January 11, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

This movie is nothing if not divisive. Some love it, some hate--both with good reason.

First, let's address the elephant in the room: the undercurrent of racism that flows through this movie but isn't ever really addressed. There is a racial slur used as a punchline to a joke and more than a little humanizing on the part of the most blatant racist cop. The fact that the few black characters in the movie are essentially used as props also does not help matters. So I think the backlash against this movie by people of color is not only understandable, but also justified. Intentionally showing the humanity of racist people, especially those who have exploited their positions of power to inflict harm because of those racist beliefs, is a slap in the face to those who have experienced it in real life. It is a slap in the face to stories of marginalized people who haven't been given the opportunity to tell their stories because stories like these are dominating the narrative.

In spite of all that, I found myself enjoying the movie. It is, actually, a really well done movie. It portrays Frances McDormand in all her glorious, weird, unforgiving self and makes us uneasy about whether we want to root for her or whether we are terrified of her. It explores moral gray areas, including (yes), the humanity of racists. And it makes us question how far we'd go to get what we feel is justice for the death of a loved one. It's something, I think, everyone can relate to, even if they are not a rural white hick who has the privilege of brushing off blatant racism. (Though it is hard to ignore the fact that a black woman doing what McDormand did in that town would more certainly have been arrested, beaten, or killed the moment she put up those billboards.)

Now, for my controversial take. I like the nuance in this movie. I like that no one is all good or all bad and yes, that includes the character played by Sam Rockwell, who, by the way, is absolutely brilliant in the film. I like moral gray areas. And while I understand people's desire not to see any redemption in a racist cop, I don't think the movie absolves him, just like it doesn't paint McDormand as a hero. Everyone is just stumbling through this incident, making some good and some terrible decisions, some worse than others. I like complicated. I like something that is thought-provoking, even if some of those thoughts are "why are we glossing over the terrible crimes committed by this particular character?" And though it doesn't make it right, I do think that blatant racism is simply a part of some rural towns. Showing it as such doesn't equate to an endorsement of it, only the privilege that comes from white characters being able to ignore it as background noise.

So ultimately, I think this movie deserves both the accolades and the intense scrutiny it's receiving. It is a fantastic portrayal of grief, anger, and complicated relationships (not to mention the fantastic acting, engaging plot twists, and clever pacing). It is also a reminder to Hollywood that there is a desire from audiences to see stories that are more diverse and more attuned to the prejudices faced by millions.

Final word: See it so you can talk about it.

January 9, 2018

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Emma Stone, Steve Carell

In the realm of sports movies, tennis has been woefully neglected. Aside from Match Point and Wimbledon, there haven't really been any major movies on the subject. (I'm ignoring the random ones you've never heard of that pop up when you Google "tennis movies") And the tennis in those is, to put it mildly, hideous. So to see a "real" movie about the sport, about a legend like Billie Jean King, getting Awards buzz?


It's a worthy subject, the Billie Jean King match versus Bobby Riggs in 1973. It was a huge moment for the women's movement and something most female athletes are acutely aware of. King herself is also a worthy subject, having been a trailblazer for female professional athletes, women, and the LGBT community. Some people were surprised when the USTA Center in Flushing Meadows (aka where the US Open is held) declined selling the naming rights to the complex and instead named it after Billie Jean King. I'm surprised more things aren't named after her, frankly. Her contributions to tennis and sports in general are not even remotely recognized enough.

That being said, this movie is sort of meh. I wanted to like it far more than I actually did. Far and away the best part is Stone herself, and any reader of this blog knows how I feel about her, so that took a lot for me to say. She does a really good job and somehow even manages to look like Billie Jean. Steve Carell also does a commendable job as Riggs, so it's really not the actor's fault this movie falls flat. They even took pains to hire proper stunt doubles so the tennis sequences aren't embarrassing to watch. Instead, it was the decision to split the movie into half a biography of King and half a movie about the match itself.

Like I said previously, King is a very worthy subject of a biography. The fact that she is an LGBT icon and the issues she had to deal with at that time, trying to discover her sexuality without being able to be open about it, is obviously terrible and a solid storyline. The problem is that this movie is fundamentally set up as a sports movie. It's titled after a particular match and it's pinnacle point is the match itself. So to integrate King's personal journey with her marriage and sexuality, to me, was too much to cover.

As I see it, the movie should have gone one of two routes. Either:

1. It's a biopic of King herself. Her rise to the top of tennis, the creation of the tour and its struggles, the discovery of her sexuality, and the aftermath of that famous match. I want more detail about the struggle to start the tour. The struggle of living on the road and the toll it took on her marriage. The opinions of other women on tour on how it was going or what they thought of King (other than Margaret Court's numerous side eye glances). Even naming the other women who left the LPTA to start the tour would have been a start. Or,

2. A match more strictly about the event itself. When I think about an excellent sports movie about a true event, I think of Miracle. What that movie did so well was show all the events leading up to, including the general environment, before the event itself. While some might argue that's what this movie did, I found it lacking. Yes, the movie showed the creation of the tour to give us the backstory that it had to do with female athletes demanding respect, but it didn't show the general atmosphere of the US at that time. How did people feel about the sport? About what King was doing? How aware was the general public? What did it mean for women at home to watch her win? What happened to Jack Kramer? What changed as a result of this? The movie tried to build up to this climax of the match, but ended abruptly after it was over as if it was washing its hands and going home. Bobby's backstory also felt rushed. It would have been nice to have clips of his days on tour, so viewers got a fuller picture of the type of player he was. Why was this senior tour player, at 55, able to command an audience with these top women? And what was up with those vitamins? This movie felt more like it was checking the boxes on showing particular events of pieces of the story instead of diving into them to tell a richer story.

I think the movie tried to split the difference and give recognition to King while trying to make the movie more "mainstream" by marketing it as a traditional sports movie and it suffered as a result. So if any other director ever decides to make a proper movie about Billie Jean King, I look forward to watching it. In the meantime, however, I pray Emma Stone doesn't win a second Oscar for yet another mediocre movie.

Final word: Though I love the attention being paid to tennis and Billie Jean King, the movie itself doesn't hold up to the buzz.

January 4, 2018

Descendants 2 [TV movie] (2017)

Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, et al

I adore Disney Channel Original Movies. Adore. Not only did I grow up with Zenon (zetus lapetus!) and Motocrossed and The Color of Friendship, but the movies were so great that High School Musical 3 and The Cheetah Girls: One World were released in actual movie theaters! They are a force to be reckoned with.

So it makes sense that Disney had to go and screw it up.

Descendants (the first one) isn't a bad movie, necessarily. It's not great either, but it's tolerable. Which almost makes it worse that they've tried to turn it into a franchise. One movie was forgivable. Two, plus a spin-off TV series? No.

This is not the next High School Musical. For one thing, the characters aren't nearly as likable. It's basically all Mal all the time, with a few sidekicks that are given hideous outfits (why does everyone wear motorcycle gloves? To show how bad they are?) and flimsy storylines. The songs are terrible, oddly placed, and are more auto-tuned than a Rebecca Black song. Even the lip syncing is bad. Literally the best part of the movie is Uma, and she's the villain. And even she's not that great.

This movie is aggressively mediocre, but advertised as the second greatest Disney Channel Original Movie ever. I find that offensive. Yes, offensive. With a vast library of greats like Eddie's Million Dollar Cook Off and Model Behavior or even Luck of the Irish, the fact that Disney has poured so much money and energy into such a lackluster series honestly makes me angry. The fact that Kenny Ortega could go from HSM to this crap makes me angry. And the fact that such a great premise--the scorned children of Disney villains try to find their place in the world--is squandered on such cheesy and over-choreographed movies makes me angry. This franchise is stupid. And the probability that Disney will make a third one of these makes me even more irrationally angry.

I want new movies! Exciting movies! Movies that explore boundaries without relying on kitschy songs and terrible dancing. I want a return to the heyday of Disney Channel Original movies that unabashedly explore racial boundaries and gender expectations and don't require third rate CGI dragons. I want Disney to stop trying to be "trendy" with colored hair and stupid slang and just focus on the basics. (Fun side note: the version I watched on TV was a "pop-up" screening and had little messages float across the screen throughout with things like "mic drop" and "LOL") They even added a talking dog because, why not? This movie is the very definition of "trying too hard."

Final word: If I had watched this movie before Halloween, I probably wouldn't have given candy to any kid in a Mal costume. I'm that bitter about it.

December 15, 2017

Psych: The Movie [TV Movie] (2017)

James Roday, Dulé Hill, Maggie Lawson, et al

In the hellscape that has been 2017, this movie has been the one thing I've had to look forward to. I literally put its release date on my calendar to make sure I didn't miss it. In retrospect, I may have put too much pressure on it. It is a TV movie, after all.

Let me back up. Psych is one of my all-time favorite shows. It's clever, it's funny, and most of all, it's always surprising. You never know what obscure 80's reference they're going to use or how off track Shawn and Gus will get with their argument. It's wild, slightly slapstick, and completely unlike any other show I've watched. The day it was cancelled was a day of mourning in my house.

Movies, of course, are much trickier than single episodes. They have to tell a coherent story while also addressing the growth of the characters that happened in the gap between the show's end and the movie's start. So I can appreciate all the tricky pieces the creators had to balance.

But this movie didn't feel entirely fresh. It felt like they wanted to squeeze in so many nods to old episodes and guest characters that it lost the silly, carefree feeling of the show. Instead, it was a carefully choreographed dance down memory lane that was satisfying in a way, but didn't seem to add to the story in any meaningful way. Things happened, sure, but they were secondary to the little winks to the past crammed throughout the two hours. It certainly wasn't the most compelling story they've told.

I'm sad because it feels like I've lost my show for a second time. And while part of me is holding out for a sequel, I don't want my characters to limp out on the tail end of a six movie deal like The West Wing did to all of us in Seasons 6 and 7. Then again, maybe if there are more movies planned, they won't feel so much pressure to keep reliving the highlights and can create newer content.

Final word: Not a total Psych-out, but certainly wasn't enough to salvage the year. 

December 7, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, et al

There's a segment from The Daily Show I think about a lot. Correspondent Michelle Wolf was talking about the wild popularity of the then-newly released Wonder Woman movie and she said: "You know when we'll feel like women are equal at the box office? When we get to make a bad superhero movie and then immediately make another bad one. Men get chance after chance to make superhero movies. No one crappy Batman v Superman saying, 'well I guess we're done making man movies.' "

Basically what I'm saying is, I sort of hope there's a Bad Moms 3. Not because this movie was good. It wasn't. But that's not surprising. I just think in a crowded landscape of terrible comedies, women should have their shot at making them too. We like brainless movies too.

Okay, but seriously, I get that the studio was cashing in on the success of the first one. And it was legit worth seeing! (Read my review of it here) But what made the first one funny was the unexpected quality of it. This one felt more like The Hangover 2. But guess who got a third installment anyway?

The movie's main problem was it just tried too hard. Wayyyyyy too hard. The premise--mother/daughter tensions erupting at Christmas--is a good one. It's something most women can relate to and find humor in, even if the situations in the movie are grossly exaggerated (much like the first). And the additions of Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, and Cheryl Hines bring a level of acting not normally seen in terrible comedies. I know a lot of terrible comedies exist--they just don't usually have SO MANY quality actors in them. 

So the acting is on point. Everyone executes their role the way they should. It's just, you know, the writing. Like having Baranski and Kunis (who look nothing alike, btw) repeat the phrase "dicking around" back and forth twelve times. Or making a child repeat "oh my fucking God" at inappropriate times. It was trying SO HARD to be funny it was painful to watch at times.

At the end of the day, it delivers pretty much what you expect it to. No one is seeing this movie with the Oscars in mind. It's just a shame I've been reduced to thinking I guess I'd rather have seen this than Daddy's Home 2.

Final word: I don't blame them for making this movie, only myself for having spent my one night out on it.

October 21, 2017

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

I had a conversation not too long ago with a blogger friend of mine. She'd quit writing about movies because the pressure to watch and write about movies was detracting from her enjoyment of them. I, too, had felt the same way and while I hadn't completely given up my blog, I found myself continually putting off my next review. It sounds silly on the surface, since neither of us are paid to either watch or write about movies, but the internal pressure of keeping to a schedule is both real and exhausting.

As the weeks piled up, I started to miss my blog. I've done it every week for the past 5+ years and to just stop writing on it felt premature and sudden. But the longer I waited to dive back into it, the more wracked with anxiety I became. What would be the movie that would break this dry spell? It would have be fantastic! My review would have to make the long wait worth it!

As it turns out, I just needed to watch a damn movie. Any movie. And Shaun the Sheep happened to be it. I'd wanted to see it, though I certainly didn't imagine it to be a the great cinematic masterpiece that would signal my return to the blogging world after a 10 week absence.

And it wasn't. Shaun the Sheep is a very cute cartoon from Aardman Studios, the makers of Wallace & Gromit. It features the same cutesy stop motion animation of anthropomorphic animals and British sensibility. And like Wallace & Gromit, it's much better in short bursts.

I saw the full-length feature of Wallace & Gromit in the theater. And as much as I adore those characters, the movie was a bit of a let down. It's just a lot to stretch what is normally a 30-minute skit into a 90-minute movie. Shaun the Sheep Movie was better, but only by so much.

It's cute, to be sure. The jokes are understated and there are a lot of sly pop culture references that flew easily over the heads of my clueless children. But it does start to drag a bit after the halfway point. What was decent at 85 minutes could have been excellent at 60 minutes. But no one will pay to go watch a 60 minute movie in the theater and that's the problem. So fluff gets added to make it feel like it's worth your time and we end up getting another animated film that makes people take the genre less seriously. It's a lose-lose.

The movie is still worth watching, especially if you have small children. The fact that there is zero dialogue is, in my book, a huge bonus because you don't need to contend with accents, foreign humor, or even listening. There's no Mel Gibson (cough, cough, Chicken Run) and a more light-hearted plot than any of the Wallace & Gromit movies (which is both a pro and a con). It is definitely the most enjoyable full-length feature put out by Aardman so far and I hope it signals an upward trajectory for them in the future. I also hope they seriously consider a new Wallace & Gromit movie to make up for that Were-Rabbit shit instead of just making Shaun the Sheep 2.

Final word: I had an editor once tell me my work "made him smile, but not laugh out loud." This is like that.

August 2, 2017

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

Once stuffed under mattresses, pages stuck together, or hidden inside the VHS case of more appropriate material, porn is now easily accessible and watched practically out in the open. Men watch it on their computers while at work. People even watch it on their mobile phones, lest they wait an extra 30 minutes to get home first.

It is this environment that has allowed the subjects of this documentary - amateur porn stars - to flourish. Here the filmmakers follow the paths and experiences of several girls, ages 19 to 25, as they make their way through the industry. It is neither glamorous nor overly sympathetic; rather, just an honest look at who they are and why they do it. It is a stark contrast to the slickly produced "Cathouse" on HBO, which depicts girls constantly lounging in full lingerie and hosting sex toy parties amongst themselves.

What stands out the most, however, is a moment when their "agent," aka the skeezy guy who recruits the girls and charges them rent to live in his hovel of a house, opines on the longevity of most amateur porn stars. Worst case scenario: one month. Best case: anything over six months.

Think about that: these women take a leap of faith, move to a random city, film themselves having sex (film that will be on the Internet forever), for a "career" they can only hope lasts more than six months. They promise of money and freedom is enticing, but I can imagine many teens fresh out of high school are not thinking through the long-term consequences of such a decision.

But there ends my negativity toward the women themselves. I have my own opinions on porn and the negative effect I think it has on teenage boys (one of the women in the film mirrors my sentiment), but I think this film better highlights the double standard placed on women who enter sex work.

We are a country obsessed with sex. We use it to sell everything from hamburgers to shampoo. And as the film points out, porn websites have the highest amount of traffic every month. So if so many people are consuming it, why is there such a stigma for being in one?

At one particularly maddening point, a woman's boyfriend tells her that she "needs to have self-respect" after she shoots a bondage scene. Yes, this is a boyfriend who claims to love her and yes, he already knew she did porn when they met. He even claimed to be okay with it for awhile. I can understand why many would not feel comfortable with their significant other being a sex worker, but for him to claim to be ok in the beginning, but draw a morality line at particular sex acts he doesn't like smacks of patriarchal bullshit. Separately, she has an emotional encounter with her parents and her father tells her "it will take a while before she earns his trust back."

Think about this another way: an adult woman (she's 19, remember), from a small town, finds a way to escape her rural life and does so, with very little qualms. While she may not love her job, it pays her well and she is happy with the freedom it has given her. But under pressure from her boyfriend and family, who constantly tell her how much her job somehow negatively affects them, she walks away, feeling shamed and regretful. Oh, while also telling her she "took the easy way out," which is an interesting comment from someone who has clearly never had to have sex on demand for hours at a time.

I'm not saying there aren't women who regret going into porn. And I'm not going to pretend that being a porn star is the most empowering thing for a woman to do. But society is so quick to judge and dismiss women who do it that they overlook the reason women go into porn in the first place: economic freedom.

Ignored is the fact that absent other opportunities, women are leveraging their assets to improve their situation in life. They are cashing in on a demand, created by mostly men, who then turn around and shame them for it. The same men who watch their porn then tell these women that they cannot be taken seriously as people or mates. It's infuriating.

Though that particular storyline is only one aspect of the documentary, it is an undercurrent that runs through the entire film. These women are looking for a vehicle to get places in life, and to them, porn was the best option to get there. It is both difficult to watch their futures depend on the desires of men and inspiring to see them try and take control of their lives and bodies. It may not have been the most exciting documentary, but the subject is thought-provoking enough to make me interested in seeing the miniseries created out of it.

Final word: People should be watching this documentary instead of actual porn.

July 14, 2017

The Big Sick (2017)

Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano

If you're not tired of hearing about The Big Sick yet, you haven't been paying attention. The amount of hype this movie has been getting seems unprecedented for a romantic comedy. I went into this expecting nothing short of a complete revival of the genre.

I wasn't disappointed.

First of all, the movie lacks the cheesiness present in so many rom-coms, perhaps it's because the story is based on actual events. So instead of relying on contrived interactions or wacky characters for laughs, the jokes feel naturally funny. And by natural, I mean the jokes arise out of believable, awkward situations - just like real life.

In a way, it's a little reminiscent of My Big Fat Greek Wedding in that it centers around the strain of defying familial expectations and an unapproved relationship. Where it differs, however, is instead of amping up cultural stereotypes to a comedic degree, The Big Sick chooses just a few scenarios to highlight the innate humor in the difference between the Pakistani and American experience.

Secondly, this movie brings something revolutionary to the rom-com genre: an Asian male lead not named Keanu Reeves. More specifically, an Asian (not Asian-American) male lead. Asian men have been vastly underrepresented in movies, with their infrequent appearances often involving kung-fu, gangsters, terrorists, or other undesirable roles. They don't get to be the hero and they certainly don't get the girl at the end of the movie. I mean, Jet Li couldn't even end Romeo Must Die with a kiss - he got a hug from Aaliyah. So to see someone like Kumail not only have a non-gimmick-filled relationship with a [white] woman, but also be pursued by other women, really adds a narrative lacking in mainstream Hollywood. Asian men across the world are routinely considered romantically desirable and frankly, it's about damn time movies caught up with that fact. 

This may seem like a petty point, but I appreciated the appropriate cast pairing of Nanjiani and Kazan. Again, I know this is based on real life, and Kazan resembles Nanjiani's real wife, but too often we have been forced to sit through rom-coms written by men who pair themselves with women wayyyyyyy out of their league. (Think: any movie starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, or Jason Segal.) The fact that both Nanjiani and Kazan looks like average people you might run into on the sidewalk only makes the movie feel even more authentic.

Lastly, I feel the need to comment on the performances by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. I have not been shy in the past about voicing my dislike of both of their voices (in The Incredibles and Ice Age, respectively), and neither of them as actors really excites me, probably because of this fact. I'll just never understand how anyone could enjoy Everybody Loves Raymond. However, I think they are both fantastic in this movie. You like and dislike them both in the exact amount you need to make this story work. And for me, the gauge of how much I like a movie is whether or not my enthusiasm can be thrown off by annoying details. The fact that I enjoyed the characters played by actors I dislike is the ultimate endorsement for how good the movie is.

Final word: You're going to be hearing about this movie into awards season, I guarantee it.

July 7, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

I know I am quick to make sweeping, silly generalizations about entire movies based on nothing more than a stupid line of dialogue or the wardrobe of an annoying character, but I'm going to attempt a more nuanced look at this not-very-anticipated sequel. It might seem like a strange decision to devote this much brain power to something so insipid, but I think dismissing the entire thing as a silly movie is neither revelatory nor helpful to the general discourse. Everyone knows these movies are stupid, especially if you sat through the first one. So my pointing that out would make for a very short review.

Instead, I've decided it's worth discussing the progression of the story, characters, and acting in relation to the first. I briefly considered just writing a list of my faithful companion's and my comments throughout the affair to more accurately capture our horror and delight at the ridiculousness, ranging from "oh my God he's really IN there" to "that move seems like a lot of work," but alas, I shall attempt to be serious about the entire thing.

In some ways, this movie is less terrible. Maybe because my expectations had been properly calibrated, but I found the dialogue a huge step up from the previous installment. There was no more talk of lip biting and a lot less sexy talk. There was plenty of sex, to be sure (and still a lot of nipples), but less "we're trying to shock people with BDSM sex" and more things regular people might actually do. So, more relatable, I guess? 

The characters were also more believable. We saw Christian expand his possessive/abusive persona and while simpleton Anastasia was still going along with it, mistaking it for love, she was far less annoying. She seemed to have more of a personality, more of a backbone, and a lot less whispering and following him around like a lost kitten.

Where the movie lost me, however, was its reliance on party scenes and sex scenes. That's basically the entire movie: Christian and Anastasia go to a party. They leave partway through and have sex. They go back to the party. They go home and have sex. They go to another party. Then they have sex. Like, I know he's a billionaire, but surely he must have other things to do? 

Also, this one tries to delve deeper into Christian's history and how he turned into the sadist he is. Sadly, this seemed to be written by someone who's never actually been abused, as it involved a very awkward scene involving a tube lipstick and more sex. I would say more, but I don't want to spoil the big reveal. ;)

That headband!
I did, however, appreciate the introduction of new characters. If you're going to stretch this thing out, new blood was vital. And while I wonder if it was necessary to make Kim Basinger look as terrible as she did (were they just trying to emphasize the age difference between her and Christian?), it gave me a weird ray of hope, like the fact that they convinced an Oscar-winning actress to sign on board maybe means I'm not as pathetic for watching this as I initially believed? I mean, the last one was nominated for an Oscar itself. (Seriously. Look it up.)

All joke aside, yes, this movie is still as bad as you think it's going to be. It's still got ridiculous relationship cliches, cringeworthy sex moves, and a completely predictable plot. It's the equivalent of a trashy summer read, and hey, it's summer.

Final word: If Transformers can make another sequel, why can't this?

June 21, 2017

Logan (2017)

Hugh Jackman

Before Wonder Woman came along and stole all of its thunder, Logan had been the talk of the 2017 superhero realm. It was hailed as gritty and exciting and everyone loved the psychotic little girl who slashes everyone in sight.

But those words, "gritty" and "exciting" get tossed around a lot. What do they mean, exactly? I don't want to go all Merriam-Webster (considering its Twitter account is currently a phenomenon unto itself), but sometimes my nerd side wins out. You see, gritty has two meanings. Either:
     a. covered with grit, or
     b. showing courage and resolve

There's something happening in movies where people have begun to describe films as "gritty" that seem to fall much more into the first category than the second. Like Logan. Do Wolverine and the other characters "show courage and resolve" in the movie? Sure, I suppose. Not more than any other typical comic book movie. Probably less so, actually. It is, however, shot in a dessert with a lot of dirt, dust, and later, blood everywhere. Which is why I'm convinced it got slapped with the "gritty" label in the first place. Just because he now goes by "Logan" and doesn't have his hair in the those cheesy wings doesn't suddenly make him gritty.

I bring this up because this movie is dirty. Like, gross. Not just in a "people don't shower like in the Old West" kind of way, but also in a "people's heads are being literally chopped off and blood is spurting everywhere" horror movie kind of way. The combination obviously appeals to a wide audience, considering the box office numbers on this movie, but I really can't say why.

I'll be the first to admit I am squeamish about violence. I think people can understand and appreciate the violence of a situation without having to see actual bodies being dismembered and such. But again, it seems like a certain segment of the population actually enjoys seeing copious amounts of blood spewing from slashed bodies, so this movie appeals to those people.

For the rest of us, um, well, there's not much. Yes, the little girl is awesome. And yes, I suppose it's hypocritical to applaud a child for slashing adults with her tiny Wolverine claws after denouncing it for several paragraphs, but hey, she's taking on adults twice her size. It's obviously more impressive than the hulking Hugh Jackman that could probably beat up most people with his bare fists. Though the girl's action skills are the highlight of the movie, she doesn't speak much. So she's not so much a complete character as an awesome stunt person.

So for main characters, there's Wolverine, the same sulking, hulking character as always, a girl who doesn't talk, Stephen Merchant, who plays an albino whose white makeup looks like it's going to rub off any minute, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X, whom we need to talk about.

First of all, didn't he die? Like, we all watched him evaporate in X3. I know this isn't a real universe, but WTF? No explanation, he's just suddenly there again. I would have been happy to see him instead of Jame McAvoy for a change, except he then executes the most awkward Spanish accent  I've heard since my Chinese mother starting taking Spanish classes. Ven aqui! NON NON NON Patrick! No wonder the little girl doesn't talk. I wouldn't want to respond to him either. Except then at some point, he abandons the Spanish and just speaks English, which makes even less sense. Either he's speaking Spanish because he doesn't think she'll understand English, or he's just speaking Spanish to torture the audience. It's unclear, really.

I just kept watching this movie, holding out hope for a big moment that would turn things around for me. I wanted to believe that my fellow movie watchers couldn't have gushed over this movie just because of some cool stunts from a child and a thin layer of dirt over everything. I mean yes, we'll all miss Wolverine (I mean, sort of), this being is last movie and all, but you can't pad his ratings just out of nostalgia. We deserve better!

All I can say is that I watched this two days ago and the only things that stand out in my memory are: the little girl's stunts and Patrick Stewart's Spanish. If he doesn't win next year's Katherine Heigl Award, I will be shocked. Estupefacto!

Final word: I'm sure we'll have to suffer through multiple spin-off series of other characters now, but thank God at least one is over.

June 14, 2017

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, et al

I'll admit, I haven't been a big fan of these prequels to begin with. I think the actors are miscast, there's not nearly enough action, and it's awkward to keep having Wolverine pop in as his normal, adult self, while the rest of them are supposed to be vastly younger versions of themselves. And as I remarked after the last one, can we stop making these?!?

But here I am, after watching it anyway (marriage is hard!), but with even less good things to say. James McAvoy is still nothing like Patrick Stewart, and Michael Fassbender somehow makes Magneto even more annoying. Look, we all know his back story and when he discovered his powers in Auschwitz. It's what made his character a bit sad and more relatable instead of just some super-villain who obliterates people while inexplicably flying in the air. And one of the other X-Men movies (X2? I can't even remember at this point) already addressed his friendship with Professor X, which made viewers realize Magneto was complicated and had both a good side and a bad side. Fine.

But nooooo, this movie had to go and create more back story to try and make Magneto even more sympathetic. There's only enough room for one brooding hero in a group and I'm afraid Wolverine already called dibs on it. Doing this to Magneto only drags out the plot into a soap opera no one cares about. We watch these movies for the mutant powers, damn it!

So that's basically the movie: brooding Magneto and Jame McAvoy's attempts at looking intense while mind reading. I mean sure, the "main" plot point is about the world' first mutant - an all-powerful Egyptian-type guy with face paint that looks like a blue version of Darth Maul in Star Wars, but so much screen time is taken up by sad Michael Fassbender it's hard to take anything else in. Oh, there's a random throwback to Halle Berry's Storm (without ever actually mentioning her by name and suddenly making her African) and the addition of Olivia Munn, which would be far more exciting if they hadn't dressed her up in a dominatrix outfit for no particular reason. So all in all, an eclectic mix of everything they could think of to try and make a semi-decent movie people would pay to watch.

Final word: I'm starting to wonder if the hype over Logan is because the movie is actually good, or if it's just a sweet relief from comic book movies like this.

June 8, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Gal Gadot

Undoubtedly, one of the most irritating thing about being a woman is the fact that our experiences and feelings are constantly dismissed as overreactions. I need to preface this review with that statement because I'm going to attempt to explain why women all over the country have been losing their minds over seeing this movie. Because when all is said and done, it's a just a superhero movie. I'm going to dive into the specifics of what made it great, but it's still just a superhero movie. It's not going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It is, however, going to be remembered as a turning point in superhero movies, and I hope, movie-making in general.

A lot has been made about how this is the first female-directed superhero movie. That it's the first female superhero movie in a decade. That it's the first movie ever about Wonder Woman. All of those things are amazing, yes. And they will assuredly continue to be talked about in the wake of Wonder Woman's $100M weekend debut.

But as I sat in the theater, watching the opening sequence of the movie, none of those things crossed my mind. Instead, I watched a team of awesome athletic women perform stunts I've never seen women perform, and certainly never en masse. I watched as a literal utopia of strong women took over the screen and I damn near cried. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but much like seeing your ethnicity represented positively for the first time, watching these women execute stunts that have always been shown onscreen by men was overwhelming. Seeing so many capable women at one time (some of them over fifty. gasp!), interacting with each other, without any references to men, was so groundbreaking and exciting I honestly still get teary-eyed thinking about it days later. It was a something I never knew I longed to see until I saw it.

It's not just the opening sequence, of course. The entire movie is being hailed as the embodiment of female empowerment, which is somehow both accurate and overstating it (which I'll get to later). I believe women are responding so positively to Wonder Woman not just because it's a female lead, but because it portrays an inspiring female lead. Our choices are generally limited to damaged sexy vixen, stone cold assassin, or strong-ish woman who still needs a man's help in the end. Wonder Woman is both someone we can look up to and someone we can already see ourselves in. [Side note: extra props for having a female villain as well. Not all women need to be virtuous heroes.]

Like other successful superhero films, Wonder Woman does an excellent job of balancing the action with moments of tenderness and a good dose of humor. In this case, much of the humor is derived from showing Diana's incredulous reactions to the sexist human world from which she has been shielded her entire life. Everything from standards of dress to voting rights are touched upon, and it so delicately highlights the inequalities women have been faced with for decades without having to get heavy-handed. And through it all, Diana's unshakable confidence beams through. It's fucking magical.

It not, however, as one Twitter user proclaimed, "flawless." My complaints are minor, but in light of this film bearing the neon sign of FEMINISM, I feel compelled to address the areas in which I thought it fell slightly short.

First of all, the fucking high heels. Why, in God's name, would she wear wedge high heels? I felt so proud that her outfit was neither corseted into a ridiculous waistline nor so skimpy it would be completely unrealistic to fight in, but then they had to go and slap heels on her? No action hero would wear heels to run and fight people. Sorry, but that's not negotiable. I'm tired of seeing women forced to run and fight in heels.

Secondly, Chris Pine. For one thing, I find it slightly confusing that he is in the Star Trek franchise but then pops up here. I realize he's an actor and that actors are often in different movies, but there's something about crossing franchise universes that rubs me the wrong way. It just doesn't seem right that Captain Kirk would also be back in WWI with a DC Comics superhero. It also doesn't help that I mix him up with Chris Evans and thought he was Captain America at first, which would be even more unacceptable. (But seriously, what's with every male superhero being named Chris?)

I just sort of wish he hadn't been in the movie. Not just Pine specifically, but his character. I understand his reason for being there - bringing a love counterpoint to a plot based on war, and I appreciate that he was created to be a strong character alongside Wonder Woman and not just a throwaway love interest like so many women have been for men in their superhero movie. By no means am I suggesting that women can't be feminists if they fall in love, but I guess I just selfishly wanted another Moana moment where a man never even had to enter the equation. THIS WAS OUR MOMENT, and we had to share it with a man. It was just a little disappointing, even if he was actually a good guy.

Lastly, I thought the movie fell into a few easy stereotypes that could have easily been avoided. I was excited that Gadot was able to speak naturally in her accent instead of forcing her to use a contrived American accent (though wondered why Chris Pine had said American accent when he was supposedly British). But I did the Scottish guy have to wear the kilt? Or did the Moroccan guy have to wear a fez? And did the Native American guy have to use smoke signals and go by the name "Chief?" I mean, ffs. Like, I'm glad the characters got a hot second to discuss the obstacles of racism, genocide, and PTSD, but seriously. Chief.

As with any insanely popular movie, there has been some push back from people who feel the need to stand out by hating on anything popular (except in this case, it's not the hipsters). There is the strange argument that the movie is somehow less progressive because Wonder Woman is seen crushing armies of men and that we as women shouldn't be aiming for equality in such a violent world. To that, I say STFU. (Sorry for all the acronyms in this post, but I'm embracing my Millennial status.) The movie is set in the time of WWI. War is violent. And frankly, so are the comics. Despite all that, the movie didn't come off as overly violent, and we weren't subjected to decapitated heads or anything even remotely gory. Instead, I took the violence as a more of a sad commentary on our world and Wonder Woman's participation in it as a sign of strength and compassion, rather than depravity.  

Final word: I made the picture below my computer wallpaper so I could look at it every day and harness the feeling I had when I watched this movie. Take from that what you will.