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.)

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

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.

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

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.

April 12, 2017

Bridget Jones' Baby (2016)

Renee Zellwegger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey




My husband will literally stop everything he is doing and watch the entirety of Bad Boys every time he sees it on TV. This is how I feel about Bridget Jones's Diary. There is no bad time to watch it. And not a week of my life goes by where I don't quote a line from that movie. (We're obviously a fun couple to hang out with.)

But after the disappointment that was Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, I tried to remain cautiously optimistic about this long-anticipated sequel. I mean, how good could it be without Hugh Grant?

The answer is, it couldn't be. Patrick Dempsey is not an adequate replacement for Hugh Grant. Maybe it's because he will always be Ronald Miller (Can't Buy Me Love) to me, but I just can't swoon over him, no matter how hard they try to make his character desirable. So not only is he not as charming as Hugh Grant, no woman could ever reasonably choose him over Colin Firth. It's like it was doomed to fail.

The only thing I was pleasantly surprised by was what a non-factor Renee Zellwegger's drastic plastic surgery and lack of weight gain turned out to be. It's not that I care she changed her face - it's her face, after all. But Bridget Jones sort of centers around what a chubby loser she is, so I was worried she would lose her Bridget-ness without that look. But as it turned out, they addressed her altered appearance, which makes me wonder what the hell this writer was going on and on about. There were plenty of things to complain about in the movie and her face was not one of them.

I know that all the iterations of this movie have been silly, so it seems unnecessarily picky to point out out the silliness of this movie. But honestly, when the entire plot hinges on a "problem" that could be solved in four minutes at the doctor, it's hard to defend it. I hate needles as much as anyone, but to reasonably assume two men would go along for such an absurd ride just to allow the woman to avoid a medical procedure is a story that could only have been dreamed up by people who write romantic comedies. So, no. It's not exactly realistic.

Final word: If the plot hadn't centered around a character I already loved, I probably wouldn't have been able to sit through the entire thing. 

March 26, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Emma Thompson




Disney, in its quest to cash in even further on its hit movies, is now adapting all of them into live-action features. It began with Cinderella, then took on the more ambitious Jungle Book, and now decided to tackle the even more difficult Beauty and the Beast, with its anthropomorphic household items.

The internet has been absolutely abuzz for months about Emma Watson taking on the role of Belle, from the expansion of her character into an inventor in her own right, to her refusal to wear a corset in the ballroom scene. (!) What the internet reports did not adequately prepare me for, though, were the other people in the movie. You know, the people who didn't get to show their faces in this movie and still had to be judged just on their voices. And to that, I say...

What the hell, Emma Thompson? 

Angela Lansbury is no one's favorite. I even watched Murder, She Wrote as a kid and was still like, "I don't love listening to her sing as Mrs. Potts." But then I heard Emma Thompson's version and all I could think about was Dick Van Dyke's terrible Cockney accent in Mary Poppins. I don't get it. It's not like Emma Thompson had to fake a British accent. She already has a perfectly nice voice, with an appropriately scolding British voice to sound motherly. Why do this to Mrs. Potts? Whyyyy???

And speaking of accents...

I couldn't pinpoint who, exactly, was voicing Lumière, other than the very, very obvious fact that it was not a Frenchman, but someone who was imitating a very terrible French accent. It was extra disappointing to find out in the credits that it was one my favorites, Ewan McGregor, but I suppose that only proves no man can play every role. I'm just not sure why, in a movie set in France, where everyone else has British accents, did they decide to try and be authentic with Lumière's accent, except not really because they didn't actually cast a French actor. But whatever, one more star name to sell a movie that's already famous!

Last, on my casting complaint list: Kevin Kline. Look, I know this movie wasn't meant to be an exact copy of the animated movie, but the dad in the first movie is so cute and old and you feel so badly for him when Gaston throws him in the looney bin. This isn't to say you don't feel bad for Kevin Kline when all that happens to him, but he just doesn't really scream "crazy but sweet old man." It's a minor detail (especially in comparison to Lumière and Mrs. Potts), but mistakes in casting really affect the whole movie.

There were, however, a lot of things the movie did right. For one thing, it addressed some of the gaping plot holes of the animated version of the story, like how did hundreds of townspeople suddenly forget there was a prince living in a castle right outside their village and if no one knew the Beast existed, how did Gaston lead the villagers there?

It also did make Belle more empowered and the whole story a little less Stockholm Syndrome-y. Also, her dress is a lot better than Cinderella's was, which looked like it had come straight from some Chinese knock-off factory with its plastic butterfly appliqués. Canary yellow is is not an easy color to pull off, but they made it look like something someone might actually want to wear.

The casting of Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou were fantastic. I mean sure, Gaston could have been a little more buff like The Rock, but these people also had to be able to sing. And that whole to-do over LeFou's gay moment was completely overblown--I mean, who didn't know he was gay from the original?!? (The man sings a tribute song to the wonders of Gaston. That didn't trigger anyone's radar??)

Overall, the movie is enjoyable, but not necessarily note-worthy. Personally, I was more impressed by their live-action Cinderella, which I hope bodes will for the upcoming adaptation of Mulan, which is rumored to be without music. I'll miss I'll Make A Man Out of You, but if it means avoiding Matt Damon singing as Shan Yu or something, it'll be worth it.

Final word: Underwhelming, but if you loved the original Beauty and the Beast, you're not not going to see it.

P.S. There were complaints that the Beast was better looking than the Prince (which was true), but that was also just in keeping with the animated version. Remember how disappointing it was when he transformed? Sorry Dan Stevens, but you looked better as a water buffalo with clothes.

P.P.S. Listening to the songs in the movie just reminds me how awesome Alan Menken is. Can we just have him compose the music for all Disney movies?

March 20, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Eddie Redmayne




Spin-offs are tricky. I don't automatically assume they are going to be terrible, like I do sequels, but they are often a disappointing addition to beloved series. Like reading Ender's Shadow or watching Lion King 1/2 starring Timon and Pumba. (Just kidding)

With Harry Potter the cultural touchstone it is, JK Rowling had a lot of guts to go and attempt a screenplay set in the magical world she had created, but without any of the familiar characters. Then again, she is JK Rowling and pretty much everything she writes is amazing. (If you don't follow her on Twitter, you should.)

I came into this movie solidly skeptical it could live up to anything Harry Potter related. And if you compare it to Harry, it doesn't. It does, however, firmly hold its own in a genre of fantasy and magic and escapism. It provides tons of inventive creatures, exciting action, and a non-magical character so likable you almost forget that Eddie Redmayne is supposed to be the star. It is also set in the US, where Rowling create a fun contrast of magic in the US vs. magic in the UK where viewers have the added fun of using all that stored Harry Potter knowledge that, let's be honest, serves little purpose in everyday life.

I don't think this movie will go down in history as anything special, or even as something Rowling will be known for, but if you're looking for a fun, easy watch, it delivers.

Final word: Better than expected.

March 7, 2017

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, et al



I've never really understood the battle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek. They're so different from one another, why can't people just enjoy both?

That said, I've never seen a single episode of the original Star Trek. I have, however, enjoyed all of the films in this reboot. I like Zachary Quinto as the sociopathic Spock, I like the nod to Geoge Takei with the casting of John Cho as a gay man, and I'm a fan of Simon Pegg pretty much all the way around. The only thing I question is whether they could have updated the crew outfits a bit...

So here is another successful chapter in the franchise. It's action-packed, it's exciting, and caps Chris Pine's rebellious-brooding-thing just before he ruins the movie. Is it predictable? Sure, but I don't demand a lot aside from accurate accents and good visual effects. The make-up looks realistic and the science-y technology in the film is cool enough I am transported to a future of zipping around different galaxies like it's NBD.

Besides, after all the doom and gloom of the other Oscar nominees, it's nice to take a mental break and appreciate some well done escapism.

Final word: Finally, a franchise I'm not sick of. Yet.

February 26, 2017

2017 Oscar predictions

It's that time of the year again - when we all sit around and bitch about what was or was not nominated for awards. But no matter what does or doesn't win, we can all agree to complain about the host, right? That's the one constant. But FWIW, I don't mind Jimmy Kimmel. He wouldn't be my first choice, but he can't possibly be worse than Seth McFarlane or that year they let James Franco up there.

As for the picks, I'm torn between voting for what I want to win and what I think will win. But as much as I want to take a stance against voting for movies like The Revenant, I like winning more. So here are my picks: feel free to challenge me with your own. I'm undefeated 3 years running. :)


Best Picture predicted winner: La La Land




I'm fairly certain it's a two-way race between La La Land and Moonlight at this point, so it could go either way. But Hollywood so loves movies about itself, and nostalgia, so in a f*cked year for real life, I can imagine voters are swayed by the promise of escapism and Making Hollywood Great Again. Just kidding.

  • Arrival: The most thoughtful and inventive of the bunch, but judging by its low tally of nominations, will probably walk away empty-handed across all categories.
  • Fences: It was impactful, but not the best or even the most memorable.
  • Hacksaw Ridge: I honestly don't know what this movie is doing in this category.
  • Hidden Figures: This was my favorite, but probably not "dramatic" enough to win it. The Academy loves melodrama.
  • La La Land: The more people rave about it, the less I like it. It was mostly enjoyable, but it's not the second coming of Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.
  • Lion: This movie impacted me the most, but is too far off the radar for most people.
  • Moonlight: I can't believe I didn't see this before the big day.

Best Actor predicted winner: Denzel Washington, Fences




Casey Affleck had all the momentum for awhile, but I think the sexual assault allegations against him are finally catching up and swaying voters towards Denzel, who is a perennial favorite and probably hasn't gotten as much recognition throughout his career as he deserves. And we all know how the Academy doesn't necessarily judge only on the current year.

  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land: I haven't disliked Ryan this much since The Place Beyond the Pines.
  • Denzel Washington, Fences: Classic Denzel performance.


Best Actress predicted winner: Isabelle Hupper, Elle




I'll be honest. I'm not really that confident Isabelle will win, but I can't stand the thought of Emma Stone winning for La La Land. I just can't choose her. If it were up to me, Taraji P. Henson would be nominated in her place. 
  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle: I'm counting on the Academy not to make the same mistake as 4 years ago with Emmanuelle Riva in Amour.
  • Ruth Negga, Loving: She did a good job, but there is approximately zero chance of her winning.
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie: Didn't quite make it to this one, but the movie didn't really garner enough interest for Portman to win.
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins: It can sometimes feel like nominating Meryl has become reflexive for the Academy, but she earned this one.


Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight



Setting aside the fact that Mahershala Ali is a slam dunk for the win, this category was full of missed opportunities. Sunny Pawar from Lion and George MacKay from Captain Fantastic should have been nominated, while Lucas Hedge and Jeff Bridges could have easily eliminated. I would have even been happy giving a nod to Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins for his first role in which he didn't play a womanizing cad.
  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: From everything I've heard, there is no betting against him on this one.
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water: Everything I said about Meryl Streep above, before the comma.
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea: This movie, while decent, got a lot more nods than it should have. This is one of those.
  • Dev Patel, Lion: I would have nominated Sunny Pawar over Dev Patel, but I loved this movie so much it's hard to resent any of its nominations.
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals: No comment.


Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Viola Davis, Fences



  • Viola Davis, Fences: I think this is pretty much a shoo-in.
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight: No comment.
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion: Great movie, she wasn't necessarily a key component of that.
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures: I loved this movie, but not sure I could say she was more deserving of a nomination than Taraji.
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea: The bright spot of an otherwise bleak movie, but her limited screen time can't compete with Viola Davis' powerhouse performance.


    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: La La Land




    Sigh. Hollywood so loves to congratulate itself on making movies about Hollywood it's hard to imagine any other movie taking home the prize, no matter how much more they deserved it.

    • La La Land: I wouldn't mind this winning this category if I didn't feel it was also going to win so many other categories. It doesn't deserve 14 nominations, but screenplay is one it does deserve. It's a solid enough story.
    • The Lobster: Wanted to see it, didn't quite get to it. But glad to see the resurgence of Colin Farrell.
    • Manchester by the Sea: This movie may not have been my favorite, but I thought the plot was certainly more original than many of the others in this category.
    • 20th Century Women: Another missed opportunity, but considering how many people had never heard of this movie, I'm surprised it even got nominated.


    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: Moonlight




    I think category is much more of a toss-up. If Moonlight  comes away with the Best Picture win, my guess is this category goes to Hidden Figures, but since I'm predicting La La Land for the big win, I think Moonlight will take it here.
    • Arrival: Certainly the most inventive story of the bunch, but I think more of a fan favorite than voter darling.
    • Fences: Good adaptation, but would probably still be more impactful as a play.
    • Hidden Figures: Love! And stayed impressively true to the original story, which doesn't happen often in Hollywood.
    • Lion: Amazing story, but up against a stacked category this year.
    • Moonlight: Nothing but positive buzz surrounding it.

    Best Animated Feature predicted winner: Zootopia




    I thought things would swing Moana's way because it's much more "classic Disney," but the awards leading up to the Oscars have convinced me otherwise. Either way, Disney wins.
    • Moana: An excellent addition to any family's Disney collection.
    • My Life As A Zucchini: Not yet released in the States, though I heard it's sort of depressing.
    • The Red Turtle: I'll definitely see this soon.
    • Zootopia: My favorite of the bunch, and my kids's. 

    As usual, I only predicted the categories I feel like I can reasonably predict based on the movies I was able to watch. So make sure to check out the Oscars Page to find my reviews on other Oscar nominated movies that weren't nominated in categories I cared about, like Allied, Trolls, and 13th.