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.


June 3, 2017

Fourth Annual Snarky Awards

Either I'm getting soft in my old age or I've finally learned how to pick a decent movie because it was almost difficult to come up with enough nominees to fill the categories this year. I actually couldn't even come up with a "worst movie of the year" category, which is sort of shocking, considering my keen ability to hate so much. It's been a surprisingly mediocre year.




But thanks to a wonderful suggestion from a reader, I do have a new category! Scroll through to find it at the bottom.

The Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark Award 


for the least believable casting choice for a character

Charlize Theron, Kubo and the Two Strings



THE KATHERINE HEIGL AWARD 


for the actor who attempted to single-handedly ruin a movie 

Emma Thompson, Beauty and the Beast




THE MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY OLSEN STRAIGHT-TO-DVD AWARD 


for the worst movie you've never heard of

Skiptrace






THE NAPOLEON DYNAMITE AWARD 


for the worst movie that other people inexplicably loved

Hacksaw Ridge



As a footnote, I want to add that Seth Rogan in Sausage Party was a VERY close second for the Katherine Heigl Award, but ultimately I decided against giving it to him because the movie had a number of other glaring flaws, while Beauty and the Beast was really, really brought down by Thompson's accent.

May 12, 2017

Hamilton [the musical]


This is a bit of a special post because in case you've been living under a literal rock and have never heard of it, Hamilton is the hottest Broadway show right now. And even though I usually only review movies, I thought I'd make an exception.

By some miracle, I was able to get tickets to see it when it came to San Francisco, despite being #76,000+ in line (seriously), which also tells you how insanely popular it still is, even 2 years after its debut at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

So I anxiously waited until it was time for the show, watching friend after friend on Facebook post selfies with their programs and rave about how amazing it was. And even though I've seen Lin-Manuel Miranda perform and appreciate how talented he is, as the months passed, I started to doubt that the experience could be that amazing. Surely it couldn't possibly live up to the hype, right? Could a historical musical really sneak past my cynical reflex to rip apart everything people can't stop raving about?

Well folks, this might be the least snarky review I ever write.

This musical surpassed every expectation I had, and then some. There's a reason you can't find a negative review of it. It's flawless.

First of all, Miranda's musical style is so distinct and engaging it borders on addictive. Despite the re-cast, the music is so unmistakably his style it took me almost the entire first half to stop imagining him in the role of Hamilton.

Speaking of the re-cast, I imagine it had to be nearly impossible. Sure, Broadway-types are all super talented, but how many singers can also rap, and do it articulately enough that an entire theater of people can understand the words? Some of the actors were more successful than others in this, but to be honest, the lyrics are flying by so fast there's really no way to catch them all unless you've already memorized the soundtrack. (Which, by the way, was the case of the couple sitting next to me, who sang along to nearly every song. It was excruciating.)

I think the reason this musical has been such a surprise hit is because people seem to be under the impression that history has to be boring. Usually we see historical events played out in serious, dramatic movies or drawn-out mini series we feel obligated to watch because of critical acclaim but deep down dread having to actually sit through. (I'm talking to you, John Adams starring Paul Giamatti.) Here, Miranda has transformed what could easily become a dull history recap into a relevant, deeply engaging, and irresistibly catchy musical that appeals to nearly every demographic. (I say nearly because I saw some very bored looking children in the audience.)

It's truly amazing how we are still battling the same issues of the 1780's, 230 years later, like immigration, race relations, States' right, income inequality, and even feminism. Nothing, it seems, has changed, except the increased prevalence of non-white people in our country's influencers.

Hamilton is revolutionary in its decision to reflect that cultural shift in the musical. In the version I saw, black actors played nearly every character on stage, including the title role. In an American history largely scrubbed of any references to people of color, it was transformative to see well-known historical figures like George Washington and James Madison portrayed by non-white actors. It felt almost like vindication.

But what makes the Hamilton experience so shocking is not the casting, or even the story, which itself is incredible. For one of our most influential Founding Fathers, very little is taught about Alexander Hamilton is schools. Some might argue it's because he never became president, but that wouldn't explain why every school child in America can list Ben Franklin's inventions and discoveries while probably none of them could tell you that Hamilton was actually an immigrant. Some might argue that's precisely why we never learned about him.

Either way, the reason Hamilton is so successful is really due to Lin-Manuel Miranda's singular talent. It's overwhelming. When you stop to think of the fact that he composed not only all the music, but all the lyrics to a 2:45 minute show in which there is ZERO talking (all singing), it blows your mind. I had to actively ignore that fact just to be able to concentrate on the plot because otherwise I would miss huge sections of dialogue. There is no time to breathe, no time to let your mind wander during the performance. It is wall-to-wall engagement, but done in such a smart way that allows for emotional ups and downs through changes in music and tempo--not just a three-hour rap concert. I really cannot wrap my head around the fact that he wrote all of this. He's so talented it's almost sickening.

When it was all over, not only did I immediately want to see it again in case I missed something, but I wondered if there was a documentary about the making of Hamilton because if there were, I would watch it. (It turns out, there is--I'm putting on my watch list immediately.) I've been to plenty of musicals and I generally walk out happy and satisfied (minus Cats. WTF was that?) This is the first time I've ever walked out speechless.

Final word: Best. Musical. Ever.

May 3, 2017

Sleepless (2017)

Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermott Mulroney


I saw this preview on TV and thought to myself, "I've wondered what happened to Jamie Foxx."

Then I saw the rest of the cast and thought, "So many big names! Is this movie new?"

Then I realized it had come and gone through the theaters and that the preview was actually just an ad on Comcast to get me to rent it.

So, having an extra $6 to burn and a husband who saved his currency from sitting through seven episodes of Big Little Lies, I watched it and found out the answers to all my questions. They are, in order: No, Jamie Foxx didn't disappear. He's still acting, but if there's a movie with a bunch of famous people that recently came out and you've never heard of it, there's probably a reason why.

It's not that the movie is terrible. It is, but just calling it terrible would be lazy, like this movie. That's the best way to sum it up: lazy. Lazy plot, lazy action, lazy everything. It is the epitome of every action/crime/corrupt police/drugs drama you've ever watched. You know exactly who the bad guys are from the onset, what's going to happen to them, and even how they're going to go about it. All suspense ends about five minutes into the movie. So instead, you're left with mindless fighting scenes, shoot outs, and the occasional overly dramatic line delivered by someone into a phone or from behind a gun. 

But beyond that, it incorporates so much poor decision-making on the part of the characters it's practically a teen horror movie (let's split up and head into the dark woods!). Maybe I've vastly overestimating the intellect of the human population, but I imagine the average person would show some urgency in fleeing from a killer drug lord. But hey, that's just like, my opinion, man.

Final word: The only way this movie is surprising is that it doesn't star Mark Wahlberg.

April 24, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, et al


I'm no Stars Wars expert. Having seen the entire series only recently, I can barely remember what happened when and who the key people were. My memory basically consists of storm troopers, ewoks, and Ewan McGregor's weird braid. 

Luckily, every Star Wars movie seems to stick pretty tightly to the same plot: evil empire vs. rebel alliance, something about a death star, and lots of flight sequences. This movie does not deviate from that formula.

It does, however, manage to stay fresh and exciting, which I think it quite an achievement for the eighth installment of a franchise. Now, this could be because I haven't watched Star Wars a million times and therefore can't pinpoint the exact overlaps between each movie, but I think the introduction of completely new characters in the same universe, without disrupting the original story, is pretty rad. And yes, bear with me, because I'm about to spout off about its diversity.

This movie is the first one I've seen in a very long time with actual racial diversity. Not just a nod to it, with a black sidekick or a female lead (good start, The Force Awakens), but actors of every color in major roles, without their ethnicity being integral to their role. And it makes sense for this movie. Think about it: it's a sci-fi movie where creatures from all over the universe are featured. Why wouldn't there be people of different skin colors and accents, coming together? So while I am celebrating this cast, I'm also wondering why the hell it took so long.

Speaking of the cast (and how much diversity means), I want to highlight this article about a man who took his father to watch the movie because of Diego Luna. I'll be honest: it was a selling point for me too--though for entirely different reasons. ;) But I was equally excited to see not one, but TWO Asian actors, only of whom had to perform martial arts. Every actor, from Riz Ahmed to Alan Tudyk, made me happy because I felt like I was finally watching a movie that wasn't cast just to to snag the most famous name they could get. (This is not to say there weren't famous people in the movie, but you can't argue it wouldn't have been significantly different if suddenly Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lawrence were in it.)

So this is where I come to the ending. I have never posted a spoiler in my life. But I feel so compelled to talk about the ending that I have to. I watched this movie three days ago and I still can't stop thinking about it. So, obligatory SPOILER ALERT warning. (scroll past to see my final word at the bottom.)

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They all get killed.

Like, all of them. Every. Single. One. Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Wen Jiang--all of them. They all die. It's fucking horrific.

The movie reviewer inside of me wants to applaud the writer for this utterly shocking twist, because the hero always prevails in Star Wars. I mean sure, people die here and there throughout the series, but not before getting through a few movies first. The main characters are never introduced and killed within the span of the same movie, and certainly never all of them at once. It's so brutal it's almost brilliant. I mean, it is a prequel after all, and these characters don't appear in any later movies. So maybe I should have seen it coming. 

At the same time, I am so pissed. And I don't mean disappointed or sad. I am pissed. How could they do that? How could they finally give us characters that aren't horrible actors (Anakin) or weak saps (Padmé) and kill them off? How can we possibly be stuck with Adam Driver for countless more movies, but there will be no more Diego Luna? HOW IS THIS FAIR???

I'm not exaggerating when I say I spent a solid thirty minutes screaming "they fucking killed them all!!" after watching this movie. One or two deaths would have been sad, but expected. It's a war movie, after all. But THEY KILLED THEM ALL! I'm honestly devastated. I've never cared so much about Star Wars in my life. But it's also why I also think this is the best Star Wars movie since A New Hope.

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Final word: I wish we'd be getting more movies with this cast instead of the cast from The Force Awakens.

April 21, 2017

The Girl On The Train (2016)

Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans



Oh yay! I finally get to be one of those obnoxious people who make it a point to tell you they read the book BEFORE watching the movie. So I guess this review will incorporate both criticisms of the story AND the acting. Or in this case, the casting.

Look, I love Emily Blunt. I think she can be fantastic in a number of different capacities. But fat drunk loser? Sorry, but that has Renee Zellwegger written all over it. (I mean, old Renee Zellwegger.) Seriously though, Renee has really set the bar for lonely, chubby, pitiful women with British accents. And considering how much of the plot rests on her loser-ish-ness, casting very-pretty-and-not-at-all-fat Emily Blunt was a poor choice right out the gate.

Also a poor choice? To relocate the story to the US. Maybe it seems like not a big deal, but why do it at all? To cast American actors? Except Emily Blunt still speaks with her British accent throughout and actors like Rebecca Ferguson and Luke Evans (born in Whales!) instead have to create American accents to fit in. It's nonsensical.

Also ridiculous? Casting the explicitly described "dark skinned" and "could pass for Indian at a distance" Kamal Abdic with Edgar Ramirez. And considering a significant plot point rests on his physical appearance, it's not even just a matter of white-washing -- it literally makes no sense. It's as if the casting director had already locked all these actors into contracts and just tried to divvy up the roles among them.

But beyond the casting, this movie lacked suspense. At least, the type of suspense that existed in the book. Some of that might be due to the fact that I already knew the outcome [having read the book], but that didn't deter me from enjoying a similar thriller in Gone Girl. In fact, I thought the movie improved on the book by changing the pacing of the story. Here, all the creativity seemed to be used during casting.

It takes quite awhile for the plot to warm up and for us to care about any of the characters. There are quite a few of them, I understand, but it's a long introductory period. It also doesn't give proper development to anyone other than Rachel, Emily Blunt's character. She may be the main character, but what gives the book its excitement is delving into each suspect and wading through Rachel's hazy memories to try and decipher what exactly happened. This movie lacks all of that excitement. It picks up, eventually, but that's assuming anyone watching makes it to the end.

Final word: Just read the book.