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*