Jurassic Park – The classic movie is pretty thin outside of nostalgia. I enjoyed the dinosaurs and it is certainly fun to watch them rip and scare. However, it begins to feel like a basic monster movie pretty quickly. The characters themselves are pretty flat, all of whom are only there to act scared. While the cast is talented, they are given little to work with in terms of their own development. Jeff Goldblum is particularly useless as Dr. Ian Malcolm, the movie would have gone almost the exact same with or without him. Another character sat on a toilet and was eaten. That is all I remember of him.
It delivers on dinosaurs and action. If that is all you are looking for than you will be pleased. If you are looking for bold storytelling or facsinating themes of playing God, this will not be the movie for you. It has some intersting moments to be sure, but it trades them for cheap scares. It is fun, but not that good. C+
Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik’s 2018 film Leave No Trace was one of my favorite to come out last year, and was incredibly undervalued throughout last years awards. Winter’s Bone, one of Granik’s earlier films, shows her also able to extract empathy from unknown characters, and approach the subject matter with curiosity and sensitivity. It also creates a captivating story where someone normal does an extraordinary thing in extraordinary circumstances. She does not make excuses. She does not boast or speak for too long. She just does what she must. This along with a stellar performance from Jennifer Lawrence make this a terrific film. A-
*From now on I will be grading using a letter grade system. The grading system will range from an A to F. This should be easier to understand and give me less room to overrate. I apologize for switching suddenly but I have come to the conclusion it will be easier to use.*
Layer Cake – Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake seems at first like something you have watched before. A crime movie about someone who has set up a successful front, and who swears he can get out. He is soon pull back in, and the world begins to unravel. It is complicated, and at times too much so for its own good. It can become tricky to follow, and I had to make sure to follow each point. Certain pieces get lost in the fray, and I think making the movie 15 minutes longer to explain things would have helped.
However, the movie’s emphasis on a tight structure and a chiseled atmosphere serve it well in the end. The movie never loses its steam and finds ways to surprise and excite. The ending is also brilliant. In the layer cake of crime films, this one is a winner. A-
A Serious Man – The Coen Brothers deliver some of their best heartbreak and irreverence with A Serious Man. Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a terrific performance as Larry Gopnik, a man struggling to figure out why everything around is going terribly. It also asks fascinating questions about religion and death, paralleling the book of Job all the while. This film has certain oddities as does all of the Coen Brother’s work. There are scenes that almost wash over you but are hard to justify in the overall context of the movie. It also ends in a slightly wistful and interpretative area. A Serious Man is far from perfect, but finds areas of brilliance throughout the movie. B+
I recently finished watching the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and it is one of the most necessary pieces of art to come out this year. Some of its historical fictionalizing is tough to square, but it is brilliant and compelling throughout. The culture of the Soviet Union and the pride of their country also come through, making for a fascinating piece of work. If you have HBO, please go and watch Chernobyl.