievement, and I’ve got no problem with it snagging Best Director at the Academy Awards, but I didn’t like watching it.

I’m sure that I would feel differently if I worked in the entertainment industry – I’m sure I’d see all kinds of subtle shades and layers in this that I’m just not seeing because it doesn’t directly relate to my life – but… it doesn’t directly relate to my life, and, aside from how it was made (it’s shot and edited to look as if it’s one continuous take) it came across to me as a really tired, recycled story about how real actors want to make art and they shouldn’t sell out to the man by doing super hero movies, and fame can make you miserable, and actors can be egotistical jerks and really insecure, and it’s harder to get a job when you’re older, and the critics just don’t understand you, and drinking, and rehab, and Edward Norton, and ex-wives, and middle-aged crisis, and getting locked outside in your underwear…

I didn’t find it all that funny, and I didn’t find it all that insightful, either. I just thought, “Wow, it’s really cool that they made the movie this way.” And it is. But I didn’t like watching it.

The Last Five Years

I liked watching this, but it wasn’t as well made as Birdman. And since it’s less famous and popular, I’ll start by saying it’s that other Anna Kendrick musical where it’s a guy and a girl and they recap their failed marriage for you in song.

Anna Kendrick is magic, as always. She’s not the strongest singer in the world, but she’s a really good actor and she comes across as being very spontaneous and relaxed and genuine on camera. Unfortunately, she’s 99% of what I remember about the movie, because her performance totally swallows Jeremy Jordan’s. I don’t think he’s bad in the movie – I just don’t think they’re evenly matched.

That said, my favourite song was, surprisingly, “The Schmuel Song,” largely because the two of them were really funny together in that scene. One decision the movie probably got right was having the characters on screen together most of the time (in the stage production they usually aren’t together while one of them’s singing).

The music itself was really good, and the lyrics were very carefully-written, revealing more layers on a second listen – but that’s another thing where most of my enjoyment came from just not being familiar with The Last Five Years and getting to experience it for the first time, rather than anything this particular production did that was so great.

So, as far as I can tell, this is an okay version of a good musical.

Maleficent

I reject the idea that the only way we can like or have sympathy or even empathy for someone is if everything that person ever did was selfless and kind and good and honest and true. That’s why I fundamentally dislike stories that re-write villainous characters in a way that claims to show us their “perspective” but actually just shows us how everything they did was not what they did, and what they did instead was awesome.

Maleficent, in this movie, does exactly one thing that’s not awesome, which is placing a curse on a baby who’s done nothing to her – though she has really good date-rape-related reasons to be mad at the baby’s father. Then, the movie has her try to take it back, only to discover that she can’t. She becomes the baby’s secret fairy godmother guardian, and then her friend, once she grows up. Then, when Sleeping Beauty comes of age and pricks her finger on the spinning wheel, Maleficent single-handedly does all the things to break the curse. And then, as she’s innocently leaving the castle, she is attacked by the guards and has to do the dragon stuff from the original Disney movie and, like, hulk out, and awesomely defend herself, and, in so doing, she brings peace to the fairy kingdom and yay she’s a hero.

And I just watched it and thought, “Why can’t you let us have a complicated emotion, movie? Why can’t you trust us to go along with you unless you pave the way with roses and rainbows and unicorns?”

This movie is so weird.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

This isn’t one of those kids movies that knowingly winks at adults in the audience and puts a bunch of clever jokes in there for us. It also isn’t one of those kids movies that has an intelligent, meaningful, important message and delivers it to kids in a fun, interesting way. It’s not even particularly like the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon.

It is basically screaming for 90 minutes, with a message about how – I guess – adoptive parents of another race can be good parents too? Except the parent is a dog who adopts a human boy? Which I’m not sure is even a metaphor for a thing that happens in real life?

I don’t know.

Image: Coherence; D Films | March 6, 2015