The Good Dinosaur (2015) (PG)

This review contains SPOILERS!
There's always a moment when you're watching a Pixar movie when you realize that they've struck gold. At least, that's been the case with their track-record so far. I can't think of another company that we expect masterpieces from with every subsequent release. But, to be fair, Pixar has only done this to themselves. The lore surrounding the movies, and then all the fan theories included, make us regard the company's films with something like awe. And then we get "The Good Dinosaur".
Let's be perfectly honest, it's hard to screw up a movie with dinosaurs in it. Even "Jurassic World" which wasn't loved by critics, made enormous sums at the box office, unlike "The Good Dinosaur" which was hit by a meteorite.
Interesting enough, the premise of the movie is most interesting in its first twenty seconds. What if the meteor that had destroyed the dinosaurs had missed Earth? A couple of millions of years later, when man begins to evolve, the two would come in contact for the first time. Except, this time, dinosaurs are the heavily evolved creatures and man is a brutish beast that walks on all fours and probably don't wipe after he poops.
At least, this is what Bob Peterson and company who are behind the "conceptual idea" of "The Good Dinosaur" would have you believe. Now, it's hard to just erase a couple of decades of dino-stereotypes that we're used to seeing in films. Even in movies like "Dinosaur", we are reminded of a few things: the dinosaur world is always far removed from the human one. Now, with this movie, that image is flipped. Everything human we have come to expect from a run of the mill western movie belongs to the dinosaurs.
In the first scene present, we witness the birth of reptilian agriculture, which is kind of preposterous, but fine, let's ignore that for a minute. Not only do these herbivores plow a field, water it, grow corn, store it in a silo, and raise chickens, they also have a house for some apparent reason and probably indoor plumbing. All of the voice actors in the immediate family of our hero Arlo, are directed to be Southern and genteel, yet aggressive like every coming-of-age story we've ever seen.
Arlo is the smallest of his family. He's scared of pretty much everything but he needs to "make his mark" within the family...which, in this case, isn't metaphorical, he literally needs to put a muddy footprint on the side of the silo in order to gain credibility with his fam.
But not everything is so simple and soon, thanks to multiple "deus ex machina" moments, Arlo is separated from his kind with a lot of emotional baggage tied to him. And so he begins a journey back home...sound familiar? Yeah, it's pretty much "Homeward Bound".
Anyways, along the way he bumps into a human that he names Spot, because in this evolutionary reimagination of the history of the world, humans must have more relatives with dogs than with apes. Spot's name should be the first clue of his canine ancestry, but he also scratches, pants, begs, fetches, and howls at the moon.
Moving on...
Placing dinosaurs in this western world presents a few more imaginative moments, where you can seen the creative genius of Pixar lurking behind the concept. One of these moments places a T-Rex as a cattle herder and wannabe velociraptors as rustlers. But for the rest of the "journey home" it feels nothing but a long beaten down trope. We know what's going to happen as soon as the story reaches its climax and when it does, it's not emotionally satisfying enough to make us cry or laugh. This is like flat soda, sure it's sugary but without carbonation you realize you're just drinking toxic waste that will eventually kill you.
Okay, so it's definitely not that bad.
But it is very bizarre, and very, very incoherent. Side moments are pointless and add onto the movie's running time for no reason and only prolong the inevitable.
My advice: just pirate the T-Rex scenes online and then skip the rest.

Score: ★★

Atonement (2007) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
I don't think it's any coincidence that the play Briony Tallis writes at the beginning of "Atonement" concerns a heroine named Ararbella. Arabella, is also the progagonist in a book called The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox. Lennox is a cohort of Austen, who Ian McEwan references in the title pages of his novel, upon which the movie is based. The Female Quixote involves a woman raised on the brink of society who doesn't understand social norms because all her learning comes from cheap French Romances...pulp fiction for impressionable female minds. While the book's gender commentary and its classism may fade in comparison with McEwan's more perceptive work, it would seem that he had to have come across The Female Quixote and thus reinvents Arabella as Briony writing a play.
The complexities are many and perhaps I do not articulate them very well. The point being, the movie and the novel are very conscious of playing with perceptions. For a novel to be good, it must follow a certain trajectory and when, too engrossed with literature, you find yourself placing tropes of fiction onto real life, you may become an author of other people's lives which, if you are to believe this movie, is nothing short of murder.
The novel's prose is something rich and lovely, achingly sad and filled with contemplative meta-levels on writing itself and the definitions of words that get included only for a moment in the movie when, laying on the grass in the heat of the day, Briony asks Cecilia what it would be like to be another person.
At the center of the movie there is a misunderstanding concerning Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony, playing by James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan.A thirteen year old girl's imaginative mind makes everything feel like a fairy tale and thus, everything is either chivalrous or evil. For being such a word grounded in definitions and literature itself, Atonement translates very well to the screen with a few minor changes.
Childlike imagination, or perhaps the critique of such an idea, causes Briony to think the worst of Robbie and maybe even Cecilia at every turn of the first part of the movie. She selects herself as the sole voice of reason and the camera allows for this freedom, following her stiff walking with quick editing and rapidly tracking shots in the opening scene.
The music to the film also allows for the creativity of fiction to be manifest as the typewriter becomes the percussion to the soundtrack. Everything in the movie screams the art of writing, and yet the irony of the novel is lost simply because of the mediums there are portrayed in.
The second part of the movie deals with the consequences of Briony's creative liberties and quest for altruistic justice. Her 'fanciful' ways caused her to err and so she becomes a nurse during WWII as a way to serve penance for her deed. We see her, hunched over a sink, viciously scrubbing her hands, attempting to remove the sight of blood or the stench of death. Clearly, she hates both what she is doing in that moment and herself. Yet, she has to, because it still leaves her in power of her own decisions.
Cecilia and Robbie however, have been stripped of their power and live through the war in vastly different ways than Briony.
There is an epilogue of sorts to the movie, a third act reveal in which we go back and reconsider everything that we've seen and we have to reevaluate Briony once again. I will say watching the movie the second time allowed me to realize new complexities of the themes of creativity and poetic liberties. It's quite a feat of screenwriting and movie composition.
"Atonement" isn't perfect, mainly because it is so difficult to translate a book dedicated to the written word into a movie. The ghosts of Ian McEwan's words are here, seen in the illustrious costumes and the rich staging of the film. It looks like poetry.
But then, at the end, when Briony looks at the camera and asks if we think creative liberties are acts of kindness, I find myself thinking 'no'. I think Briony remains a villain, desperately trying to atone for her sins the only way she knows how: by writing.
And this is what makes the movie so achingly sad. It's all an illusion of repentance, but misplaced repentance because at the end, when asking if this act was righteous and kind, I find it would have been better to never have thought as a child.

Score: ★★★½

Boogie Nights (1997) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
There's something about Paul Thomas Anderson's oeuvre that makes me think he just really needs a hug. His characters attempt to explore the more extreme edges of humanity and reveal something about "human nature" that maybe we find disgustingly beautiful. That's a hypothesis that I don't really want to delve further into simply because I don't want to have to face the consequences of myself being wrong. The only other alternative I see, and I really don't want to be lead down this road, is that the figures present in his movies teeter on inhuman, simply because they only are caricatures of themselves.
This is the case with "There Will Be Blood" which has powerful performances if anything but human. I feel this way about "Magnolia" as well. Anderson owes a lot to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese and frankly, if you've seen "Short Cuts" and "Goodfellas" you won't be surprised by anything you find here.
"Boogie Nights" starts of with a pretty compelling premise: open the doors to the pornography industry in its preliminary stages during the 70s, then track its process as technology helped make it more accessible to everyday people and wham! you've got a hit. But it's not so simple, because we need a "fall from grace" saga as well that warns us, yet again, that opulence may not be the best lifestyle. And so the film rolls over, and so do my eyes.
Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) wants to be a famous something. He's working at a night club and staying with his unstable parents. One of the first clues that we have about the movie's trajectory is a scene in which his mother tells him he's really dumb and that he should run away from home with nothing since he didn't buy anything. Besides the fact that this cruelty is only a plot device to make out character jump into porn (and thus, negating any second-wave feminist ideas that he could do porn because he wants to), it's way too early in an already long movie for me to care about anything.
Much like "Pulp Fiction" or any Scorsese flick ever, the movie flits and flirts with the time period while introducing many new characters to the camera in increasingly glamorous ways. There is no question that "Boogie Nights" is a fantastic looking movie. These colorful characters include Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) a sound mixer and pornstar, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) another porn actor who desperately wants to impress everyone, and Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) a 'film director' with a knack for finding new talent.
As Eddie comes into the porn world he is treated to a new side of riches that he has never seen before, and naturally, it only takes until the 80s before shit starts hitting the fan. At the turn of the decade, in true cliche fashion, the aggressive use of drugs is introduced to the baby-faced newly named Dirk Diggler—Eddie's alter ego—and the intensity of the movie starts to amp up.
One minor note that I think is important to note is the use of homosexuality as a use for the bottom of the pit to which characters fall. It's not particularly uncommon—and besides the fact that multiple characters hit their lowest point at the same exact time on the same exact street—but it is unsettling to see these conceptions...then again, it was made in the 90s, so what am I trying to say?
As the movie comes and goes it feels too short. The emotional highs and lows of periphery characters like Little Bill (William H. Macy) are just there for shock factor, sort of a deliberate and flashy sentiment that reminds us that we are both watching a movie and supposed to feel bad for these characters.
There is no denying Paul Thomas Anderson's talent because "Boogie Nights", if anything, is immaculately constructed.  What it lacks is some sort of purpose. At the end of a long meandering plot, we are treated to a "Raging Bull" mirror pep talk and a shot of the infamously long penis and we have to ask ourselves, was it really worth it? Who cares if Dirk Diggler is a rock star with mommy issues and drug problem? In Hollywood movies, those are a dime a dozen.
Or maybe that was the point.

Score: ★★½