Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.
★★★★★ : One of the best movies ever, I will love for the rest of my days
★★★★½ : Awesome movie, almost one of the best
★★★★ : Great movie, worth buying to own
★★★½ : Above average
★★★ : Average, not bad, but not great
★★½ : It’s almost just OK, but not quite
★★ : Pretty silly movie, meh!
★½ : Simply ridiculous movie
★ : Bad movie, what were they thinking?
½ : Woah! Absolutely awful, I feel dumber for having watched
Sergeant York (1941)
Definitely reminded me of the more recent “Hacksaw Ridge” in its execution: start with character development in home life, including a love interest, go on to being a man of faith struggling with how to save lives during a war while still keeping a clear conscience, ultimately save lives and be rewarded.
This movie was just a bit too old-fashioned for me; the story is so simplified that the struggles, especially the war scenes, never feel quite real, but too Hollywood-ized. York’s solution to his struggle between fighting a war and keeping true to his faith seemed rather convenient and not as profound or as deep as I would’ve imagined. By the time we get to the actual war scenes and the aftermath, the film has already spent too much time on the character development, so the pacing begins to feel a bit rushed.
Despite these criticisms, I can’t help but appreciate the morals of this film, as cheesy as their old-fashioned manifestations may have come across. York is portrayed as a fine upstanding honest guy who’s always trying to do the right thing. None of that moral weakness or heroic flaw or self-doubt or indecisiveness Hollywood seems to be more fond of these days. So that was refreshing. It mostly just needed a better screenwriter.
The Shack (2017)
On the one hand, I appreciate the film’s themes of dealing with tragedy and forgiveness from a Christian perspective.
On the other hand, I’m always a bit wary of films in which God Himself (Herself?) is a human character, and this film had certain moments that left me annoyed thinking: “No, God wouldn’t say that.” The human portrayal of the trinity got on my nerves quite a few times from a theological point of view. For example, one of the foundations of Christianity and the idea of the Holy Trinity is that Christ, the son of God, is the human incarnation of God; He refers to a father figure in scripture because God the Father is too “meta” and ineffable to be thought of as a part of His own creation. So portraying the Father as also a human who’s going to speak English, make pie, and be “especially fond” of everybody, it just felt… theologically silly at the very least.
There’s a lot of talk on the problem of suffering, a conundrum so agitating it serves as the foundation for some people’s atheism. This film offers very little in the way of insight into this problem, as far as I could tell. God just dances around the issue and asks the main character to trust Him. Which I suppose is all He can do in a screenplay written by humans. But it was annoying having God Himself be a character who takes part in such discussions but never offers any real insight into the issue. At least, were I an atheist, this film would hardly serve as a compelling portrayal of the divine.
Finally, the premise took a bit long to establish. I never read the book, so I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular happening, and so it got a bit boring at certain moments.
So overall I think this film may do a good job of helping some people to deal with tragedy and forgiveness in a Christian way. But it unfortunately just didn’t really work for me.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
I had already seen the Russian roulette scenes (though I can’t remember where), which were certainly the most intense. The rest of the film I thought was a bit… er… boring. But it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was watching the movie with a 2-month old kitten who was distracting and more entertaining. Anyway, I can definitely see why this film would make it to IMDb’s top 250 list; it was well-made, great acting, terribly tragic, and felt honest. But the 3-hour running time and the slower moments just left me to be distracted by a playful kitten. Unfortunately the kitten will now grow up to be disturbed and troubled because he’s seen some s***.
The Tree of Life (2011)
These slow-moving more meditative films are usually hit or miss for me. “Knight of Cups” for instance was, I thought, incredibly boring.
But I loved this one. Loved the themes encompassing the beauty and mystery of life, and I could relate to spiritual prayers, ponderings, and struggles. The visuals were stunningly beautiful and inspiring, as was the constant use of glorious classical music.
Beautiful film. Loved it.
Expelled from Paradise (2014)
The story was OK, if a bit bland. The CGI-anime blend looked bizarre. The machines and robots looked fine in CGI, but the humans appeared too robotic. It was annoying throughout, though I imagine I could get used to it if I had to.
The Space Between Us (2017)
Too cheesy for me. The female love interest was also too annoying, too cynical and moody and angsty. The main character loses hope near the end far too easily. The space physics was also silly, especially how they faked 0 gravity. After space travel classics like Apollo 13 and The Martian, the cheap-o effects in this film just don’t work at all. The tone was also a bit too muddled; the balance between action and romance just didn’t work. They should’ve focused more on one (probably the romance) and less on the other. Still, I give it a star for some of the humor, cheesy as it was. And, overall, I’ve seen far worse; I appreciated the story they were going for, it just failed to execute.
The Riot Club (2014)
The Garden of Words (2013)
Great animation, some of the background effects were especially beautiful. Story-wise, it was just a bit too cheesy for me, the characters’ relationship just didn’t come across as deep or as poetic as I think it was meant, maybe some of it was lost in translation. At least it wasn’t needlessly stretched out to longer than it needed to be.
A great cheesy 80s fantasy in all its cheesy 80s glory, complete with a soundtrack by Trevor Jones. (I also like how the score wasn’t overdone; a lot of modern action films put in way too much music as though the audience needs to be constantly reminded what to feel. It gets very monotonous and annoying. I like a film like this, where scoring is used more sparingly to highlight intense moments. It’s more effective that way, in my opinion.) Although the screenplay is pretty bland dialog-wise, it still manages to capture the spirit of “Le Morte d’Arthur” rather well, I think, especially in the first half. Fun movie, I really enjoyed it!
Bleh! Just not my type of humor. Even without the vulgarity, it’s mostly shallow culture references and fourth wall breakage.
Of the three I’ve seen, this is my favorite Kenji Mizoguchi film. An interesting story, but some of the characters were so foolish that they were annoying to watch.
Live by Night (2016)
Fun action sequences, but the story in between them felt empty and pointless. I found myself not caring much about any of the characters at all. And any moment any character talked about something spiritual, it just came off as silly at best. “This is heaven” is a repeated line. What? Is that supposed to mean something profound? It comes off as stupid writing. Just didn’t work for me. Bleh!
Oh, and what a stupid nonsense ending. “Repent!” Oh brother.
Great Wolverine movie, probably the best. (I’d give it a higher rating if I was a bigger fan of X-Men.) As I’ve heard others say, it feels more like a western than a comic book movie (and there are some direct references to “Shane”), which somehow works surprisingly well. Despite its 2+ hours running time, it’s very economically written. Each and every scene is meaningful and moves the story forward, either in regards to action or character development or both, so that I found myself fully engaged throughout. Some of the plot turns were a bit obvious, but still worked. Very nicely done.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Just plain silly.