Random Movies, Best to Worst

Room

For the record, I thought Brie Larson was talented before it was cool to think Brie Larson was talented. She is very talented, though, and it’s her performance that makes this movie. The story is kind of saccharine and doesn’t deliver anything very different from what you’d expect – as everyone knows by now, it’s about a kidnapping victim who raises her child inside the small shed she’s held prisoner in. But watching Brie Larson be this character, and move through all the emotions this character feels, and express this very particular, layered mix of frankness and toughness and selfishness and love and vulnerability elevates it to one of the top films of the year.

The very best scene is the one where she tries to tell her son why they’re really living in Room – the story of how she got kidnapped when she was a teenager, and how there’s a whole world that exists outside the shed that was stolen from her. He doesn’t want to hear what she has to say, and there are so many levels to the conversation that it’s astounding – she wants to formulate an escape plan, she’s wants him to be old enough to understand what she’s feeling so that she has someone to talk to, she wants him to understand the truth so he isn’t so fucking complacent about their situation, she’s reliving all the memories she tried to forget, she’s frustrated with him that he’s not listening to her, he’s mad at her because she’s making him feel bad about their lives, he feels guilty because he can tell she’s mad at him and he doesn’t know why – the entire movie is summed up in their dialogue in this scene; him screaming that he doesn’t like the story she’s telling him, her screaming that that’s too bad because it’s the only story they get.

Zootopia

Zootopia is the most topical Disney movie that’s come out in years – it’s both a charming, uplifting story about friendship and believing in yourself and a complicated attempt to dramatize and understand race and gender relations in contemporary America (which translates to many other countries). The story is surprisingly complex, and attempting to summarize it immediately makes it sound sillier than it is, but it’s about an unlikely crime-solving partnership between a female rabbit and a male fox who eventually overcome their prejudice and learn to be friends. There are some weird moments along the way but, overall, this is an extremely smart, compassionate movie that captures something important about intersectional power dynamics.

Ghostbusters (2016)

I wrote a more balanced review of this movie for Bitch Flicks, but, let’s just say for now that I love it as much as the haters hate it. I will buy the DVD. If Canadian stores ever re-stock the Holtzman action figure, I will buy the action figures. I sat there the whole time saying, “Shit, imagine if people made movies like this starring women when I was kid.” It sounds stupid, but it’s really important.

The Jungle Book (2016)

I wish Ben Kingsley was a panther who protected me. That is my strongest reaction to The Jungle Book. Otherwise, it was kind of like The Life of Pi part two, in so far as the main thing to see was how amazing the CGI looked. I do find it interesting that Lupita Nyong’o is now perpetually typecast by Disney as a strong, wise woman on the margins of the story – first in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and now here. It’s kind of like they met her during 12 Years a Slave and now they’re afraid to let her do anything else, in case it somehow seems disrespectful. I also found it interesting that, since it was first written, The Jungle Book has evolved from a story where man is inherently superior to other animals (1894) to one where man isn’t superior, but the sad truth is that we must all be with our own kind (1967) to one where  Mowgli can just declare himself a wolf and everybody’s cool with that (2016). It’s a reflection of how times have changed.

Crimson Peak

I like everybody in this movie and the cinematography is gorgeous, but the story’s really dumb. Basically Mia Wasikowska marries Tom Hiddleston even though it’s completely obvious from the start that he’s sleeping with his sister, played by Jessica Chastain. They all move to a creepy mansion on Crimson Peak, where Mia Wasikowska is terrorized by ghosts and gradually discovers the horrible, obvious truths about her marriage to Tom Hiddleston. She is shocked to discover that he wants her for her money. She is shocked to discover that he’s sleeping with his sister. And, upon discovering that the two extremely attractive siblings she lives with are getting it on with each other and want her for her money, she does not ever propose a solution where she pays for their stupid clay-mining business and they all have a threeway and stop trying to stab each other. Instead they keep trying to stab each other for, like, another hour. Wasted opportunities all around.

Exam

Exam is a 2009 suspense film from the UK about a group of people taking a test for corporate recruitment. They’re each given a piece of paper and a pencil, but they quickly discover that the real test is to see what they’ll do once they’re alone in a room together and the normal rules of conduct have been suspended. The story is about group dynamics, and it goes the same direction every story about group dynamics in a lawless world plays out – initially the candidates try to work together to solve the test, but, as time goes on, they start to argue and turn against one another, and the situation escalates to violence.

A few scenes in Exam are pretty good, and I was interested to see how things would Lord of the Flies as the story went on, but the overall arc in the narrative didn’t seem credible to me. This is a room full of people who seem like they already have pretty good jobs and (for the most part) don’t actually know anything about the company they’re trying to work for, or what the position involves. Early on, it seemed like there was going to be a big reveal that explained why everyone was so desperate to make it through the recruiting process, but, even though we learn more about the situation, we never get any intel that sufficiently explains why people are willing to kill and die for this job.

Overall, it’s a cool idea, but the tension suffers a lot from the fact that the characters’ level of investment doesn’t make sense.

Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms is not as fucking stupid as the reviews would lead you to believe, but it’s not a very good movie, either. Assorted observations:

  • The title is the cleverest part. Obviously, Jem and the Holograms becomes the name of their band, but the movie is also about the lead character, Jem, finding a series of holograms left by her late father that remind her of her values and encourage her to choose her friends over fame, so it’s Jem and the holograms in that way, too.
  • In this version of the story, Jem and the other members of her band are teenagers living in the same foster home. Jem and her biological sister, Kimber, get the most screen time. Aja has cool turquoise hair and gets the next most amount of screen time, after the villains and Jem’s love interest. I actually didn’t notice Shana was there until the big final scene where I was like, “Who’s that other random girl with purple hair?!”
  • Even though Jem and Kimber are sisters, their father apparently didn’t give a shit about Kimber. The posthumous gifts he left for Jem include: an intelligent robot companion, earrings that interface with the robot, and a detailed scavenger hunt leading her to a series of holographic messages that remind her how much he loved her and how special she is. The gift he left for Kimber is a passing mention in one of Jem’s holographic love letters that Kimber doesn’t even get to see.
  • The record executive, Erica Raymond, hashes out a contract to represent Jem and her band entirely through YouTube DMs after seeing her video. It takes about five minutes.
    • The contract is not for a record deal, but for a series of three pop-up concerts. Admittedly, I don’t work in the music industry, but that seems like a riskier thing to throw your money at.
    • It also seems risky to me to sign someone after seeing a single, awkward YouTube video of her singing a song.
    • In general, the movie seems overly optimistic about how easy it is to a) get popular on the internet and b) bridge that popularity into a lucrative career.
  • What Erica wants the whole time is for Jem to dump her band and sign a solo deal so, when Jem has to ask for an advance on the money she was promised for the pop-up concerts, Erica manipulates her into agreeing to dump her band and go solo. (Another reason not to make a contract on DM is that you end up with a shitty deal where you don’t get paid until the whole contract is completed).
    • It sounds like what Erica’s saying is that, after the concerts are over, Jem has to sign a solo record deal without the band. This would actually make sense, since it’s a natural point to break things off with the band and since, ultimately, I still have to believe there’s a record deal in this somewhere. It turns out, though, that Erica wants her to drop the band in time for the second pop-up concert, which seems like a needlessly difficult way of doing it.
      • Erica tells Jem as Jem is getting ready to go on stage at the second pop-up concert that she will take care of telling the band they’ve been fired.
      • The band overhears this conversation as they are getting ready to go on stage and gets angry because Jem wasn’t honest with them.
      • Jem then goes on stage by herself and apparently that has all been choreographed and there are new musicians off stage and there’s no problem doing the concert anyway, even though Erica never got around to mentioning to anyone that this was happening until now.
  • One of Jem’s stated reasons for taking Erica’s deal is that she needs the money to save their foster home so they don’t get “split up.” That doesn’t make any sense, though. There’s nobody in the foster home except these four girls in the band, and it’s never clear how old they are, but it seems like Jem is old enough to sign a contract with a record executive and date an adult man, so I think she’s over eighteen. Even if these girls weren’t over eighteen, many professional entertainers legally emancipate themselves from their parents or guardians to pursue their careers – my point is, it seems really doubtful that anyone could forcibly “split them up” at this stage. On top of that, ensuring the continued financial success of the entire band is probably the best thing for everyone in the house.
    • Like, it’s nice to try to save the house, because it’s been their home, but the situation is not as dire as the characters are making it sound.
    • Plus, if we take for granted that they’re as popular and talented as the movie says they are, they could one day buy a nicer house where they could all live together with their foster mother – they just have to stick with it for a few years.
  • Erica says that she can replace Jem with another performer at any time, because the whole conceit is that nobody knows who Jem really is. I find that a little suspect and I’d once again like to see the contract they actually signed.
  • It’s also unclear to me why, if Erica’s firing the band, she doesn’t have to pay them out for their part of the contract. Or why they don’t seem at all involved in a contract negotiation that they’re party to.
  • There’s another sequence later on where Jem is estranged from the Holograms and then she makes up with them all of a sudden and then they all go break into an office tower, but the Holograms sort of disappear after a few minutes and it’s just Jem and her boyfriend breaking into the tower, and I bet you anything you want the sequence of events changed while filming.
  • There’s also a scene where they’re making a bunch of noise on a pier and a homeless person tells them to shut up because she’s trying to sleep and they just laugh at her because they’re assholes.
  • The Misfits are not in this movie.

In conclusion, this movie offered bad advice about how to start a career in the music industry and how to posthumously pay attention to your children, but I still kind of enjoyed it. I would watch a sequel that had the Misfits in it.

Image: Room; A24 | August 13, 2016