You Should Be Watching: May 17-23

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found. I highlight films that come with my personal recommendation as well as provide a list of notable titles that are coming and going so you’re sure not to miss out on the good stuff.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Oculus

Year: 2013

Director: Mike Flanagan

Genre: Horror

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, James Lafferty, Rory Cochrane, Kate Siegel, Garrett Ryan, Katie Parker, Miguel Sandoval, Annalise Basso

 

I’ll be honest with you. I have relatively limited experience with horror. But I still believe that Oculus, a nightmarish puzzle box of a film directed, co-written, and edited by Mike Flanagan, is one of the most wickedly intelligent films in the genre. The genius is evident in the setup. By having Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), brother to Kaylie (Karen Gillan) be a just-released patient of a mental institution because of a violent act he carried out as a child, sanity is already in question. Kaylie is convinced the whole affair began because of a haunted mirror and is committed to destroying it before it destroys them. But what’s easier to believe, that someone is crazy or that they’re under the influence of the supernatural?

Through Flanagan’s careful editing of the past and the present, and through keeping it unclear whether what the camera is presenting is real or imagined, the audience is continually kept off balance along with the siblings. Flanagan makes wonderful use of darkness and light throughout to maintain the ideal, haunting atmosphere, and the character motivations and actions are right on target, not easily second guessed. The terror is subtle yet just brutal enough to convey the true horror of the situation, and I can’t say enough good things about Karen Gillan. Her performance here reminded me why I loved her so much in Doctor Who.


 

Harakiri

  

Year: 1962

Director: Masaki Kobayashi

Genre: History, Action, Drama

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentarô Mikuni, Shima Iwashita, Akira Ishihama, Yoshio Inaba, Masao Mishima, Kei Satō, Ichirô Nakatani, Hisashi Igawa, Tôru Takeuchi, Tatsuo Matsumura, Akiji Kobayashi, Kôichi Hayashi, Ryûtarô Gomi, Nakajirô Tomita, Kenzô Tanaka, Shôtarô Hayashi, Tetsurō Tamba

 

Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri is a true masterpiece of Japanese samurai storytelling, deserving every bit as much praise as more popular fare such as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Everything from the artistry to the intricately woven plot to the carefully developed emotion to the presentation of a time and a people long past is pure excellence. To begin the film, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) is introduced, stoic and seeming in full control at all times, which makes his stated intentions all the more confusing and shocking. He is an older samurai who comes to the house of a feudal lord with the claim that he is willing to commit the ritual suicide known as hara-kiri. But first he must be allowed to tell a story.

The bulk of this film is the presentation of that story and its aftermath, and let me tell you, it’s possibly the most exquisitely crafted story I’ve ever experienced through film, and it will keep you hanging on every frame. Through non-linear flashbacks, Kobayashi introduces the audience to each relevant character, their experiences, and the implications of those experiences at the precise moments needed to maximize intellectual engagement and emotional impact, leading to a progressive series of light-bulb moments as the full truth of the situation is gradually revealed.


 

The Flowers of War

    

Year: 2011

Director: Zhang Yimou

Genre: Drama, History, War

Cast: Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Tong Dawei, Zhang Xinyi, Shigeo Kobayashi, Atsuro Watabe, Shawn Dou, Paul Schneider

 

Many people recognize Zhang Yimou’s 2002 film Hero to be a classic of Chinese cinema, with its eye-popping visuals nothing less than poetry in film form. Cut to 2011, and we have The Flowers of War, Yimou’s highly underrated, culturally diverse war film starring Christian Bale and set during Japan’s rape of Nanking in 1937 that seems to have fallen through the cracks of cultural awareness.    Through a contrast of visuals and characters, Yimou demonstrates the horrors of war and the beauty of sacrifice, especially when learned by the disreputable and self-centered.

Bale shines as the American John Miller, a self-indulgent mortician, who cares for nothing but his own comfort and pleasure as he seeks a quick payday on his way out of Nanking before it’s completely overrun by brutal Japanese soldiers. His unlikely counterpart is Yu Mo (Ni Ni), the leader of a group of prostitutes who are also trying to escape the city. Together with a group of schoolgirls, they all end up together, seeking sanctuary and survival at the girls’ convent. Zhang Yimou and his DP Zhao Xiaoding created a beautiful film about a horrifying event. The plotting is creative, and a wholly human face, with all of its cracks and blemishes is put on our unlikely hero, the innocent schoolgirls, and the prostitutes, many of whom were forced unwillingly into that life at a frighteningly early age.

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 21
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

May 27
Middle of Nowhere (2012)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 18
Creed (2015)

May 30
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
1984 (1984)
Breakdown (1997)
Regarding Henry (1991)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 18
Luchino Visconti:

La Terra Trema (1948)
The Leopard (1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

May 25
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)

June 8
Christopher Guest:

Best in Show (2000)
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Elia Kazan:

On the Waterfront (1954)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Phantom of the Opera (2004)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Winter’s Bone (2010)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Billy Wilder:

Ace in the Hole (1951)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Stalag 17 (1953)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

All the President’s Men (1976)
Dark Passage (1947)
Key Largo (1948)
The Killing Fields (1984)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Stella Dallas (1937)
To Have and Have Not (1944)

 

HULU

In the Fade (2017)
Still Mine (2010)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 18
Cargo — NETFLIX FILM (2017)
Catching Feelings — NETFLIX FILM (2017)

May 19
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Small Town Crime (2017)

May 24
The Survivor’s Guide to Prison (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 19
Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

 

HULU

May 19
Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

We live in a world of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and rebrandings. Sequels and franchises dominate the box office. If a studio sees any opportunity to squeeze a dime out of something you loved as a child, chances are it’s already in production. While they’re not all terrible, even the best of them are merely well-produced retreads that lack innovation and imagination. But every once in a while, a sequel or a reboot comes along that surpasses its source material with a fresh take that injects life into the property. This Christmas, we’re lucky enough to have one of those rare diamonds in the rough in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the 1995 hit Jumanji, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and a young Kirsten Dunst that spawned an animated television series and multiple video games. Boasting cutting edge CGI for its time, the film told the story of four players stuck in the middle of a mystical interactive board game where you win or you die. I’ve been excited for this film for a while due to my fond memories of the original and the casting of Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. Anyone who knows me knows that the easiest way to get me into a theater is to cast The Rock.

The film picks up almost exactly where the original left off in 1996 with the board game being discovered on a beach where it washed up after Robin Williams’ Allan Parrish attempted to bury it in the bottom of a river in 1969. The man who discovered the game gives it to his son Alex who has no interest in board games but is an avid video gamer. The game transforms itself into a video game and after we see some green flashing lights from outside Alex’s window, the film fast forwards to the present day where four high schoolers discover the video game while cleaning out an old storage room and they one by one get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Having been transformed into the bodies of their avatars (Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black), the four students must find a jewel that’s been stolen and return it to its sacred resting place before the perils of the jungle take their lives.

If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it absolutely is. There are a couple of mostly predictable twists and turns along the way, but this film works because of the solid chemistry of its cast. Continuing the on-screen chemistry that was forged in 2016’s surprising comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart play off of each other well and are the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs. Jack Black is as funny as he’s been in years as a self-obsessed teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. Karen Gillan is perfectly awkward as an awkward teen suddenly trapped in the body of a stereotypical female video game heroine. The four of them clearly seem to be having a lot of fun together and each character is given their chance to shine.

There are a lot of films out there to see this time of year that will be mentioned come awards season. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is absolutely not one of those films. It’s ridiculous and over the top, but if I were making a list of the most enjoyable movies of the year, it would definitely be in the top five. I enjoyed the action, it made me laugh and there was a surprising emotional punch at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you’re wanting to go out with the family* to have a good time at the movies this holiday season, I have a hard time believing that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would leave you disappointed.

Rating:

*This is a film with PG-13 humor unlike the original that catered to wider audiences. There is some content that might be objectionable to some with younger children. I’m glad I saw it on my own before taking my children who are all under the age of 12.


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.