Films I watched, December 2015

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Last Shift 2015 Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
As others have said, predictable in places, but a great example of doing a lot with very little: one location, bright lighting, very small amount of cast members. Great to have in rookie cop Jessica a female protagonist who is strong and police trained, yet also unnerved as the night goes on. Less interesting are jump scares set up for us, not for the character, like when Jessica leaves an empty room, not noticing there are ghosts there for a few moments. Makes less sense the more you think about it, but smart enough.

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Love and Mercy 2015 Directed by Bill Pohlad
The scenes recreating the recording sessions for Pet Sounds are spine-tingling, and for music fans seeing the recreation of the Wrecking Crew and their discussions with the boy genius Wilson…well, you leave the movie wishing there was more, more, more of that. But this is a bio-pic after all, albeit a better one than most, and so we get a living, breathing Wilson from Paul Dano and a touching and wounded older Wilson from the actor who looks nothing like him, John Cusack. Paul Giamatti plays yet another soul- and profit-sucking manager, twice in one year it happens. Terrific sound design from Atticus Ross, who creates an ambient bed of Wilsonics. Good but not great, and frustratingly truncated in its final act.

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Room 2015 Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
A tough adaptation by the author Emma Donoghue of her own book, mostly ditching the voice of the five-year-old Jack, who has been raised to only know captivity in a small room. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, what remains is the survival narrative, first within the room and then SPOILER outside the room, where there are rooms upon rooms and more emotional minefields to traverse. It cries out for a more impressionist, stranger film, one that would tease more out of the metaphors (philosophical, political, psychological) that the Room sets up. Lenny Abramson, who directed the wonderful Frank instead works to get strong performances out of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. I was disappointed that the music takes the edge off what are the film’s most suspenseful section, opting for major key, piano tinklings. Though impressive, this is a room that I don’t need to revisit.

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A Very Murray Christmas 2015 Directed by Sofia Coppola
Holiday piffle directed by Sofia Coppola, once again back in a hotel room overlooking city lights with a sad sack Bill Murray. Wants to have its critique and eat it too, it’s neither too meta, nor too entertaining. But you want to like it because it’s Bill Murray. Take-aways: Miley Cyrus and Maya Rudolph have an impressive set of pipes each.

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Phoenix 2014 Directed by Christian Petzold
A slow burner with hints of Vertigo and Teshigahara’s Face of Another, Christian Petzold’s Phoenix is about a woman (Nina Hoss) returning from the concentration camps with a new face and determined to discover if her husband sold her out to the Nazis. Her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) believes that this “new” woman Esther looks close enough to Nelly that she could help him get her inheritance, never suspecting that they are one and the same. Though we see a gun early on in the film, it’s a song that returns in the third act to do the most damage. A film about rebuilding identity after war and trauma, it’s also about memory and how we see each other, and the battle in a post-war environment to write and rewrite history.

And on television:

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones 2015 Created by Melissa Rosenberg
While the current Marvel films are bloated punch-’em-ups, Marvel’s television experiments have been more grounded in reality and actual character development. The closest that a film has got to replicating in the viewer the after effects and lingering paranoia of sexual trauma, Jessica Jones gets quite nailbiting as it nears its middle section. It’s also a movie of its time in a culture that still has “problems” with the subject of rape. Krysten Ritter balances strength and vulnerability and David Tennant uses all his charm to counterbalance his villainy. Overlong by about two episodes, its climactic scene just misses the mark.

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