June 20, 2018

Doctor Strange (2016)

Benedict Cumerbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor

I watched a documentary on K-Pop recently and they talked about how K-Pop bands are like the Avengers: "it wouldn't work if there were 9 Tony Starks" was an exact quote. But what is Doctor Strange if not a skinnier Tony Stark with a different profession?

Now, I'm not a comic book nerd by any means, so I don't know the "true" history behind any of the characters or what changes were made to bring them to life on the big screen. But Doctor Strange is not a very exciting character. He's Tony Stark with Batman training. Like oh, you learned from a mystical faction that had one of it's former students go rogue? Yawn.

The movie was fine. It was perfectly entertaining, and had the most exciting use of CGI I've seen since Inception. The cloak of levity was also pretty awesome, and a character in its own right. But considering the whitewashing of the ancient one and the eerily similar character arc to Ironman, I'm not seeing what the fuss was about.

Final word: Maybe superhero movies just aren't my thing.

June 4, 2018

Paris Can Wait (2016)

Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin

It's like someone watched Under the Tuscan Sun and thought, 'let's make that movie, but worse!' As a fair warning, this review will contain spoilers, but not really because this movie is so terrible the ending doesn't even matter.

In the #MeToo era, this movie could be used as a lesson on consent because while it's framed as a romantic movie, it's anything but. A plot summary: Diane Lane is married to perpetual asshole, Alec Baldwin. They play their roles to a T, two the two of them well-versed in these exact characters: Baldwin, the neglectful, self-centered husband, and Lane, the quietly-suffering wife. Enter: Viard, Baldwin's work colleague and notorious womanizer.

So blah, blah, blah, circumstances separate Baldwin and Lane, who agrees to go on a road trip with her husband's co-worker. This is where Under the Tuscan Sun comes in, as half the movie is just cinematography of French countryside and closeups of Diane Lane eating or taking photographs (because of course, she's a budding photographer! No, this movie isn't trying too hard to be artsy, what do you mean?). It's a very quiet movie, but not in a good way. The only thing that kept me awake was waiting for the inevitable come-on from Viard and Lane's brutal refusal. What can I say? I love to see overconfident men get shot down.

Alas, this movie couldn't even deliver that. No no, after days of Viard's manipulations - unplanned stops, refusals to continue driving, and even unprompted stories of how Lane's husband had been unfaithful to her - she falls for him? 

This is not how it works. Or at least, this is not how it should work. Romantic comedies, while generally unrealistic, should at least be a fantasy escape for the viewer. It should not be a cringe-inducing two hours of a man covertly badgering a woman to fall for him and her actually doing it. It should not be a woman substituting one crappy man for another, almost as terrible one. JUST BECAUSE HE GIVES HER ATTENTION DOESN'T MEAN HE'S BETTER. Lane and Baldwin are married something like 22 years in the movie - do you really think she's going to be seduced by some guy she's known for 3 days because he shared a meal with her? Come on. Anyone that's been married that long knows that initial attraction fades, and this new guy is just as likely as her current husband to ignore her in a few years.

This is not to say she should stay with her self-centered husband. Nor is it to even say she shouldn't kiss the new guy. I'm not here to judge morals. What I am saying is that it makes for a terrible movie for the manipulations of one man to be the entire storyline. Let them have a torrid affair. Let him die off. Let her slap him across the face. I don't really care. JUST DON'T END IT LIKE SHE'S GOTTEN A HAPPILY EVER AFTER WITH SOME DUDE AFTER 3 DAYS. That's some real teenage shit, except everyone in the movie is in their fifties. It's just embarrassing.

At the end of the day, I know Diane Lane has the tendency to do these flighty, terrible romantic dramedies (Must Love Dogs, Nights in Rodanthe), but I still want more from her. She's a better actress than this and I deserve better. 

Final word: No.

April 20, 2018

The Wizard of Lies [TV movie] (2017)

Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer

Financial crimes are not an easy subject to make interesting. For one thing, the average person doesn't understand what any of it means. Secondly, there's no real action involved. The tension lies in stock prices or backdating or other yawn-inducing descriptions most people don't care about. (Which is also the reason certain people are able to get away with such crimes...)

So kudos to this movie for keeping it as interesting as possible. Aside from The Big Short (which absolutely everyone should watch, btw), this has been the second most interesting financial meltdown movie I've watched. (Grand total in that category: 2)

They do it by focusing more on Madoff's persona relationships--his wife and his two sons--than the actual crimes committed. Personally, I would have liked more nitty gritty details of just how these things were executed and covered up, but I suppose that's what Google is for. Instead, this movie set its sights on showing the involvement of Madoff family members and the toll the entire scandal took on them. It was humanizing without glossing over the viciousness of the crimes committed, which is a hard balance to achieve.

I was relatively young (well, not really paying attention) when Madoff was exposed, so I wasn't intimately familiar with the amount of vitriol his family received. And while we will probably never know the objective "truth" about their involvement, this movie certainly moved my sympathies their way. It cannot be easy to be related to a notorious criminal of any kind and the toll it takes on you must be enormous. This movie does well to highlight those effects.

Much like the movie Game Change, HBO has a way of pulling back the curtain on a certain situation to make you view it differently. Here, they show Madoff as a controlling, all-powerful figure that doesn't allow his sons to ask questions about the business or gain any insight into how things are run. Should they, then, be treated as liable for the damage their father caused? Whether or not you walk away agreeing with the narrative, they've given you something to think about. 

This wasn't the most exciting or even the most well done HBO movie. But it was thought-provoking and interesting and certainly topical. Either way, I'd rather have studios gamble on movies like this than just churn out another superhero whatever.

Final word: A new take on a national scandal

P.S. I could not stop looking at the actor portraying Mark Madoff and thinking it was Beck Beckett from SNL. I'm convinced maybe it should have been Beck Beckett. 

April 3, 2018

Leap! (2016)

Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen

Sometimes I get the feeling that people think movies for children don't need to be as good as movies for adults. How else can I explain The Penguins of Madagascar or Hop

This movie is like that. It's as if whoever created it wanted to make a ballet movie and didn't pay attention to literally anything else. Like costume design, or music, or plot, or casting...

So the ballet is entertaining. Though as I've admitted before, I will watch literally any movie about ballet. So maybe my opinion on that doesn't even count. And the animation is cute. Like, the kids are drawn to be cute. So that's something.

Everything else? Everything else is a train wreck.

Let's start with the setting, which is supposed to be France in 1879. Yet Felicie, our main character, wears rolled jean shorts over black leggings and chic boots. She's also always impeccably clean. Oh, did I mention she's supposed to be an orphan? Look, I get that it's supposed to be a feel-good story, but why does her male companion always look like a dirty little street boy in patched clothing and she look like she stepped directly out of an H&M catalogue? Even after escaping an orphanage on a dirty train for who knows how long? It's just one of those little details that eats away at you when the plot gives you too much time to analyze other things.

So we're in Paris. 1879. Yet, like The Book of Life, this movie thought: let's put contemporary American music in the score! Also, let's have non-French actors voice the characters! Better yet, let's cast a 30-year-old man to voice a pre-teen orphan boy! Oh, and while we're commanding "star power" at the sacrifice of authenticity, let's cast Carly Rae Jepsen! Because nothing says "STAR" like a one-hit wonder pop singer who doesn't even freaking sing in the movie. 

Clearly I have a lot of feelings about it.

But even those mistakes pale in comparison to the plot and character development. For one thing, the villain is so one-dimensional and overtly evil that even my four-year-old complained that no one could possibly be that mean. When a four-year-old starts pointing out character flaws in an animated movie, you know you've got problems. Usually they are just awed by the flashing colors. 

As a warning, I am going to post a spoiler. I don't usually, but this movie has gotten under my skin and since kids aren't reading my blog anyway, I feel like it's a safe space to vent. So, spoiler alert:
The worst part of this whole damn thing is that we're supposed to believe little Felicie learns to dance perfect en pointe ballet in a matter of days--better than girls who have been training for a decade--simply because she has passion?? I'm all for inspirational stories, but that is both absurd and insulting to kids who actually train for stuff. Literally, she turns from a walking disaster to a show-worthy dancer in like, a week. Never mind that she literally cheated and lied to gain entry to her dream in the first place, but what kind of message are we sending kids when a movie tells them they can perfect something in short order if they want it really really badly? Oh, and practice for an entire week.

Added to that is the miraculous transformation of the villain's daughter, Camille. I know they're kids, but again, we're supposed to believe she does a complete 180 from being exactly as evil as her mother into someone who would concede the lead role to the girl who stole her identity? And we should cheer Felicie for just accepting that without skepticism? Maybe that's my cold, cynical adult heart speaking, but I would let that girl anywhere near me without first checking her hands for a knife. Seriously.

Final word: I tried to like it. I really did. I just couldn't.

March 20, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavle

Remakes are always tricky. Do them badly (Annie) and the backlash is severe. Do them differently (Ghostbusters) and the backlash is severe. Do them better (The Parent Trap) and you've tied your fortunes to Lindsay Lohan. Just kidding.

But really, the original Jumanji starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, and that kid who also voiced Chip in Beauty and the Beast was so good I was surprised they went for a remake at all. Surely it couldn't be good. I assumed it would go something like The Rock's sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth.

But I'm a grown-up who can admit when she's wrong and boy, was I wrong. The movie opted for scenario #2 from above (do it differently) and I think it's what made the story fresh and original, despite being a remake. Instead of a board game, it's a video game. And instead of two adults and two children, it's four teens who transform into their adult avatars for the game. It's maybe a little kitschy and over-played for the laughs about transforming bodies, but it's funny enough to make it worth it. I mean, for once, I'm wasn't annoyed by Kevin Hart doing the same overly-aggressive short man schtick.

The fast pace of the story and the concrete plot of moving through game levels to achieve a goal (getting out of the game) makes for an exciting watch. It's never too scary (the villain in the original is much scarier), never too slow, and never too cheesy. It's a good balance for a PG-13 action movie.

I will say, however, I was shocked by the amount of cursing in this movie. Don't get me wrong, I love a good swear word as much as the next person. But the number of of "bitches" and "goddamns" in this movie made me wonder if it was trying too hard to appeal to teens by seeming edgy. It certainly didn't need that kind of language and made it borderline inappropriate to show my younger-aged kids. (Ditto for the numerous penis jokes.) 

And Dwayne. Oh, Dwayne. I love me some Rock. I'm pretty sure everyone does. But he is clearly the weak link of this movie, which is sort of a problem when he's headlining it. Luckily, Jack Black turns in a pretty memorable performance as a teenage girl and Karen Gillan, who'd I'd never heard of before, is excellent so I can overlook Johnson's inability to portray anything but himself.

Final word: Good, but no longer appropriate for small kids. Then again, maybe the original wasn't really either.

March 4, 2018

2018 Oscar Predictions

It's been a bad year. Not necessarily movies-wise, but my ability to watch them all. It seems like every year gets harder. This, in turn, makes my predictions a lot less reliable and more March Madness-ish, where I choose based on uniform colors or something.

I will fully admit, I purposely skipped a few of these. One of them being The Disaster Artist. The other being Get Out. I trust the friends of mine who have seen it and loved it, but considering I still jump out of my skin when the Hans pop out of the snow after the avalanche in Mulan, I don't think I'm equipped to watch even a mock horror movie. I am rooting for it, though, knowing how much it meant to people and what it represents for the future of movie making.

So after I log these picks, I can just sit back, relax, and hope Jimmy Kimmel doesn't make racist Asian jokes again this year.

Best Picture predicted winner: The Shape of Water

  • Call Me By Your Name: This will have a much better shot in the screenplay category. I have a feeling voters are going to do the whole "we did this last year" thing and vote for something else.
  • Darkest Hour: Let's be honest. This wasn't going to win anyway. I'm ok with having missed it. 
  • Dunkirk: Because we couldn't possibly go one year without a WWII movie *eyeroll*
  • Get Out: Judging from those "anonymous Hollywood ballots," voters didn't "get" this movie. Or didn't try to. Or didn't care to. But it all adds up to no win.
  • Lady Bird: This was my favorite of the year, but I have a feeling voters are going to feel like the life of a teenage girl isn't "deep" enough to win top honors.
  • Phantom Thread: Ugh. Quintessential Oscar movie the vast majority of people wouldn't even like.
  • The Post: Intention is important, sure, but so is execution. And the execution of this movie left a lot to be desired.
  • The Shape of Water: I enjoyed it, but it was certainly weird. But I think it represents a "safe" middle ground for voters between the far-flung artsy and the outright political.

Best Actor predicted winner: Timothée Chalamet

I actually think this is one of the tougher categories to pick, with breakout star Timothée Chalamet up against Daniel Day Lewis' proclaimed "last performance." Will he (or Daniel Kaluuya) prevail when the Academy tends to reward "lifetime achievement" instead of actual individual performances? Not to say Day Lewis wasn't excellent. He was. But was he the best of the year?

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name: I think the new shininess of his performance and the buzz this movie generated will be enough to get him the win. At least I hope so.
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out: I wish I had more to weigh in on this.
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour: I don't feel sorry I don't have to weigh in on a rosy Winston Churchill performance.
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq: Nice to see a deviation from the usual parts Denzel plays, but I don't think it's enough to get him the win.

Best Actress predicted winner: Frances McDormand

I actually think this is the most hotly contested race this year, with excellent performances from everyone (except Meryl, who basically is just a permanent fixture here whether she deserves it or not, *cough cough* Iron Lady). However, I think age, opportunity, and subject matter all factor in for voters (which it shouldn't but it does), which tips the scales in favor of the veteran actress.

  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water: Excellent performance, but she won't win. She just won't.
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards: She will win. I don't think it's even a question.
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya: Robbie actually had my favorite performance of the year
  • Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird: So, so good. Much better than when she was nominated for Brooklyn.

Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards

  • Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards: Entertaining, but not even the best supporting actor in the movie. They didn't need to nominate both him and Sam Rockwell.
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water: Without the sane voice (and narration) of Jenkins, this movie could have been an incoherent mess.
  • Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World: Kevin Spacey really took the momentum out of this movie. I don't see it winning anything.
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards: I don't think it's even going to be close in the voting.

Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Allison Janney

I think we all know it's going to be a showdown between Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney, which leaves me completely torn. They both played excellent, complicated mothers in equally excellent, complicated movies. Everyone else in the category needs to be satisfied with just being nominated this year.

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound: Yet another movie I didn't get to.
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya: I don't know why we live in a world where Allison Janey doesn't have an Oscar but we need to remedy that.
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread: I liked her even better than Daniel Day Lewis.
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird: I loved her. I really loved her. But did I love her more than I loved Allison Janney?

    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: Get Out

    Obviously these categories are balanced where the Best Picture probably won't also win Best Screenplay so voters can spread the awards around a little, so my picks are based on the assumption that The Shape of Water will win the big one.

    • Get Out: I think it was between Get Out and Lady Bird, but ultimately I think voters will see this as a more creative story.
    • Lady Bird: I've made no secret of my love for this movie. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.
    • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Popularity is waning for this story and while I think the actors in it will still be recognized, I think McDonough being left off the Best Director nominees was a signal this movie will go empty-handed in this category.

    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: Call Me By Your Name

    • Call Me By Your Name: I think this is a much more sparsely populated category, giving this movie the easy win.
    • The Disaster Artist: Please, God. No.
    • Logan: Apparently I'm the only person in the entire country who wasn't swooning over this movie. It's big news that a superhero movie made it in, but I'm surprised it was this one.
    • Molly's Game: I thought this story was excellently executed, especially given the wacky nature of it. But I am definitely biased when it comes to Aaron Sorkin.
    • Mudbound: Netflix is getting closer and closer to actually winning something. And then, the movie industry is going to change.

      As usual, I only predicted the categories I care about/feel like I can reasonably predict. So with so many movies gone unseen, I can't even begin to touch categories like Visual Effects and Sound Mixing and the like. Make sure to check out the Oscars Page to find my reviews on other Oscar-nominated movies like Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Coco.

      Phantom Thread (2017)

      Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day Lewis, Lesley Manville

      Romance means different things to different people, I suppose. For instance, this movie. Or Fifty Shades of Grey. Both are classified as romances, and yet...

      Yes, I compared the Best Picture Oscar-nominated Daniel Day Lewis/Paul Thomas Anderson British "romance" with the Twilight fan fic that fetishizes BDSM. And I say it with a completely straight face.

      They are both about abusive relationships. In both movies, at least one of the participants is controlling, manipulative, and coercive to the other. Yet we are expected to watch one of them and declare it romantic and wonderful and worthy of the title of Best Picture of the Year. Why? Because it stars the great Daniel Day Lewis? Because it has beautiful costume design? Because it is set to an incredible score? Nope, nope, nope.

      Perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to make a statement about toxic relationships. And if that's the case, I don't think the statement was clear enough. It had a Gone Girl quality to it and not in a good way. Both people in the relationship were extremely damaged and I'm not sure what message I'm supposed to be getting out of their interactions with each other. Literally the only semi-likable person in the entire movie is Lesley Manville, who gives the least bothersome performance as Reynold's sister, Cyril.

      All in all, this movie felt like it was trying to hard to be deep--flanked by the score, design, and big-name actors--with only the thinnest of plots to back it up. It's all fluff, peppered by a few contentious scenes. In thinking about my reaction to another Paul Thomas Anderson movie, The Master (not to mention Punch Drunk Love and Magnolia), I wonder how I ever enjoyed There Will Be Blood. It seems like every single one of his movies is exactly like this. Which I guess is convenient, since I know now to avoid them in the future.

      Final word: The window dressing on this is beautiful, just don't try to look inside.

      March 1, 2018

      Lady Bird (2017)

      Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf

      Everyone has a favorite genre. Whether it's sci-fi, historical dramas, or horror, our inclination to seek out these types of movies also generally biases our opinion in favor of movies that conform to our preferences. Obviously.

      So in my coming of age-loving heart, this movie was flawless. I would not change one single thing about it. Not the casting. Not the wardrobe. Not the choppy way it jumps from scene to scene, sometimes skipping chunks of time. Not even the ending, which was decidedly more sappy than I expected.

      Of course, I only watched it once and again, I have a heavy bias toward stories that revolve around high school girls. But still. It is such a realistic portrayal of that age, without romanticizing it or condescending to those of that age. It is a perfectly relatable story that's frankly, nothing remarkable, yet manages to have such impact. Nothing is too heavy or too light, no scene drags on for too long, nor are we ever left with the sense that we've missed something. It is perfection.

      As an aside, I had an exceptionally terrible viewing experience (read my entire tweet thread here), and yet I still walked out of the theater totally in love. (I'm not exaggerating about the circumstances. Read my thread.) Who knew a 23 yr old (Ronan) and a 34 yr old (Gerwig) could so thoroughly immerse us in the high school experience?

      All of this makes me think back to my review last week of The Florida Project, in which I complained that nothing happened in the movie. I didn't connect with the characters, nor did I care much about their journey. I understand all the ways in which that movie and this one are similar, and yet I loved one and didn't care for the other. Personal journeys are both commonplace and unique and perhaps because of my background and experiences, this one resonated with me. That's what took it from "great directing and great acting" to "perfection." Because like The Florida Project, I can recognize a well done movie even if it's not my taste. And this one is. It just also happens to be exactly what I love.

      Final word: *hearts-as-eyes emojis*

      February 27, 2018

      Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

      Denzel Washington

      Hey remember when Denzel made that movie about holding a hospital hostage to try and get his son medical care? It pretended to be an action movie, but was really a commentary on the messed up health care system of the US. This is kind of like that.

      This movie has been panned pretty thoroughly by every avid movie watcher I know, and understandably so. It's not really a movie. It is, technically, of course, but it's so laden with morality speeches and over-the-top scenarios to demonstrate said morality that it feels more like something you show a high school class to provoke discussion. It's also really slow.

      On the other hand, I didn't hate it. Maybe it's my bias toward social justice issues, especially those regarding the legal system and how it disproportionately affects low-income defendants and people of color, but the movie definitely hits those points without confusion. The plot arc is clear and Denzel you know, does his Denzel thing. His performance of the socially awkward (autistic?) but torch-carrying activist, though not necessarily consistent all the way through, makes the movie worth watching.

      At the end of the day, I'm usually pleased I've watched movies like this. They are not the most entertaining, nor are they the type of movie I'd necessarily recommend to others. But it's not part of a blockbuster franchise and it made me think--a rarity these days. So while this movie is guaranteed not to actually win anything at the Oscars, I'm glad movies that try to convey a message are still being made and getting attention called to them. Maybe one of these days someone will actually make a "social issues thriller" that hits the mainstream.

      Final word: John Q but for the legal system.

      February 26, 2018

      Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

      Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, et al

      It's a Catch-22. I can't imagine anyone would watch this sequel without watching the first Guardians of the Galaxy, yet anyone watching this sequel after watching the first one must invariably be disappointed. It's not the writer's fault, I suppose. It's almost impossible to follow up a well-loved original. You have to retain everything people loved about the first movie while somehow trying to create new development.

      What generally makes a movie successful is one (or more) of three basic things: good character development, exciting plot points, or some kind of twist the audience didn't anticipate. The first Guardians of the Galaxy had all three: we liked each of the characters (though none more than Groot, really), exciting adventures, and a lot of humor thrown in at just the right time. This second movie tried hard on points #1 and #2, but the element of surprise humor was sorely lacking. Instead, it seemed like we got a paler version of the first movie. A lot paler.

      There was a giant gaping hole in the form of Groot. Sure sure, he's a baby tree now and he's adorable, but that only goes so far. And they stretched it much further than he could handle. Babies are cute; they can't serve as half the jokes in a movie. This isn't Look Who's Talking. And while the addition of Nebula added some dimension to Gamora's character, the addition of Ego seemed to do the opposite for Peter. Chris Pratt lost most of the charm he spent the first movie building up and when you're the main character, that's a blow to the entire movie. He was completely shown up by the supporting characters--I found myself wishing they'd cut away from his storyline so I could see more of Drax and Mantis.

      In my review of the first movie, I mentioned that I'm able to overlook a predictable plot and cliche scenes when the rest of the movie is good enough. The rest of this movie was not good enough to warrant the same graciousness. Even Kurt Russell couldn't change that.

      Final word: This is our life now. Franchises of mediocre movies that provide just enough entertainment to keep the masses from boycotting and demanding better quality storytelling.

      February 23, 2018

      The Florida Project (2017)

      Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe


      Where to start? Where to end? Does it really matter?

      This movie is reminiscent of Beasts of the Southern Wild. It hinges on the acting ability of a small child (who does an excellent job, by the way) and shows an intimate portrait of the day-to-day life of those living in poverty. And like Beasts of the Southern Wild, I found it mostly boring and kind of pointless.

      Like, yes, they are poor. They have problems. I have both sympathy and judgment. But what else? Why should I care about these characters? Just because one is a child?

      I don't mean to sound overly contemptuous. I tend to enjoy dramas that focus on the harsh realities of life. This one just didn't click for me. It was a series of events about people I never grew to care about, without an easily identifiable story arc. It's almost like a reality show, but with a lot less cursing.

      It's not a bad movie, but I am confused about how it caught the attention of the Academy. I'm not sure what makes it stand out more than the average indie film, other than having Willem Dafoe in it. Who, by the way, is perfectly pleasant to watch but I'm not sure I would count it as one of the top five supporting roles of the year.

      I just-- *head shaking* *shrug emoji* *question mark*

      Final word: Not. For. Me.

      February 21, 2018

      Black Panther (2018)

      Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan

      This is a movie that has been celebrated with a jubilation I haven't seen since Star Wars was resurrected, and rightly so. It is a huge barrier breaker, with an all-black cast, a black director, and an all around celebration of black culture, beauty, and power. It broke $400M opening weekend ($242M of which was domestic)--more than Justice League earned in its entire domestic run. To say this movie is having a moment would be an understatement.

      There is so much to love about Black Panther. The costumes and setting are both beautiful and vibrant. Seeing a movie set in Africa without the usual signs of abject poverty and/or wild animals is both refreshing and sadly rare. The tech gadgets dreamt up rival that of a Bond movie. And Danai Gurira's portrayal of the warrior Okoye is so badass I briefly considered shaving my head while watching the movie.
      But it's the overall message of the movie that is winning over audiences. This idea of a magical, peaceful kingdom in Africa--untouched by colonizers and a history of slavery--run by powerful black role models is something we have sorely needed. Even the prerogative of the villain, Killmonger (whose hair we really need to talk about), complicated with a thread of truth and morality, had to be overly violent just to make sure audiences knew he was supposed to be the bad guy.

      So it is with all of these glowing compliments that I hesitantly say: I didn't love it. I loved a lot of the components of it (as cited above), but not necessarily the sum total. For one thing, the action sequences weren't the most exciting. Maybe I've been binge watching too much Vikings, but it's hard for me to see anyone a fearless warrior if they're holding anything more powerful than two hatchets. In all seriousness, how is it exciting to watch someone fight in an impenetrable suit that absorbs the power of a freaking grenade? Like, how can you even die? Where's the suspense? (Though at the same time, the conception of that suit is amazing. I want it.) For another, it was terribly predictable. I know, I know, superhero movie--maybe I'm asking too much, but considering how much else the movie got right, it would have been nice to have had at least one surprise in the thing.

      I love that this movie was made and I am happy I supported it in going (on opening weekend, no less!). The joy it has brought people of color, I imagine, is similar to how I felt in watching the opening sequence of Wonder Woman. Representation matters. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that this movie didn't blow me away. It wasn't made with me in mind. And that's ok.

      Final word: This movie was long overdue and a moment of reckoning for Hollywood's long-held  stereotypes of people of color.

      February 7, 2018

      Dunkirk (2017)

      *string of shrug emojis*

      I don't know the official numbers but my guess would be that WWII would be one of the most covered subjects in the history of film. It's understandable. Everyone learns about it in school, it has easily defined "good guys" and "bad guys," and oh yeah, we get to be the good guys.

      The problem is, in such a crowded field of memorable WWII movies, it's difficult to stand out. What story hasn't been told by now? Enter: the battle of Dunkirk. It's an amazing true story, about an insane attempted rescue of soldiers stranded on the coast of France and surrounded by German soldiers. But if I learned anything from last year's Hacksaw Ridge, it's that a good story in real life doesn't not necessarily make for a good 2 hour movie.

      For one thing, I couldn't tell anyone apart in this movie. Seriously. That's always a risk when you have a bunch of actors who aren't super prominent, but when they're all dressed in the same uniform, barely speaking, and covered in dirt and oil? If the camera hadn't zoomed in with intensity every couple minutes, I would have literally no idea what happened to individual characters.

      Then there's the matter of Tom Hardy. It's not that I have a positive or negative view of him, but there was no point of casting him in the movie other than listing his name on the movie poster. He wears a pilot mask the entire time and you can barely even make out his voice, let alone words through the thing. The part could have been played by a mannequin and a voice over and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. It just seemed like a colossal waste of his time.

      But even setting aside the casting issues, this movie is just dull. I can get behind a silent movie. I even liked The Artist. But this movie felt like it was trying to be much deeper and more meaningful than it was by going the limited-dialogue-route. It's just a bunch of events strung together by a bunch of guys that look the same. The only thing that makes it dramatic is the score. And I guess knowing it's a war movie so you know, bombs and stuff? Of course terrible things happen during war (because again, WAR), but it started to feel like Gravity all over again where it's like, how many terrible things can happen to one person in the span of a few hours? But at least this didn't have Sandra Bullock's panicked voice. Or really any voice, for that matter.

      I don't want to say the movie was terrible because I made it all the way through without rolling my eyes, so that's something I guess. But it was such a pedestrian take on a story, dressed up as something deeper and more artsy, that the whole thing left me sort of annoyed. At the end of the movie I found myself saying aloud, "That's it?" And that's a perfect summary for it.

      Final word: If more people read history books movies like this wouldn't have to be made and I wouldn't have to sit through them.

      February 1, 2018

      Molly's Game (2017)

      Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

      It takes all of about fifteen seconds in to know this is an Aaron Sorkin movie. The fast dialogue, rapid cut scenes, tone balanced between serious and snarky--they're a dead giveaway. Of course, there are the random few crazies out there who don't care for Sorkin (I assume they exist, I've never actually met any), but for everyone else, this is a terrific return to form after the disappointing Steve Jobs two years ago. 

      I try not to know a lot about movies going in so I don't place false expectations on them, but I will say I wasn't necessarily excited to see this one. For one thing, it has a really stupid title. I understand it's a biography and has the same name as Molly Bloom's real book, but that doesn't make it any better. Also, the previews do not do it justice.

      First of all, this story is wild. Even more so than I, Tonya, which is really saying something. Of course I Googled the fact vs fiction immediately after watching the movie and was stunned to see how much of it was actually true. This woman has had a crazy life. Two crazy lives. And she's only 39.

      Also, she is my new hero. Yeah, yeah, I realize there's the whole "she broke the law and was addicted to drugs" part but I'm willing to look past them because holy sh*t is Molly Bloom is a go-getter. She is the driven, successful person we all think we could be, if only we weren't so lazy. My husband and I always joke about how we hate people who are successful in more than one arena (like she's brilliant and an Olympic-level athlete and not hideous? Bitch!), but it actually makes sense since they probably work harder at everything they do than 99% of the population. Or they started out rich. Either or.

      What makes this movie successful is Sorkin's ability to weave various elements, people, and timelines together in a coherent way that keeps the story fast-paced without confusing people with flashbacks and flash forwards. This movie nails just about every detail, right down to the tiny portions of fiction needed to hold the story together. Literally the only gripe I have about this movie was the unnecessary reappearance of Kevin Costner to have him mansplain Chastain's entire life. This movie shows so much female-empowered kick-ass-ness (yes I said it) that to add that scene felt like an annoying concession to keep the movie from getting too feminist or something.

      I have a feeling this movie is going to be overlooked come Oscar time because on its face, a story about an underground poker game doesn't seem to have the gravitas of sexual identity or journalistic integrity or a mixed species love story set to French music, but that would be the voter's mistake. This has been my favorite movie of the season thus far. Then again, maybe it's just Sorkin.

      Final word: At a minimum, this movie will make you finally remember who the hell Jessica Chastain is.

      You should also know going in that "Player X" is Tobey Maguire in real life. I feel completely vindicated that I've hated him all these years. If I'd had a psychologist as a father, he'd tell me I subconsciously knew he was a terrible person all these years and my mocking the Spiderman movies was just a manifestation of those feelings. Ha!

      January 29, 2018

      Coco (2017)

      Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, et al

      A few years ago I ragged on The Book of Life for not being Mexican enough. Despite the Dia de los Muertos theme, the colors, etc etc etc, it felt like a shallow interpretation of Mexican culture. Coco felt like redemption. (Yes, I realize it's a different studio making it.)

      This movie is Mexico. (Don't worry, I approved this statement from an actual Mexican.) It is absolutely dripping with all the right details--the music, the costumes, the historical figures, the way families interact, even the Spanish slang! And when I say details, I mean details. The old movies of Ernesto de la Cruz even have famous Mexican actors drawn into their backgrounds. Every voice actor is Latino (minus John Ratzenberger, but they obviously had to work him in somewhere). Basically, no Channing Tatum or Ice Cube here.

      But going in, I knew Pixar would nail the details. They always do. What I was worried about was being disappointed in yet another Dia de los Muertos story (do people not know anything else about Mexican culture?!?) that had been overhyped by people impressed by any movie not named The Emoji Movie. Maybe I have too little faith in people.

      This movie was incredible.

      It is everything a movie should be, animated or not. It transitions beautifully between funny and sad, heartfelt and fun. The musical interludes (while I'll admit, were not my favorite part despite being sort of the basis for the movie--I wish at least some of them had been in Spanish) all made sense, timing wise, and didn't drag. And the voices were perfect. I'll say it again: perfect. The accents were all spot on and not one voice was recognizable enough to detract from the story. Perfection! (A special shout out to Anthony Gonzalez, who is my new favorite child actor because of this movie.)

      I will say, as one small caveat, that this movie was a little darker than most Pixar movies. It's not just the skeletons, but the message about dying and being forgotten is pretty depressing, especially for those of us nearing middle-age. (Wah!!!)

      Final word: It really is as good as everyone claims it is.

      January 25, 2018

      The Post (2017)

      Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep

      Somehow it seems this awards season the more I'm looking forward to a movie is inversely proportional to how much I will enjoy it.

      So. Tom Hanks. Meryl Streep. In a movie about journalistic integrity. It checks all the boxes. 

      The problem is it doesn't do much more than that. First of all, the beginning 30 minutes or so is complete chaos. I mean, scattered conversation, people running around, and an audience left scrambling to try and figure out who is who and what the hell is going on. I didn't live through the Vietnam War, so while I'm familiar with the broad strokes of this story, I can't immediately identify characters and remember exactly what their role was. I can't imagine what the beginning of this movie would be like for those are aren't familiar with the story. (And before you become over-righteously indignant about the lack of historical knowledge in this country, first ask yourself if you've supported politicians gutting arts and social studies in favor of STEM subjects because it will "help our country.")

      After a chaotic beginning, the story picks up and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the acquisition of the Pentagon Papers (no, not those Pentagon Papers), what they contained, and the stakes for publishing the information inside of them. The story itself is fascinating. The movie about it is less so.

      It's hard to pinpoint where exactly the movie went wrong in portraying such an important (and timely) story, but maybe somewhere in the third rousing monologue from Hanks about the importance of freedom of the press? Don't get me wrong, I think the freedom of the press is probably our most precious freedom, but do we need a speech to understand that? Er, several speeches?

      This movie just sort of hits you over the head with its points. Yes, it was a monumental decision to publish those papers, made by the only female owner of a newspaper. And though I'm glad Sarah Paulson's character took fifteen seconds to explain why it was so monumental, it felt like yet another explanation of why this movie was important. Telling, not showing, so to speak.

      Lastly, I take issue with Meryl Streep. Not her performance, which is fine. But the recognition of it as something award-worthy. It's not. There are some performances that feel tailor-made for her, but this role felt like it could have been played by literally any accomplished actress over the age of 50. And Tom Hanks, bless his heart, takes on a very odd accent that disappears any time he yells. So it feels like this movie is only being recognized because Hanks and Streep are in it, though I think it may have been better off without them. Maybe it would have felt more like a collaborative ensemble of bravery than a movie about two people I'd never heard of before today. More Spotlight, less this.

      Final word: It's no Spotlight, that's for sure.

      January 23, 2018

      The Shape of Water (2017)

      Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones

      I've tried, unsuccessfully, to start this review half a dozen times. I simply cannot come up with a coherent response to it. I literally don't know how I feel about it. So if you can bear with me, I'm going to work through my feelings about it in a messy, hopefully somewhat legible way.

      It's weird. It's really fucking weird. No one should be surprised by this if you've ever watched anything by Guillermo del Toro, but it still weirded me out. I have no doubt that was part of the point, but even 24 hours later, the initial shock of the movie hasn't really worn off.

      Pluses: The acting is excellent. My favorite character is probably Richard Jenkins, who keeps the movie from veering too far into the artsy side and whose voice I could listen to all day. Him providing the opening and closing narration of the film give it an extra boost. Octavia Spencer, as usual, is delightful to watch. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN WE GET THIS WOMAN A STARRING ROLE IN SOMETHING? It would really great to see her in something where she's NOT forced into some servile role because of her race/class. And Michael Shannon, as usual, looks like the guy you're going to hate from the moment he steps on screen. He just has that kind of face to play the role.

      Now, let's talk Sally Hawkins' character. I love the fact that she is a differently-abled person here (in this case, someone who is mute) and the embrace of that. The script doesn't try to change her or improve her and those around her simply accept her as she is. I love that she has friends, a job, and leads a relatively normal (albeit stark) life, despite this "condition." As we talk about representation in media, it's important to remember that includes more than just people of different races. The ability to seamlessly integrate this aspect of her character into the movie without relying on it for jokes or climax or change--she simply IS this way--is pretty amazing when you think about it. 

      Then of course, there's the fish/merman/whatever he's supposed to be. I never watched del Toro's Hellboy, but I have seen pictures of the makeup and it's incredible. This movie is no different. The intricate detail on his costume (is that the right word?), his eyes - everything - is really cool. There's not really another word to describe it. The fish-man is cool. Which helps since, you know, it's a love story and though attractiveness is a relative concept, there are some things that are truly too ugly to love. (see: Chinese hairless dogs)

      In all seriousness, this really is as beautiful a film as everyone keeps saying it is. It might not seem like it on first watch, but the more I think about it, the more I remember I like about it. It has its flaws, for sure (some very questionable decisions on the part of Hawkins' character, to name a few), but the overall arc of the story is tidy and just tense enough to edge out the weirdness. It was also far less dark than I imagined, which was a pleasant surprise. While I thought Pan's Labyrinth was brilliant, it also creeped me out to the point I had to cover my eyes sometimes because I was certain something terrible was going to happen. This movie was far less disturbing. (But of course it was, how do you compete with Nazis?)

      So when I break it all down and think about the different pieces, I realize what a brilliant movie it was. When it think about my experience watching it and trying to talk about it afterward, all I can say it it was weird.

      Final word: It was really weird. But in a good way.