Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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I couldn't watch too many movies because I'd fall behind on the reviews, which meant that I was deliberately depriving myself of movies for the benefit of this thread and all five people who read it.
You watched an unbelievable amount tbh. Surprised that was you slowing down.

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#759 - Point Break
Kathryn Bigelow, 1991

A rookie FBI agent must go undercover as a surfer in order to track down a gang of bank robbers.

No, this isn't the dire-looking remake that's due to hit cinemas around about now but instead it's Kathryn Bigelow's gloriously early-'90s action masterwork. The plot is quite the variation on the undercover-cop high-concept; it follows a rookie FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) as he is assigned to investigating armed robberies with a half-crazed veteran agent (Gary Busey). Their target is a notorious group of bank robbers known as the "Ex-Presidents" because of their disguises involving rubber masks featuring the likenesses of former U.S. presidents like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Since Busey has his own rather outlandish theory that the members of the Ex-Presidents spend their time surfing when they're not pulling heists, he works with Reeves to conduct an undercover operation that involves the latter attempting to infiltrate the local surfing community. This leads to him befriending a tough-talking female surfer (Lori Petty) and eventually ingratiating himself with an affably philosophical adrenaline junkie (Patrick Swayze). This is all the plot that the film really needs as it proceeds to pad out the proceedings with many scenes of extreme sports, cop-movie clichés, machismo-charged exchanges, and the occasional spot of straight-up action.

What could have been an obnoxious mess of a film turns out to be something more in the capable hands of future Oscar-winner Bigelow as she decides to do the material more justice than it arguably deserves. Reeves is frequently criticised for his wooden performances but here it makes perfect sense for a character that not only struggles with his undercover duties but also in convincingly portraying an extreme sports aficionado. Swayze, on the other hand, gets to channel his naturally strong sense of charisma into a character that shouldn't work but does as he combines beach-bum swagger with an earnest air of Zen philosophy. His rough but friendly coolness makes him the ideal foil for Reeves' stilted blank-slate and their chemistry in all sorts of circumstances; you can tell their action-buddy dynamic is strong because of how easily it invites interpretations involving homoerotic subtext (though not to the extent that Top Gun does). Other characters tend to fall by the wayside as a result, whether it's Busey's appropriately bug-eyed fed or Petty's sharp-tongued love interest, but the film wouldn't be what it is without them. Even John C. McGinley popping up as a stereotypical police chief kind of character makes an otherwise thankless role work.

Point Break could have easily coasted on the shallow thrills provided by its extreme-sports angle but Bigelow still manages to bring some panache to the technical proceedings, capturing everything from foot-chases to sky-diving with a kinetic yet coherent combination of techniques. There's a tactile, exciting feeling to the proceedings that helps to compensate for the many foolish ways in which Reeves' undercover agent and his handlers threaten to ruin the operation purely for the sake of providing action. Look no further than the scene where Reeves and Busey are staking out a bank that the Ex-Presidents are about to hit. I figure that it's a testament to the film's extremely silly but substantial amount of charm that it's able to get away with some more ludicrous developments and qualities. It may have plenty of issues, but Point Break manages to work because it not only avoids taking itself too seriously but does so without descending into dull self-awareness and banal comedy. If nothing else, it certainly beats several hells out of Bad Boys II.

I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#760 - Miracle on 34th Street
George Seaton, 1947

A kindly old man is hired by Macy's department store to play Santa Claus but things are complicated when he sincerely claims to be the actual Santa Claus.

I already knew the gist of the story of Miracle on 34th Street because I have vague memories of having watched the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough as the supposed Santa. Still, I decided that in the spirit of the season I would give the 1947 original a shot. At the very least, it's got an interesting premise that does provide an idealistic outlook on the holiday season despite how easy it was to be cynical about concepts like Christmas or Santa Claus. The film gets started when an elderly gentleman named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) discovers that the Santa hired for Macy's Christmas parade has been drinking on the job and so is hired at the last minute by the parade's desperate organiser (Maureen O'Hara). Kringle does very well, which prompts the store to hire him as their in-store Santa. While he proves just as popular as ever, Kringle soon poses problems when his sincerely altruistic actions clash with the executives' profit-minded strategies, and that's before his benign insistence that he is the real Santa threatens to ruin everything.

Despite its saccharine-sounding premise, I admire Miracle on 34th Street for showing some restraint and not going overboard on the sentimentality. It still starts off as a film with a rather cynical outlook towards Christmas, with O'Hara being a single career woman whose business-minded worldview influences her young daughter (Natalie Wood) to know not to believe in Santa. This attitude also leads to friction with a neighbouring attorney (John Payne) who forms a bond with Wood and encourages her to believe in Santa. The film also teases the very real possibility that Kris Kringle really is a delusional old man after all; the fact that there are Macy's staffers who are willing to overlook this for the sake of their business's continued success lends an interesting subtext to the proceedings. However, there's not that much nuance to the proceedings (such as Kringle being evaluated by a psychiatrist who seems to have more psychological problems than every other character in the film) and the film's development into courtroom drama during the third act may make sense from a narrative standpoint but still has some issues with pacing and resolution. Be that as it may, Miracle on 34th Street is still an enjoyable film where the idealism on display does not feel forced or unwarranted and the performances are nicely done. It doesn't quite feel like a classic, but I certainly wouldn't object to watching it again next holiday season.

Point Break nice review iro
''Haters are my favourite. I've built an empire with the bricks they've thrown at me... Keep On Hating''
- CM Punk

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#761 - It's a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra, 1946

When a humble family man who has sacrificed everything for the sake of his small hometown finds himself contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve, an angel is sent to Earth to help him see the error of his ways.

I think it's been close to a decade since the last (and first) time I saw It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's cinematic fable about the resilience of the human spirit even in the face of seemingly mundane adversity. After a brief prologue frames the story as being told by one celestial being to another on Christmas Eve, the bulk of the film skims the life story of a young man named George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). George wants nothing more than to get out of his pleasant but unremarkable hometown and have exciting adventures around the world, but a series of badly-timed mishaps constantly force him to shelve his dreams for the greater good. All of them just so happen to involve his father's loan business, which is constantly under threat of being acquired or shut down by a greedy businessman known as Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). George still grows up, gets a job, get married to his high-school sweetheart (Donna Reed), and so forth, but his resentment of never getting to realise his dreams grows and grows and then just happens to hit breaking point one cold and wintry Christmas Eve...

There's not really too much that really needs to be said about It's a Wonderful Life at this point. It's definitely earned its status as a classic thanks to its ability to be sentimental without being totally mawkish thanks to its incredible dark side that bubbles under the film's friendly small-town surface. There's enough palpable nuance to the conflict that it has the potential to undermine the heartwarming humanism of the ending; the film had been famously investigated during the McCarthy witch-hunts over its supposedly pro-communism subtext, but one can still walk away from the film feeling like George's joyful epiphany and acceptance of his destiny has hints of Stockholm syndrome to it. With that in mind, it's a testament to the film's quality that it still feels at least a little emotionally stirring to watch despite one's conscious cynicism. I also have to concede that I do have a soft spot for stories that involve alternate realities, but I still admire how well It's a Wonderful Life goes about spending the bulk of its running time setting up its alternate reality. This much is true considering how well the makers develop this small but immensely detailed town filled to the brim with distinctive characters ranging from co-stars to bit parts. This serves to make the film's iconic third act all the more brilliant to watch as all the pieces fall into place for George. Helping things along is the way in which the performers act with gusto - Barrymore sinks his teeth into what is a fairly straight-forward villainous role, Stewart embodies all manner of emotions in combination with his usual marble-mouthed gosh-and-bother affectation as he begins an unlikely relationship with Reed, who provides a surprisingly believable mix of brashness and timidity. I don't think I'll watch It's a Wonderful Life every Christmas, but it's hard to think of a better example of a pure Christmas film.

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#762 - Entourage
Doug Ellin, 2015

A movie star and his friends must confront a series of problems, most of which involve the movie star's incredibly expensive directorial debut.

I never really followed Entourage, HBO's long-running comedy series about an up-and-coming actor trying to make it in the wild world of Hollywood, but I'd certainly seen enough episodes to let me know just what I'd be in for when I watched this big-screen revival. For those who don't know about the show, it follows not only photogenic young actor Vince (Adrian Grenier) but also the members of his "entourage" - best friend/manager "E" (Kevin Connolly), half-brother/aspiring actor Drama (Kevin Dillon), and second-best friend/driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) - as they all make the move from Queens to Hollywood and not only become involved in maintaining Vince's high-profile acting career but also trying to strike out on their own lines of work. In the mix is Vince's agent, Ari (Jeremy Piven), an extremely acerbic industry veteran who wants to support Vince but can't stand the members of Vince's entourage (especially would-be rival E). Entourage the movie picks up with Vince, already rich and famous on the basis of his acting career, looking to try his hand at directing a film. The project in question ends up being an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (simply titled Hyde) that is updated for the modern blockbuster crowd by making its two-faced protagonist into a super-powered nightclub DJ (yes, really). However, when the film starts running over budget with no end in sight, Ari is forced to deal with the wealthy Texan financier (Billy Bob Thornton), who doesn't care about movies in the slightest but still sends his gormless son (Haley Joel Osment) to Hollywood in order to see just what kind of movie his money is financing. That's without getting into the various sub-plots that affect the other members of the main cast...

...which is where the film runs into a serious problem. Despite his partner Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) being heavily pregnant with his child, E still feels compelled to sleep around with random women behind her back regardless of the consequences. In this light, the other sub-plots are marginally more tolerable, such as Drama still trying to get himself acting work (with his small but pivotal role in Hyde under threat by Osment's myopic interference) or Turtle trying to do nothing more than hook up with champion UFC fighter Ronda Rousey (playing herself). In addition to fighting for Vince's creative vision against various rivals, Ari once again has to deal with marital problems and being pestered by former assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) over the latter's impending marriage. Even for a lightweight comedy, these conflicts tend to feel way too thin to sustain the film and their resolutions still lack any and all substance. Even the solitary laugh I got out of the scene where E's various infidelities catch up to him is undermined by not only its conclusion but its sheer irrelevance to the rest of the film (especially considering how it's resolved about halfway through). The same goes for Turtle's sub-plot involving Rousey, which also ends abruptly and leaves one nonplussed despite the comical level of violence involved in the conclusion. By these standards, the trials of fundamentally pathetic D-list actor Drama provide the film with the closest thing it has to a heart even as he's the only one to suffer serious consequences as a result of pursuing his own sexual appetites.

The frustrating thing about Entourage is how weak its comedy ends up being. Leaving aside the foul-mouthed banter that characters frequently exchange with each other (which would be fine if it had any actual wit to it), there are also the ways in which the film's superficial attempts at satire work. A major draw when it came to Entourage the show was seeing various Hollywood celebrities appear as themselves and have all sorts of comical interactions with the show's characters. Aside from the simplistic romantic elements provided by Rousey and Emily Ratajkowski, this extends to nothing more than one-note cameos that are only vaguely amusing at best, whether it's Liam Neeson gruffly cursing out Ari at a traffic light or Kelsey Grammer angrily storming out of a marriage counselor's office. This leads into another sticking point regarding Vince's film-within-a-film itself, which provides the main thrust of the plot's conflict. There's a scene where Ari sits down to watch a rough cut of Hyde and we the audience see the film's aggressively stylised opening scene; judging by this brief snippet, I honestly can't tell how seriously I'm supposed to be taking the plot here. Am I supposed to personally think that the film is horrendous and be amused at how seriously the characters take it or am I supposed to actually be invested in seeing such an obvious hit movie gets its due success? The fact that it can easily go either way does not suggest clever ambiguity so much as vague emptiness. This also undercuts any tension whatsoever regarding the sub-plot where Osment wants to cut Drama's character out of Hyde completely. Several characters constantly talk about Drama's important role, but the fact that we never get even the slightest detail about what that role actually is (let alone see the man perform it) says everything about Entourage and the fact that it depends on telling its story more so than showing it.

Of course, what Entourage does like to show is the usual scenes of Los Angeles hedonism involving women in various states of undress, crowded parties at beach-side mansions, ingesting all manner of perception-altering substances (deliberately or not), and so forth. Between that, the limp attempts at macho humour, and the poorly-handled jabs at Hollywood culture, it's safe to say that Entourage is quite the pain to watch. This being a comedy, I'll concede that I probably "didn't get it", but from what I can see there's pretty much nothing to "get" whatsoever. The main characters are all different shades of unlikeable and it's difficult to be invested in their struggles on either a sympathetic level or a comedic level. The same lack of coherence affects the plot in ways both great and small - as if the confusion over whether or not the satire works well (if at all) isn't bad enough, the film's jumping around between various weightless sub-plots feels awfully fragmented and stretched-out even for a film that's nothing more than a feature-length TV episode. Regardless of whether or not Hyde is supposed to be a good movie, it'd still be preferable to watching this.

I've never seen an episode of Entourage, but all this sounds exactly as I expected the episodes to be. I honestly couldn't see you liking either.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

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I've never seen an episode of Entourage, but all this sounds exactly as I expected the episodes to be. I honestly couldn't see you liking either.
Eh, there was a copy lying around and, if nothing else, it gives me an easy pick for the worst movie of 2015. Besides, one's personal boundaries do need pushing from time to time.

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#763 - Aloha
Cameron Crowe, 2015

A defence contractor returns to his home state of Hawaii for work reasons and ends up connecting and re-connecting with various locals.

I already kind of knew what to expect from Cameron Crowe and his particular brand of milquetoast dramedy, which had already left very little in the way of favourable impressions with either Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous (not quite counting Say Anything because I never watched that from start to finish). Even my existing preconceptions couldn't have prepared me for Aloha, a film that starts off in cruise control and goes nowhere fast over the course of a hundred minutes. After beginning with a montage of home movies including footage of growing up in Hawaii mixed in with footage of the space program, the movie proper picks up with a defence contractor (Bradley Cooper) returning to his home state of Hawaii to conduct some business on behalf of a wealthy industrialist (Bill Murray), who is looking to launch a satellite into space with the assistance of the U.S. military. To this end, Cooper is assigned a military escort in the form of a fighter pilot (Emma Stone) who instantly forms a challenging foil for him as they are made to work together. There are also some extra complications, such as him meeting up with an old ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) who has since gotten married to another military man (John Krasinski) and is currently raising a family.

The main crime that Aloha commits above all others is that it's aggressively uninteresting. Sure, it's a little patronising in its treatment of the native population, with the notorious example of this being the fact that the female lead character is a quarter-Hawaiian and quarter-Chinese yet is played by the pale-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed Stone; while this is arguably justified by the character being proud of her native Hawaiian heritage regardless of her white-passing appearance, this isn't especially obvious until after the fact and just feels like another fundamentally distracting instance of Hollywood whitewashing. The sad thing about Aloha is that this controversy really is the most interesting thing about the movie as Crowe treads familiar ground in his attempt to weave a compelling romantic plot into a greater tale about privatisation, corporate greed, and military accountability. There are some decent performers in the mix, but they struggle to rise above some simplistic characters whose arcs are clearly set out before them and any surprising revelations on either a personal or professional level land with dull thuds.

It's a shame, then, because there are moments that threaten to redeem Aloha. This being a Crowe film, there are naturally some choice tracks on the soundtrack even though the whole thing does threaten to tip too far into bland indie/classic rock for its own good. There's also a halfway-interesting visual aesthetic to the proceedings that infuses otherwise drab scenes with a vague sense of vitality through naturalistic camerawork, adeptly capturing either the lush Hawaiian scenery or intense interpersonal confrontations as necessary. In the context of a fundamentally alienating narrative, there is the odd moment that comes across as interesting, such as one confrontation between Cooper and Krasinski late in the film where both men speak volumes to one another without ever actually saying anything out loud. However, there isn't nearly enough to make the film as a whole work and the result is a fundamentally limp and uninteresting mess that is best avoided.

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#764 - Youth
Paolo Sorrentino, 2015

Two lifelong friends - one a retired British composer, the other a veteran American film-maker - must deal with their many problems while on holiday at a Swiss mountain resort.

It's an admittedly boring-sounding premise, that of a two-hour film about a pair of old white geezers puttering about the grounds of some exotic European locale grumbling about how old and useless they are, but in the hands of such impressive talent on both sides of the camera it manages to work. Having said old geezers be none other than Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel certainly sweetens the deal, as does the fact that they both become the separate beating hearts of a solid acting ensemble and embody different aspects of what the film is trying to depict. While both characters are superficially similar, they couldn't be any more different at heart. Caine plays an eminent British composer and conductor who is trying to enjoy his annual holiday at a Swiss mountain resort but is constantly being pestered to return to his native Britain in order to conduct a performance of his most famous composition (which he naturally refuses to do for reasons that soon become clear). In his role as a renowned film director, Keitel acts as quite the disagreeable foil to Caine despite their respective characters' decades-long friendship; while Caine is content to spend his final years resting on his laurels, Keitel is busy at work crafting his latest film, which will apparently serve as a "testament" to his already-respectable career. They are just a couple of guests at this hotel, whose other prominent guests include a young actor (Paul Dano) preparing for his next role or Caine's daughter/assistant (Rachel Weisz) who has come to the same resort not only to help Caine handle his affairs but also to cope with being separated from her husband, who just so happens to be Keitel's son.

There are definitely some talented performers on display here. Two-time Oscar-winner Caine definitely demonstrates his most impressive performance in years as the recalcitrant maestro who steadfastly sticks to his principles regardless of whether or not it makes any significant difference in the grand scheme of things, showing some serious heart underneath his crusty exterior. The gruffly charismatic Keitel throws himself into a character who does not conjure any serious associations with particular filmmakers as both he and his team of collaborators struggle to come up with the perfect storyline and ending for his supposedly definitive next film. Caine and Keitel do have some impressive chemistry in their scenes, even if they are frequently engaging in superficially banal discussions ranging in topic from their urinary dysfunctions to their perpetual wagers on the behaviours of fellow guests. Dano once again demonstrates a solid performance despite his comically baby-faced exterior and extremely familiar arc as he plays an actor who yearns to distinguish himself as a serious artist despite his best-known role being one in a generic crowd-pleaser; the revelation of the role that he's been trying to immerse himself in serves as the darkest chuckle in a film that's full of them. In the same sense, Weisz proves a performer that's greater than the sum of her character's parts as she manages to carry quite the complicated role as her attempts to cajole Caine into following up on his various obligations is less about reminding her boss of his appointments and more about encouraging her father to do more with his increasingly limited lifespan. This does yield some good moments (such as her character's lengthy and tearful monologue directed at Caine halfway through the film), though it has to in order to compensate for her more banal-sounding narrative as a maudlin divorcee who is approached by one of the hotel's other guests.

It'd be one thing if Sorrentino just sought to capture everything in as straightforward a manner as possible with only the slightest service to either the comedy or the visuals, but fortunately that is not the case. Everything from drawn-out long-shots of people going about their daily business to flashy music-video parodies is infused with creativity of both a sonic and visual nature. This extends to various sequences that are lent impressive levels of nuance due to clever choices of background music or patient camera movements - look no further than the entire sequence playing out to the gentle crescendos of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "Storm", for instance (the fact that the film dares to cut the song off before it finishes is easily its biggest mistake). These stylistic choices complement rather than distract from the many conflicts at the heart of the film, with all the most serious parts of the film being lent the same careful structuring that knows not to distract from the importance of what's actually happening. Prominent examples include Caine passionately explaining his constant refusal to perform another concert or the most important part of Keitel's character's arc (which I honestly want to keep as vague as possible because of its impact and involvement of a certain Oscar-winning actress). In short, Youth may be just the kind of darkly comic meditation on the aging process that it appears to be on the surface, but there is plenty of depth to it in terms of both narrative and artistic complexity that it more than makes up for its superficial familiarity.

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#765 - Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Joe Dante, 1990

A young couple starts working in a high-tech New York skyscraper only for a species of maniacal reptilian creatures to start causing havoc inside.

I do tend to cast a skeptical eye on any sequel that tries to compensate for its inherently derivative nature by throwing as many ideas at the wall as possible in order to see which ones will stick, especially when it opts to change up a lot of the original film's fundamental qualities. By this logic, Gremlins 2: The New Batch has already failed by opting to shift the action from the idyllic Capra-style small town of Kingston Falls in favour of the big smoke of New York City. Not only that, but it opts to replace that same familiar small-town vibe with a grotesque parody of 1980s yuppie culture by having the film take place inside an unnecessarily high-tech skyscraper belonging to a conglomerate that has many conflicting interests taking place inside the same building. It is inside this mess that the heroes of the first movie (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates) find work as both a concept artist and tour guide respectively, hoping to distance themselves from the trauma associated with the first film. However, thanks to a grimly serendipitous series of events things soon get to the point where a nightmare full of Mogwai and Gremlins becomes very real very quickly and, well, you know the rest...

...or do you? While the original Gremlins was admittedly a little constrained by the gee-whiz Christmas parody it was going for, the creative freedom offered by a shift to the big city is definitely put to good use. So much of the movie feels like a conscious decision to take the already-silly concept of homicidally mischievous reptiles with a clearly established set of rules and push it to its logical extreme, so this naturally involves concepts as ludicrous as a genetics lab (run by Christopher Lee and the twins from Terminator 2, no less) within the walls of a generic corporate building or the kind of obstructively useless yet ironically cheerful technology you'd expect to see in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (though this is arguably an exaggeration of the many worthless inventions made by the main character's dad in the original film, too). This makes for the ideal environment for the Gremlins to run amok, and their constant attempts to find new ways to cause havoc definitely lead to some incredible moments (with the most infamous example arguably being the moment where they find a way to stop the movie completely...) Fortunately, the effects on display are competent enough to carry out Dante's eclectic vision that opts to skewer the most toxic aspects of yuppie culture just as effectively as he poked vicious fun at small-town tropes in the original film.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch may not necessarily yield that much when it comes to laughs but it definitely exhibits a rather canny knowledge of how best to escalate a sequel to a hit film. This is a tricky process to get right as the results can just as easily yield unimpressed reactions as favourable ones (if not more of the former) but I definitely feel like this one more than lives up to its predecessor. By starting off on an already surreal note in its absurdist treatment of everything from Wall Street to cable TV, it proves more than capable of executing a constantly escalating series of misadventures that result in all sorts of improbable shenanigans. In this context, even the inevitable bout of self-awareness involving various extras jokingly discussing the rules surrounding the Gremlins does little to undermine the overall film. It's not what you'd call high art, but it's quite capable of demonstrating just how much potential there is in such a fundamentally goofy B-movie franchise. The lunacy on display is enough to make me understand why there was never a Gremlins 3, and if the proposed reboot actually does go ahead then it's more than got its work cut out for it trying to match the madness of this one.

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#766 - The Gift
Joel Edgerton, 2015

A married couple move into a new home only for a mysterious man from the husband's past to arrive and start insinuating himself into the couple's lives.

The Gift starts promisingly enough by introducing an up-and-coming businessman (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Rebecca Hall) as they intend to move into a new house in order to start a new life. While out shopping one day, they encounter a stranger (Joel Edgerton) who knew Bateman from when they attended the same school. The couple invites Edgerton over for a polite (if rather awkward) dinner and think that's the end of it. Edgerton thinks otherwise and soon starts leaving wrapped gifts on their doorstep and dropping by to say hello, which naturally starts to cause some tension for Bateman and Hall. Bateman is quick to let his resentment bubble to his otherwise placid surface, while Hall regards Edgerton as little more than an eccentric curiosity. However, as time wears on and their encounters with Edgerton steadily become more uncomfortable, Bateman and Hall start to realise that there's more going on with Edgerton than meets the eye and soon come to regard his continued presence as a serious threat.

There are some promising qualities at work in The Gift. Bateman is a stand-out as he channels the same combination of smarmy sarcasm and oblivious self-importance that defined his iconic role as beleaguered executive Michael Bluth in cult sitcom Arrested Development; here, the same qualities that were originally played for laughs become grim evidence for his character's horribly flawed nature. Hall holds her own as a woman who intends to treat Edgerton with significantly more compassion than Bateman but finds herself challenged not only by Edgerton's increasingly creepy gestures but also by how they lead to unnerving revelations about the man she loves. Edgerton's appearances are decidedly infrequent but he manages to prove a decent enough antagonist who is unassuming enough in his oddball manner to lend some credibility to the possibility that he might not be the true villain of the piece. The interplay between the three leads is okay as it starts at a level of mild and somewhat insincere pleasantry before dissolving and being replaced with paranoid mind-games that are almost entirely perpetrated by Bateman and Edgerton, with Hall either being targeted by them directly or getting caught in the crossfire.

However, even that level of characterisation and performance isn't enough to redeem The Gift in its entirety. Despite the impressive amounts of hype that the film earned and the ways in which it was touted as a film where it was better to know as little as possible before viewing, I was extremely disappointed with the final product. The performances may be decent, but they're in service to a film that struggles with consistency. It spends so long setting up a slow-burning sense of unease in its first half that the gradual revealing of Edgerton's motives and the fallout from the characters' actions during the second half can't help but feel a little rushed and incongruous. Edgerton may be making his directorial debut and he handles the technical side of things well enough even on a relatively low budget, but even with his experience as a screenwriter he should have been able to craft a thriller that wasn't so dependent on easy sensationalism in order to leave an impression. As a result, what starts off as a careful exercise in restraint becomes a trite mishmash by the time the credits roll and the acclaim that it's earned definitely baffles me a little.

Congrats Iro at getting through the entire year with this thread. I couldn't imagine watching that many movies, but to review all of them too is simply amazing, and shows great dedication. It has been the best thread I've ever seen, and there should be a Mofie in your future.

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Congrats Iro at getting through the entire year with this thread. I couldn't imagine watching that many movies, but to review all of them too is simply amazing, and shows great dedication. It has been the best thread I've ever seen, and there should be a Mofie in your future.
I'm not done yet.

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#767 - Joy
David O. Russell, 2015

In the 1970s, a divorced mother of two plans to support her dysfunctional family by inventing and selling a technologically superior mop.

Like David O. Russell's previous film, the 2013 con-artist comedy American Hustle, Joy is a loose cinematic adaptation of a true story that admits how much creative licence it takes at the beginning with a title card that says it was "inspired by true stories of daring women". The woman in question is the eponymous Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), who begins the film as a divorcee and single mother who is living out of a rather cramped house with not only her two children but also her mother (Virginia Madsen), father (Robert de Niro), grandmother (Diane Ladd), and ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez). Desperate to support the many members of her family, Joy soon resorts to tapping into her unappreciated talent for inventing things; after an unpleasant experience involving the cleaning up of spilled wine and broken glass, she decides to work on designing a more efficient mop, but the events of this film definitely prove that invention is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration...

Russell's last few films have covered subjects ranging from boxers to mental patients to scam artists but they have all been connected not just by the same loose stable of actors but also a lot of the same thematic preconceptions, such as how all of them involve dysfunctional families that prove just as much of a threat to the protagonists' success as any actual antagonists. Joy is no different in that regard but it may have bitten off more than it can chew when it comes to its subject matter. Just because the plot revolves around a concept as fundamentally mundane as that of a woman launching a career by making a mop doesn't mean that it couldn't have yielded a potentially fascinating film. Unfortunately, that's not the case here as it runs through a very dry story with very little in the way of favourable distinctions. While Lawrence plays a character who is a lot less outwardly obnoxious here than in previous collaborations with Russell, this isn't much of an improvement as she aims for savvy understatement and grace under pressure but instead feels awfully flat and gives off the impression of going through the motions.

The supporting cast doesn't fare much better; de Niro plays an eccentric working-class father that's no different from his character in Silver Linings Playbook (with his quirk here being his perfectionist romanticism instead of an obsession with the NFL), while Madsen is unrecognisable (for better or worse) as Joy's neurotic television-addicted mother. Ladd not only serves as Joy's kindly grandmother but also delivers seemingly omniscient narration from her character's perspective, creating a rather treacly performance in the process, while Ramirez leaves next to no impression despite his character's emotionally charged nature that can and does alternate between passionate diatribes and subtle emoting (and that's without mentioning Dascha Polanco doing her best in the one-dimensional role of Joy's best friend). Russell regular Bradley Cooper appears as an executive in charge of a home-shopping television channel, though even his strengths as a handsome smooth-talker aren't enough to help him provide either a well-rounded individual character or a good foil for Joy. The performance that leaves the most favourable impression is arguably Isabella Rosselini, who delivers a tempestuous but complicated performance as a wealthy widow who provides the capital for Joy's venture.

Another thing that stood out to me about Joy was how much the film seems to draw attention to its own lack of style or personality to the point where I do wonder if it was by design. The film begins with footage of a period-appropriate soap-opera being filmed complete with garish art direction, trite dialogue, and overwrought yet stilted performances; throughout the film, there are plenty of scenes where a soap opera is playing in the background (and, in at least one scene, becomes the setting of Joy's nightmares). The generally overblown and blatantly artificial nature of the soap operas may serve as amusing kitsch on the surface but it also serves to expose holes in how the film proper treats its subject matter; though Joy may be a prestigious drama crafted by an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and starring an ensemble of talented actors, there are plenty of instances where it feels far too similar to the glitzy televised melodrama playing out in the background for its own good. Duplicitous allies, drastic set-backs, unexpected tragedies...the list goes on. Several scenes seem to be structured like the episodic cliff-hangers that are a staple of serialised soaps; while such a statement should imply that the scenes in question provide tension and anticipation, the film as a whole ultimately results in neither due to a sheer lack of surprises.

At times, Joy feels like it could pass for a parody of itself and other supposedly unconventional Hollywood biopics. In trying to stay grounded in the outwardly mundane but inwardly significant events surrounding the formation of a small business based around a cleaning product, Joy feels like it might pull off the same feat as its protagonist and become something more than what people expect it to be. Unfortunately, the resulting film is an incredibly drab excuse for an ensemble drama where Russell provides some seriously diminished returns on the same qualities that made his earlier films so acclaimed and successful. His relatively unorthodox approach to genres ranging from sports drama to romantic comedy fails to make a significantly positive difference to this rags-to-riches biopic and in fact only threatens to make it just as boring as its premise may suggest. There may be talented actors in the mix but they are wasted on some very flat characters and fail to generate much in the way of interest; though Lawrence does get to play a more understandably sympathetic character than in her previous collaborations with Russell, it comes at the cost of making her a virtual cipher in terms of definition or nuance. Despite the film's plot being driven by the concept of innovation in the face of adversity, the film itself is almost entirely lacking in innovation and feels like as much of a chore as actual mopping.