Gatsby's Occasional Movie Observations

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Master of My Domain
(Originally titled 'Gatsby's Genteel Genre Gesticulations', but discarded for sounding pompous )

I know, I know. "G, another Movie Log-type thread? Do you know how many of those we have? Just farm your rep on Rate the Last Movie You Saw, dammit!"

Luckily, this thread is mostly for me to get back on track and watch movies on a regular basis. I sort of revived myself a few months ago, then fell into relapse due to my busy schedule - but no more! My goal is to watch AT LEAST one movie per week, though I prefer two or three viewings per week. And fellow MoFos, I hope you will join me on this odyssey.
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Master of My Domain
The Prestige (2006)

Genre -- Mystery Thriller
Premise -- After a tragic accident, two stage magicians engage in a battle to create the ultimate illusion while sacrificing everything they have to outwit each other.

Upon a re-watch, I can say that this is Nolan's most overrated film. It contains a minimal amount of his strengths and a noticeable amount of his weaknesses.

The plot is complex, well thought-out, and unrelenting as it gradually unravels; I give the film that. But when you consider that it closely mirrors an existing source material, The Prestige isn't as original as it seems. Another positive is David Bowie's perfectly cast and memorable performance – a definite highlight for me.

Unfortunately, I've already run out praises. The score, lacking a Hans Zimmer punch, feels forgetful; there is no motif that we can attach to the atmosphere of The Prestige. The cinematography and imagery are equally forgettable, though one can easily forget that when spellbound by the magic happening around him/her.

Nolan has never been good with dialogue, and this lapse in an otherwise talented filmmaker shows in several places throughout the film. Example: the scene where we meet the magician trope for the first time. Here, there's plenty of room to introduce character traits with efficient, playful dialogue, but we're instead left with drawn-out, monotone, and expository back-and-forths. Even with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman's solid performances, they still come off as having the personality of a tin can.

Like every good magic trick, The Prestige has a twist leaving us wanting more. While I acknowledge its quality, its execution still leaves me a bit puzzled. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I prefer an ending which leaves the audience to interpret the illusion for themselves. Or maybe cut the 20 minutes leading up to the twist that feel as slow as molasses.

However, despite these flaws, The Prestige still deserves three stars for its technical proficiency. Yet, I am about as impressed as a person who watches a trick where the bird simply disappears, and does not appear again. This film is missing something.

Master of My Domain
Disclaimer: Not all reviews are going to be this long; I just have a lot to say about a film whose 8.5 IMDb rating I can't understand.

Master of My Domain
Not much of a fan myself. Had no idea it had an IMDB rating of 8.5??!! Madness!

Good to see you back Gats.
Good to see you too, SL.

About that rating - what from I've seen, the internet loves Nolan and plot-heavy films so The Prestige is basically a perfect film for it.

Not seen it for ages but I remember it being enjoyable enough at the time. I do get quite mesmerised by anything 'magic' though.

Congrats on starting GOMO btw, here's hoping you can make a real go of it
NomsPre-1930 Countdown

terrible, 0/5, not enough puppies.

Master of My Domain
Not seen it for ages but I remember it being enjoyable enough at the time. I do get quite mesmerised by anything 'magic' though.

Congrats on starting GOMO btw, here's hoping you can make a real go of it
Thanks Chyp.

Also thought of starting this as simply GMO, but I figured that'd be a bit unpopular.

It feels like it's been years since I last read your thoughts on a movie, so I'm very happy to see that you've created this thread. Hopefully you can find enough free time going forward to keep it updated somewhat regularly. If not, quit your job and move back in with your parents and devote every waking second to Movie Forums!!!!

The Prestige used to be a favorite, but it's been a long time since I last watched it. It's definitely my favorite Nolan, though. (For the record, I haven't seen Interstellar or Dunkirk yet.) I was lucky enough to catch The Prestige in theaters, back before Nolan was a household name. With most films, you know that the hero will likely overcome whatever obstacles are put in front of him, but The Prestige didn't have a clearly defined hero or villain, so it made for a very unpredictable journey since I didn't know if the film was siding with Jackman or Bale. Plus magic is cool, and I liked how seriously The Prestige treated the subject matter. I own the movie, so I should throw it on sometime in the near future and see what I think of it nowadays, but I'm confident that I'll still dig it. I'd say it's underrated more so than overrated. (Not in accordance to IMDB's ratings, which I never look at, but in terms of where most people probably rank it on Nolan's filmography.)

Professional horse shoe straightener
Will keep an eye on this thread. Nice to see your thoughts. Agree about the Prestige. Like most of Nolan's films it fits in the "good" but overrated category for me.

Master of My Domain
If not, quit your job and move back in with your parents and devote every waking second to Movie Forums!!!!
Ha, but if I move in with my mom every other review on this thread will be a Sandra Bullock comedy and I know you're not a fan of those.

(For the record, I haven't seen Interstellar or Dunkirk yet.)
I think Nolan's solemn, almost workman-like directing style works well on films on Dunkirk; I would have liked The Prestige to be handled by someone who specializes in pizzaz. Also, watch Dunkirk! (you can skip Interstellar )
Will keep an eye on this thread. Nice to see your thoughts. Agree about the Prestige. Like most of Nolan's films it fits in the "good" but overrated category for me.
Nice! Hope we interact more on MoFo SL.
I might occasionally look at this thread.

I'm another who wasn't crazy about The Prestige.
Uh oh, 'occasionally' isn't that strong of an endorsement... glad we agree on the film though.

Master of My Domain
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Genre -- Comedy
Premise -- "The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend."

The Grand Budapest Hotel gets better each time I watch it. You could say that I've developed a sweet tooth for this colorful, zesty, and delicious dessert of a film - or what I'd imagine a treat from Mendl's, a fictional pastry shop in the film, would taste like. However, there's nothing superficial or artificial about this Wes Anderson gem, as it showcases his ability to expertly combine idiosyncrasies with human emotion.

A common criticism leveled at The Grand Budapest Hotel, or in fact all of Anderson's filmography, is that its characters are obsessively quirky, launching into witty observations every other second. While that rings true for Rushmore and to some extent The Royal Tenanbaums, Budapest features some of Anderson's most subtle and distinct characters. For example, the film's main character, Zero the Lobby Boy, is hardly talkative at all; rather, his penchant for silence implicitly reveals his turbulent childhood without the need for excessive exposition. Agatha's instant gravitation towards Zero is justified as well, as her mundane life is revealed through efficient and contrasting shots. The latter characteristic of those shots is noticeable when Anderson transitions from the brightly pink Grand Budapest Hotel to the blue/white buildings that surround Agatha, as well as her faded brown clothes. A combination of blue, pink, and brown - a great way of showing visually that Zero and Agatha are meant for each either, the combination similar to, again, a Mendl's treat.

I could go on forever about the symbolism of JUST that one location, but alas, we must move on. Obviously, Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as Monsieur Gustave, the hotel's no-nonsense and insanely romantic concierge. His dialogue is consistently funny; however, it never interferes with the film's themes - courage and friendship - creating a thoroughly enjoyable character. Maybe the executives developing the next Pirates of the Caribbean film can learn from this? Speaking of characters, Anderson has an innate ability to create memorable people, and honestly, I'm jealous of that. Even the old man who forgets that Madam D, his relative (!), had passed away is so one-of-a-kind and amusing that I can't help but chuckle when imagining him.

The plot is your standard Anderson-esque recollection of past events peppered with elements of caper and period films, but even this shows that, as Roger Ebert famously said, "it's not what a film is about, but HOW it is about." You could give Wes Anderson the most hackneyed script in his speciality genres and he'd find a way to make it his own. The Grand Budapest Hotel, as a concept, is unspectacular. Nevertheless, a miraculous combination of a perfect writer-director-producer and great actors made it seem believable and even immortal. I've heard 14-year old Korean teens talk enthusiastically about this film; most students I tutor have either heard of the film or saw it and liked it. Mark my words, this great film will not be forgotten fast.

Uh oh, 'occasionally' isn't that strong of an endorsement... glad we agree on the film though.
Well since you are giving occasional movie observations, we should be right in line with one another

Excellent review of The Grand Budapest Hotel. While I recognize Anderson's obvious talent as a filmmaker, his trademark quirk and confectionery aesthetic just isn't for me. In order to fall in love with his films, I think you have be charmed by his worlds and his characters, which I'm not. Is GBH your favorite from him?

It floors me how well you're able to write in a second language. You put 95% of Americans to shame.

Master of My Domain
Is GBH your favorite from him?
That's a tough question - it's a close race between Fantastic Mr. Fox for GBH. I guess it depends on my mood.

Thanks for the showers of praise Cap. Writing is something I'm always working on, so I'm glad you think my reviews stand out even amongst the MoFo crowd.

Excellent review of an excellent movie there Gats
I was very late to Anderson's works myself so I still have a few to catch up on and I've only watched GBH once so far and thoroughly enjoyed it - his quirky style of storytelling seems to suit me down to the ground and I look forward to revisiting this one on more than one occasion and seeing how much more it can grow on me.

Master of My Domain
Venom (2018)

Genre -- Superhero, Action
Premise -- "When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego 'Venom' to save his life."

It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but…

Venom is pretty bad. Not surprising. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and all we cinema fans can do is to analyze its failure, including myself.

Y’know when I knew Venom would be a mediocre film? During its opening scene. Often, blockbusters will begin with an intriguing open, reeling the viewer in and setting up the world to be explored for the next two hours. Thor: Ragnarok, a superhero film I actually enjoyed, began with a shot of Thor locked up in a fiery dungeon. I was hooked.

Venom, on the other hand, beings with a generic looking spaceship crashing into Earth. Hmmm. We then get slight taste of the ‘Symbiote’, a mysterious alien life form, but the scene is painfully tame. Every flavor felt is bland and familiar. Foggy night sky. Bulging eyes. A flipped ambulance. Tame, tame, tame.

Then we cut to our main character, Eddie Brock, played by the charismatic Tom Hardy. And look - he’s a headstrong, handsome journalist who doesn’t play by the rules! Ahhh, we love him already! He also has a beautiful wife! But wait, because he doesn’t play by the rules, he ends up getting dumped by the wife! Gasp! Gee, I wonder if she’ll have a significant role in the film’s third act!

Oh, but we also have to set up the film’s villain, who’s a walking, talking glossary of movie-exclusive scientific babble and manipulative tendencies. I forgot his name already, so let’s call him Mr. Evil. Intriguingly, Mr. Evil's the guy responsible for introducing the ‘Symbiote’; therefore, Eddie has to end up in his laboratory, which is accomplished through...

Long story short: it took 40 minutes to introduce Venom! Yes, the main selling point of… Venom. Afterwards, horribly edited and exceedingly loud action sequences dominate. They’re creatively bankrupt, too, as one scene involve killer drones, another takes place in a building, the climactic battle on a rocket… the worst offender, however, is a daring motorcycle jump off a San Francisco hill. Suspense is gradually built as Eddie + Venom race up a steep incline, only to reveal that there is no hole, no enemy waiting at the bottom. The jump is literally there just to create a rush of adrenaline. My God!

There are plenty of other flaws in Venom I haven’t discussed in-depth. For example, everyone except Tom Hardy recites passable platitudes about love, the Symbiote, or science. The characters are monotone as well; I think Confucius once said that if a lobby receptionist is more complex and layered than Mr. Evil, your movie is poo-poo, but I’ll have to fact-check that.

And again, Venom isn’t completely hopeless or incompetent. The technical precision in it is on par with award-winning pictures. But it’s just so mediocre, especially when you consider that Venom costs the same amount of money to watch as Thor: Ragnarok. The bar for how good cinema can be is being raised each year; Venom uses the grading rubric for a 90’s film.

To end on a positive note, I enjoyed the controversial “turd in the wind” line. It made me laugh. It’s one of few moments when Venom dares to be different. It’s also an aspect of the film that received copious amounts of criticism on social media. Ironic, methinks.


Master of My Domain


(NOTE: I wrote this review as an 'example' of how to do a film review assignment I gave my students. Therefore, it follows a strict rubric and contains safe rhetorical choices, but it is the most 'grammatically correct' review I've written on this site, so... enjoy. )

Released in 1979, Alien is a now-classic, 117-minute sci-fi horror film that launched director Ridley Scott and actress Sigourney Weaver into stardom. The film chronicles the journey of the spaceship Nostromo and its crew members as they attempt to survive against a cunning, indestructible alien. In doing so, Alien not only provides first-rate entertainment, but also brings up a few pressing themes, such as technology and feminism – both of which are even more relevant today.

Intriguingly, except for the few meanderings on an unknown planet, most of Alien takes place on the Nostromo; therefore, it is depicted with excruciating detail. Roger Christian, the film’s art director, filled every nook and cranny of the Nostromo with doors, pipes, buttons, and signs. They create a distinct ‘used’ look, indicating a futuristic world filled with the doldrums of our present. From this, we can also observe the central conflict. Everyone on the Nostromo is jaded and weary; even when the alien attacks, for example, Parker, the chief engineer, cares solely about his bonus, and Ash, the science offer, wishes to keep the alien alive and examine it. Only after Ripley takes control do the crew members realize their foolishness. Often, we’re just as lost in a haze of confusion as the crew is – a good glimpse of the alien is rare. Alien wants us to fear, and for the most part, it succeeds.

One of the main reasons is its well-executed reversal of cliches. Sometimes, in horror films, the depravity begins when a sinister male rapes a female character; however, Alien subverts our expectations when a male character is impregnated by a ‘face-hugging’ female. It’s the same reason why Carrie is terrifying – a change from passive to active, done right, elicits dismay. Ripley, too, represents feminism that feels natural. She’s not the typical last-woman-standing; she’s earned her heroine status through charisma and dexterity. Notably, the music and the lighting highlight her struggle against a mortifying enemy. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is that of understatement. Even during the film’s climax, the music is limited to flashes of jarring noises, mimicking the bleep-bloop of computers of a desolate future. When Ripley runs through the Nostromo, a clash of industrial orange and blue light underscore her face, emphasizing the sheer terror and stakes at hand.

Nevertheless, Alien does have a few flaws. The build-up to the ‘chest-burster’ scene feels like an interminable drag. For example, a spherical machine, which the film spends a minute on, ultimately becomes a fleeting detail that never comes into play. Except for Ripley, the crew members receive little character development, which makes their quest for survival less important; we root for nuanced characters, not one-dimensional ones. Understandably, Alien is a horror film, but that doesn’t completely excuse it from being light on character.

Overall, on a scale of A to F, Alien feels like a solid B. As far as atmosphere goes, it’s difficult to triumph Alien. The combination of intricate sets, a somber soundtrack, and an unforgettable alien creates a vision of the future that is visually striking as well as appalling. A constant state of dread and confusion keeps our breathes on hold until the credits fade in. However, obeying the tradition of many 70’s horror flicks, Alien spends too much time setting the stage, wasting precious minutes that could have used to explore the inner-workings of the crew members. After all, isn’t that why filmmakers love to shove characters into an isolated space? Yet, Alien is a fantastic film that deserves a watch from any horror or thriller fan. It's a classic indeed.

BONUS REVIEW - Stranger Things, Episode 1

Eh, I'm not hooked. Yet. Sure, the characters are likable and the show moves at a truly 21st century streaming-era pace, but so far, I've been shown nothing new. If anything, I'm already quick to assume that Stranger Things is earning rave reviews because of how well it incorporates 80's nostalgia. MoFos who've successfully binged the show: does it get better?

I think watching the whole first season of Stranger Things is worth it. You wouldn't be missing much if you decide to stop there and jump ship before watching Season 2. Not that it's markedly worse, it's just nothing new like you said.

28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I think watching the whole first season of Stranger Things is worth it. You wouldn't be missing much if you decide to stop there and jump ship before watching Season 2. Not that it's markedly worse, it's just nothing new like you said.
I actually really liked Season 2.
"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

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