Is The Danish Girl a Must-See Movie?

People go to see movies for many different reasons. Some people see movies to be entertained, while others want to learn the details of a story. The majority of people who see The Danish Girl fall into the latter category. The film is another biographic film that tells the story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo a sex reassignment surgery. The film is directed by Tom Hooper and stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. The movie is the latest in a long line of movies based on true stories. I’m not sure if this is a recent trend or if biographic movies have been around for a while. It seems like a lot more have been popping up lately. I think The Imitation Game represents the best realization of this formula to date.

The problem with only seeing movies based on true stories is that there is no imagination involved. You might as well be reading a non-fiction book. History is filled with important people who led interesting lives. The task of filmmakers nowadays is to pick the true stories that can be successfully adapted into films. Why would you exert the effort to create something brand new when there are so many preexisting stories? Biographic films are a win-win for directors who want to avoid work and audience members who see movies to learn.

So should you see The Danish Girl?

Well, it depends on how important you think the story is. If you are interested in the transgender experience, chances are that you’ve already seen the movie. I must admit, the film makes you empathize with Redmayne’s character. “It doesn’t matter what I am, it only matters what I dream.” he says. Late in the movie, Elbe reveals that if he cannot become a woman, he will most likely commit suicide. He is literally two personas within one body. Now this is where I would start asking the most questions. Believing that you are a woman’s mind trapped in a man’s body is more an aberration than anything else. I’m not really sure what to say about this. To Elbe, being a woman is so much better than being a man, that he would rather die than remain alive in a man’s body. This seems a bit extreme, but who is anyone to deny another person’s emotional experience? This is a difficult topic to discuss and I would welcome any insight.

The Danish Girl is a well-made movie but it lacks the entertainment value that I desire. Telling Elbe’s story is an honorable motive and I think everyone who worked on this movie deserves credit. Both Redmayne and Vikander are amazing in this movie, I would hesitate to recommend this movie to any of my close friends. If you don’t get out to the movies very often, there are other films that are more deserving of your time and money. I recommend catching this one when it comes out on Netflix, since seeing it on a smaller screen won’t change your experience that much.

The Hateful 8 Review

I saw The Hateful 8 a few weeks ago and I debated seeing it a second time. I found it entertaining with a lot of great characters. I have heard mixed reviews so far concerning Tarantino’s latest film. Some find a lot to like both on and beneath the surface of the film. Others seem to be disappointed with the movie. I can tell you that the movie is amazing. Whether you see it in 70mm or not is beside the point. I consider myself lucky to be living when Tarantino is still creating movies.

Dialogue in this film has a strange feel to it. Tarantino has always been known for writing unique characters, but I feel that some character lines in The Hateful 8 were overly sensationalized. Tarantino may be trying too hard to make his characters controversial. This was especially apparent in the way that Walton Goggins’ character Chris Mannix speaks. I am used to Goggins’ role in the TV series Justified where he plays a silently menacing character. The sparse dialogue in Justified enables Goggins’ words to have more impact. In the Hateful 8, Goggins is a much more theatrical type of person. It was obvious that Goggins was delivering written lines because the words were simply too well formed and dramatic. Dialogue that sounds too much like writing signals that a movie is not concerned with appearing like reality.

When Channing Tatum shows up in this movie’s third act, it feels out of place. He is simply too recognizable to exist in the same world as the other characters. Someone should have given him more scars or changed the way he talks. It will be interesting to see how people react to Channing Tatum’s presence in this movie in the coming years, as he continues to establish his own unique brand.

I have no issues with anything resembling sexism or racism in the film. The film does depict these ideas but this does not make me upset. The film exists in its own world. The constant condemnations of The Hateful 8 on the grounds that it is sexist or racist remind me that I live in an overly sensitive culture where people have nothing better to do than point out how something upsets them. I am sad when this reaction occurs because movies should be as shocking as possible. 

These are my thoughts on The Hateful 8. Tarantino may be showing some signs of age, however this is an excellent film that cinephiles will consider required viewing. The movie is long but it never overstays its welcome. There is always something interesting to look at and the film will reward repeat viewings. Tarantino is an incredibly talented filmmaker. No matter what you think of him as a person, you cannot deny his talent for creating entertainment. Hopefully there are many more Tarantino films in our future.


The Forest Review

After thinking about my movie watching habits, I decided to start seeing more films of questionable quality. Lately most of the films I’ve watched have been superb. There’s nothing wrong with only seeing high-quality movies, but I tend not to have anything interesting to say about them. Seeing bad movies should give me more interesting and vicious things to say on this blog.

First on my list of supposedly bad movies is The Forest. It follows Sarah, played by Natalie Dormer, as she tracks down her twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer, who supposedly committed suicide in the Aokigahara forest. Along the way, Sarah teams up with the handsome and charming Aidan who accompanies her to write a news story.

Early on it becomes clear that the movie is confused, and not in a good way. Sarah tells Aidan the story of how her parents were killed by a drunk driver, but the images on screen do not support this narrative. On screen, it appears that Sarah and Jess’s father kills his wife and commits suicide, creating a strange inconsistency.

Also, it would help a lot if Sarah were a somewhat interesting or complex character. Her basic “need to find my sister” motivations become tiresome quickly. The flatness of Dormer’s character is the true downfall of this movie. All she needs is one or two well-timed lines to make her character more three-dimensional. Instead we are expected to trudge along with Sarah’s annoyingly singular goal. She feels like a robot programmed to do one thing and no one wants to watch a movie about that.

The movie relies pretty heavily on jump scares. I would like to think that I am desensitized to such frights, but in truth, I do not watch enough horror. At least two times, I felt my chest tingle when the music volume increased and something scary yet odd happened on screen. Jump scares are effective but they feel cheap. They have the effect of pissing me off because they don’t feel earned.

So this movie has some things going for it. Dormer is nice to look at, it takes place in Japan and some parts are effectively chillling, such as the images of bodies hanging from nooses in the forest. It’s obvious that the movie had some material removed. Certain lines suggest a more complete story, but perhaps it would have been a bore. The film barely reaches and hour and a half and I was glad when it ended. If I had paid to see The Forest, I would have felt ripped off. So the movie exists in the category of “meh”.  It’s not awful but its definitely not good by any means. Unless you are a devoted Horror enthusiast, avoid this movie and see one of the many excellent films currently in theaters.

The Revenant

The Revenant is the most recent film of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. I discovered Innaritu last year when his film Birdman was released and subsequently won the academy award for best picture, best original screenplay, best director and best cinematography. Critic’s take Innaritu’s films seriously. His films are built upon interesting ideas and are visually impressive, but they do not deal with important issues. Despite this, I was looking forward to The Revenant and I can say that it delivers enough entertainment value. The Revenant is a solid two and a half hours but contains enough propulsive action that it rarely feels slow. I am somewhat biased because I was drawn in solely by the subject matter of the film. The gorgeous natural setting and time period of the film are enough to earn my interest.

The basic plot of the film is as follows: Leonardo Dicaprio’s character is nearly killed by a bear and left for dead by the men in his group. Tom Hardy’s character murders Dicaprio’s half-indian son and leaves Dicaprio to die in the wilderness, against the orders of his commander, played by Domhnall Gleeson. The bulk of the plot follows Dicaprio as he tracks down Hardy to enact revenge on Hardy. Dicaprio must deal with a number of trials and tribulations as he makes an arduous journey to find Hardy. Dicaprio is mostly silent throughout the film but must express pain through his character’s actions. Dicaprio’s ability to convincingly portray a man in incredible pain is what drives the film. Fortunately for the film, Dicaprio pulls this off. Hardy is the antithesis to Dicaprio’s silent bravery. Hardy’s character’s main goal is to survive and hopefully make money. He will do virtually anything to survive even if that means other men will die. He is without any morals. Hardy also speaks in a strange mountain man dialect that made him appealing to me. Hardy speaks english but he should be subtitled because his accent is so heavy. Hardy is absolutely convincing and his character is fully realized. It’s tough to say the same thing about Dicaprio.

The strength of The Revenant lies in the cinematography and pace. Many shots are beautiful and had me wishing I could rewind or pause the movie to fully understand them. Usually I am drawn to films for story elements. Once in a while, a film will speak to me on a level more emotional and direct than what can be accomplished through storytelling. Usually a film will have one such instance of this emotional resonance. The Revenant has a few moments like this. This accomplishment is reason enough to view Innaritu’s latest film. Unless you have an aversion to violence in any form, or you are especially empathetic, you will most likely enjoy The Revenant.

On another note, while this is an excellent film, I do not see it as superior to many of the other excellent films of 2015. For example, Mad Max: Fury Road achieves a much greater resonance with me than The Revenant. However The Revenant is being heavily marketed as a probable award winner. I suppose that this is due to the name recognition of Dicaprio and Innaritu. This cements my suspicion that the Academy Awards are a biased endeavor.

The Big Short

The Big Short is directed by Adam Mckay and stars Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Ryan Gosling. Each of these actors plays a different man but they share the same goal: to short the housing market based on subprime mortgage loans. The film takes place in the years leading up to the financial crisis in 2007. No one in the world could foresee the crisis because the fraudulent activities of banks were hidden from view. The film highlights the unique sort of person who discovers the housing bubble before the herd and thus gains access to the bet of a lifetime.

Of all the characters in the film, Christian Bale’s performance as Michael Burry was the most impressive. Burry is a real person and a doctor who quit being a neurosurgeon and found financial success by looking for value in unexpected places. His approach is based on hard data and he stumbles upon subprime loans simply by looking at the numbers himself. His decision to invest all of his fund’s liquidity into credit default swaps angers his investors. No matter how assured Burry is that his investment will pay off, his investors will not trust him. Bale’s performance garners sympathy because of his outsider status. Burry is autistic and never able to feel  like he belongs. Fortunately this outsider perspective enables him to find the value that no one else sees.

Steve Carrell’s performance as an angry hedge funder might be the central role in the film. Carrell carries the emotional weight of the film. His character is predestined to sniff out inconsistencies wherever he can find them. This inclination is what leads him to a career as a financial analyst. He is a troubled man dealing with the recent death of a child. He is the character most likely to voice his opinion in an obnoxious way. When the crisis hits, Carrell’s character is the last one to hold onto his credit default swaps, refusing to let the wrongdoers off easy. The character thrives by pointing out the hypocrisy of others but he is unaware of the conflict within himself. He thinks of himself as a hero when his true motivation is profit. Every character in the film is motivated by one thing: money. Carrell’s character is no different.

It is also worth mentioning the two men behind the garageband fund that is Cornwall Capital. These two are young compared to other characters, yet they find something that no one else sees. They discover that the triple-A rated securities in the tranches are actually triple-Bs in disguise. The rating agencies rules for rating the quality of the securities are completely dependent on what Wall Street wants them to be. The level of fraud in the system is remarkable. Discovering this allows these guys to make more money than any of the other characters.

The film also touches on Cornwall’s investment strategy prior to the events of The Big Short. The two men started their fortune by betting on events that people had underestimated. People don’t like to think about bad events happening, so they underestimate their likelihood. Cornwall’s strategy profits by finding bets with potential gains exceeding the potential losses.

The most troubling thing in the film is the level of fraud it exposes. After a second viewing, I was profoundly aware of how fraudulent the system was. Wall Street gamed the system to serve their own needs without regard for the effects. Fraud extended from Wall Street to rating agencies to insurance companies. The burden of repayment eventually fell upon the taxpayers. The system continues to function and its likely that another recession will happen.

The Big Short works on many levels. It works as a comedy, drama and half-true documentary. As someone interested in economics, I was completely enraptured by the film. I recommend The Big Short as one of the funniest and most interesting films of 2016.

Carol: A ’50s romance worth your time

Carol is a movie that takes place during Christmas, yet it has nothing insightful to say about the holidays. The film is directed by Todd Haynes who is not well known even though he has created many movies. Carol flies under the radar save for one reason: It is a story about lesbians. It is also a film about lesbians getting decent exposure to the public. For many, this subject is reason enough to see Carol, however the film is worth seeing for many other reasons.

I decided to see this film for a couple reasons. Mainly because the reviews have been largely positive. It also possesses a unique style. It takes place in’50s america and feels similar to Mad Men. I am also aware that an actress named Cate Blanchett plays the lead role. I must confess to being unfamiliar with her work as an actress. I will say that her performance in this film is adequate. She is the most complex character so her performance requires the most effort. The success of Carol depends on her more than on any other actor or actress. I find her the most likable persona in the movie. The other prominent actress is Rooney Mara. It’s difficult to care too much for her character because she’s not likable. One can never quite tell what’s on her mind as her default facial expression is empty of emotion. Occasionally she exhibits flashes of joy or sadness but these moments are short-lived.

The strength of this film is its visual style. When you watch Carol, it will be hard to feel bored because every scene has something interesting. Many insignificant shots are elevated simply by the way that items and people are arranged within them. There is plenty of visual fodder for film students writing papers. I would also bet that Carol will reward repeated viewings due to the amount of information conveyed in a subtle fashion. You will also get more from Carol if you are more familiar with the 1950s in America. Often I was unsure of the meaning of slight character behaviors.

The film does drag as the love story progresses. It is most interesting during the first half as we are introduced to the characters and the film’s unique style. I did start to feel bored of the film in the second half. There are a few twists but nothing really surprised me. The most titillating moment is a vivid sex scene. It’s surprising because until that moment, you see the two women as friends with no sexual desire for each other. The audience in my theater was completely silent when that moment hit.

I expect this movie to be nominated for and possibly win many award categories. Cate Blanchett is a strong contendor for best leading actress. I feel that major credit should be given to Todd Haynes for his work as the director. Haynes will be someone I look forward to hearing from in the future.