June 7, 2019

Fifth(ish) Annual Snarky Awards

Every year I seem to watch less and less movies. Life, paid work, and laziness all come into conflict with the week-in-week-out grind of running a blog. But as Woody in Psych once said, I can't disappoint my 43 followers.  Which I apparently did last year, when I neglected to hand out any awards. So here I am, honoring the tradition of honoring the worst movies I've watched this past year. Except now it'll be two years because I suck and skipped last year. So it's the fifth annual awards for a blog that's been running for 7 years. It's really a shock any of you stick with me through this. So, thanks.

All that being said, I opted for no individual awards this year. No one person was so awful in their own right they deserved to be singled out (who knows, maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age). But I did create a new category. See if you can spot it.


for the most disappointing movie you were rooting for

A Winkle In Time


for the worst ensemble cast movie

Ocean's 8


for the worst movie you've never heard of

Alex and the List


for the worst movie that other people inexplicably loved

Phantom Thread

I'll try to do better next year. Thank God for Netflix.

June 2, 2019

Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Ali Wong, Randall Park

When Crazy Rich Asians came out, all the talk was about how ground-breaking it was. The first movie with an all Asian cast since 1994! (Not totally true, but also not far off.) And for all the excitement the movie (rightfully) earned, it didn't encompass the Asian-American experience. Crazy Rich Asians was a fantasy of sorts, with the expensive parties and travel and rich people politics of Chinese in Singapore. In fact, it makes almost no sense to compare the two movies to each other at all. Except, of course, that both movies are rom-coms that boast all-Asian casts, and therefore will probably always be lumped together until Asian-led movies become more of a regular occurrence.

But you know what? Fuck that nonsense. Diverse movies shouldn't have to compete against one another just because people aren't creative enough to see beyond the skin tone of the actors in it. So instead, I'm going to review Always Be My Maybe for what it really is: a good old fashioned rom-com.

It has all the classic trappings of a rom-com: a friends-to-lovers storyline, a friend to shortcut plot points that would otherwise seem implausible, an upbeat soundtrack, and of course, a grand romantic gesture. But the strength of this movie lies in the in-between--the little details between those major requirements that makes this movie feel different from every other rom-com.

For one thing, yeah, it's Asian. But beyond that, it's unapologetically Asian. People take their shoes off before walking into homes, even during parties. Moms do meal prep with scissors. People eat with metal chopsticks. Ali Wong's dad schemes to avoid paying tips. None of these things are a big deal, but when taken all together, woven throughout the entire movie, it becomes a sort of comfort--a familiarity for Asian-American viewers that isn't usually present in mainstream media.

Even more so, it was wonderful to see a narrative separate from the usual cold, dismissive parenting we usually see from Asian parents. Randall Park's parents didn't speak with accents. Everyone was't rich or smart. There was no talk of feeling alienated or "othered" in society. And most importantly, all the love interests were Asian men! Always Be My Maybe not only gives Asian-American viewers a nod to their lives, but a positive one at that. No trauma! No racism! No questioning their identity! (At least, racially.)

Then there are the jokes. Ali Wong is, of course, a real life comedian. So you'd expect the movie to be funny. But this had laugh-out-loud funny parts, many of them coming from her co-stars. Namely, Keanu Reeves, who basically stole the entire spotlight with his ridiculous turn as an ultra-serious, obnoxious version of himself. And if Randall's Park's band, Hello Peril, isn't nominated for a musical Oscar, it will be one of the biggest snubs of the year. Netflix even delayed their usual skip to previews at the end of Always Be My Maybe so that viewers could listen to the entirety of his song, "I Punched Keanu Reeves."

But some of the things I loved most about the movie were also what held it back for me. Because many of the jokes came at the expense of itself--spoofing the seriousness of romance and relationships--I found it's more earnest parts falling a bit short. It's difficult to both mock earnestness by having Keanu spoof himself, for example, and also have Ali Wong confess her feelings for Marcus in earnest at the exact same time. Perhaps that juxtaposition was what they were going for, but it didn't totally work for me.

I'm also not totally sold on Park's transformation, as I found him to be a smidge on the Judd Apatow side of potential boyfriends. I'm sure this will be met with lots of disagreement, but I found his total disregard of his girlfriend's entire industry to be both insulting and judgmental. And yeah, I might be taking this too seriously. After all, the jokes made at the expense of pretentious dinners were funny, and I myself have left a number of parties frustrated at the size of the food portions. But again, this is the industry in which she's built her career. And he sits there, criticizing her hard work without aspiring to anything himself.

But overall, the movie is exactly what a rom-com should be. It's funny, it's fun to watch, and it makes you feel good at the end of it. And even if the overarching plot isn't necessarily the best I've ever seen, my heart is so full to watch a screen full of Asian faces (Ali Wong's glasses collection in the movie is to die for) and lust after hot Asian men, watching them defy the racial stereotypes I grew up with. The fact that it's filmed in my current city and set to Bay Area music, is just the icing on the cake. Like I said, it's the details that make this movie.

Final word: Between this, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and Crazy Rich Asians, I'm convinced the resurgence of the rom-com is being led by Asians.

May 28, 2019

Unicorn Store (2019)

Brie Larson

Indie movies are always a bit quirky. I get that. I expect it. But to say this was "quirky" would be a huge understatement. For one thing, I didn't expect it to revolve around actual unicorns.

I mean yes, it's not actual unicorns. Except it is. But not. It's all very complicated. Except it's not really that either.

The problem with this movie is that is doesn't quite know what it is. Quirky commentary on growing into adulthood? Magical fantasy for adults? Searing look into life from the eyes of a child? Cynical take on sexual harassment or other trauma? Oh wait, how about all of those things? Or none of them? While never, ever deviating from the literal unicorn narrative?

I just---

This movie is charming. It's just funny enough to keep you watching, and just strange enough to keep you wondering what the hell is going to happen next.

But at the end of the day, it's SO literal. While somehow also being completely figurative. If it had added a twist--a glimpse into the real ending, for example--it might have driven its point home in a way that would have had lasting impact. Instead, we're left with a muddled and strange film that never quite achieves what it could have been. In fact, the most exciting part was in the middle, when I started to brainstorm all the metaphors the movie could be, instead of what it was actually delivering.

Final word: Much like adults who are fiercely attached to glitter and rainbows and sparkly things, this movie takes itself far more seriously than it should.

May 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)


I've been hiatus for nearly two months now, which means that a fair number of movies have come and gone without my commenting on them. (I did a lot of screaming in my head and on Twitter, rest assured. I still have opinions.) But it's time to get off my lazy butt and start blogging again because frankly, Twitter threads just aren't as satisfying.

So. The Avengers.

I didn't see every movie in the universe, but I did see nearly all of them. At least, enough to appreciate the thought that was put into this [allegedly final] movie.

For one, this movie does a good job of referencing all the major movies that came before it. They brought back absolutely everyone to recreate certain moments in the cannon and make the whole time travel thing feel refreshing and immersive. And honestly, my favorite thing in the whole movie might be when they took the time to sit down and explain the effects of changing events in the past. This may be an action movie, but it's still an action movie for nerds and I respect their decision to honor that.

In terms of the individual storylines, I thought they did an equally honorable job of respecting each character and making decisions that seemed in line with what those characters would do. Reasonable people can disagree with the outcomes of particular people, but I'm sure we can all agree that certain things needed to happen in order to make this feel like a satisfying conclusion.

Pretty much the only controversy with this movie was about Thor's massive weight gain, which I have to say I am on the side of the critics. It's surprising (or perhaps not surprising) to see easy fat jokes being made in 2019. It's uncreative, it's not very funny, and frankly, disappointing to see so much thought be put into all the other details of this movie, only to have Thor's trauma reduced to gross fat jokes. It's a shame. (Not as important, but worth noting that Chris Hemsworth is obviously the hottest superhero so can they not have him walking around with food crumbs in a ratty beard? Thanks.)

There's not much else I can say about the movie, seeing as it's the end cap to a franchise and I don't post spoilers. So uh, if you like the Marvel movies, this one is worth your time. But only if you've seen a decent amount of the ones that come before it. (You can still skip Ant Man though. They basically say so in the movie itself.)

Final word: A satisfying ending. Now stop remaking the movies that came before it.

February 24, 2019

2019 Oscar predictions

First things first. Fuck the Academy for shunting cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts, and makeup/hairstyling to the commercials. People in these departments are critical to a movie's success and to deny them the opportunity to share their joy and triumph with the world is a dick move, especially in a year where there's not even a host to deliver an un-funny monologue for 20 minutes at the beginning of the telecast.

So in defiance of what they've determined to be "important" categories, I've decided to do a full roster of predictions, even in categories where I haven't seen any of the nominees. (This is, of course, an especially terrible year for me as I've seen less movies than any of the previous years, due to personal circumstances.) But I forge on anyway.

Reminder: my predictions are what I think will win, not what I want to win.

Update: the Academy wisely reversed their decision (after A LOT of backlash), but I'm keeping my full scorecard anyway. Feel free to post your picks in the comments and see if yours are better than mine!

Best Picture predicted winner: Roma

Look, I know I didn't get to all the Best Picture nominees. It's not my finest year. I battled illness in the weeks up to the Oscars, severely limiting my stamina and ability to sit through movies. So some just fell by the wayside. That doesn't affect my choice not to watch Green Book, or the fact that I'm picking Roma to win. From the ones I watched, The Favourite was by far my ahem, favorite, but I know the Academy likes things with gravitas, and I have a feeling The Favourite is a bit too comedic to pull down the ultimate award.

  • Black Panther: A big barrier was broken when this superhero movie was nominated for Best Picture. I do not think voters are ready to crown a superhero movie Best Picture yet.
  • BlacKkKlansman: This is a good alternative from Green Book for a white Hollywood that wants to pat itself on the back for being "woke," but even while this movie plays it a bit safe, it's still too risky to win
  • Bohemian Rhapsody: With fresh allegations against director Brian Singer for child molestation, there's no way anyone in Hollywood wants to draw any more attention to this movie.
  • The Favourite: This season's underdog, for sure. While pretty universally acclaimed, it's also just really weird. (Though just to note, not weirder than love story with a fish-man, but the Academy has never held consistent standards)
  • Green Book: Nope nope nope-ity nope. I've read the description. I've read the statements from Don Shirley's family. I'm not interested in supporting this movie, even to review it.
  • Roma: This is totally on me, especially considering it's free on Netflix. But sometimes when something is so readily available you put it off in favor of other things, meaning to get around to it, before you finally run out of time. Or maybe it's just me. Either way, I know what the story is about and I think it sounds like a movie voters would see as Best Picture material. It also lacks a lot of the controversy many of the other nominees have.
  • A Star Is Born: I'm not super interested to watch this one either, but I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually.
  • Vice: Just didn't have the opportunity. *shrugs*

Best Director predicted winner: Alfonso Cuaron

I found the inclusion of Pawel Pawlikowski to be sort of shocking, especially considering Cold War wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but it's an exciting twist on a normally straightforward Best Director race. And Spike Lee is loooooong overdue for recognition, but I don't think it's going to happen this year.

Best Actress predicted winner: Glenn Close

I actually think this is a two-person race between Glenn Close and Olivia Coleman and that it could really go either way. But while I'm pulling for Coleman, I have a sinking feeling they're going to give it to Close, which is a shame because The Favourite is a better movie in every which way. And honestly, disability doesn't get nearly the platform it deserves.

  • Yalitza Aparicio, Roma: Hope this is launches her career, despite the thinly veiled racist efforts to derail her happening in Mexico. =(
  • Glenn Close, The Wife: Her performance was good, sure, but not nearly as complex as the movie wanted us to believe. 
  • Olivia Coleman, The Favourite: She was a delight. Absolutely brilliant.
  • Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born: Did you know that in a room of 100 people, you only need one to vote for you? Of course, you won't win an Oscar that way, but I'm sure Gaga is happy just to nominated.
  • Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Her acting made the movie, which is what Best Actress should be about, but this performance isn't going to outshine the frontrunners.

Best Actor predicted winner: Rami Malek

  • Christian Bale, Vice: Did you know Christian Bale even has the same birthday as Dick Cheney? That's commitment to character. ;)
  • Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born: Look, I know I didn't see the movie, but I just want to comment on the fact that all the previews make me want to dump a bucket of soapy water on his head. Like, did he not shower for the entirety of the shoot?
  • Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate: Sorry, Willem. I just didn't make it to your movie. And from the people I've talked to, neither did a large swath of the population. *shrug*
  • Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody: He should win solely for talking with those eff-ing false teeth. And he will.

Best Supporting Actress predicted winner: Regina King

  • Amy Adams, Vice: Amy Adams is always great, but there's been virtually no buzz surrounding her performance.
  • Marina de Tavira, Roma: No comment.
  • Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk: Considering Regina took home the Golden Globe, I'm betting on her to win here. Also, since she was the only nomination for the movie, I think voters are going to want to reward it where they can.
  • Emma Stone, The FavouriteFor the first time ever, I endorse the nomination of more than one actor from the same movie in the same category
  • Rachel Weisz, The Favourite: But...I still think Rachel Weisz was better

Best Supporting Actor predicted winner: Mahershala Ali

  • Mahershala Ali, Green Book: It's unfortunate to earn accolades for a movie that Ali himself seems to be cringing about now (see this face when it won at the Golden Globes), but he seems to be the clear favorite in this category.
  • Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman: This might be the first time I didn't want to punch Adam Drive in the face. So there's that. But like, how is his performance deemed better than John David Washington's, who didn't garner a nomination?
  • Sam Elliot, A Star Is Born: I still think of Tombstone when I see him and I probably always will. Whether that has anything to do with the movie I have no idea. 
  • Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: He should win just based on his video reaction to finding out he was nominated.
  • Sam Rockwell, Vice: No one wins it two years in a row. They just don't. 

    Best Original Screenplay predicted winner: Green Book

    • The Favourite: Splitting Best Picture from Screenplay, I think this should be the winner. But I also don't think voters are smart enough to pry themselves away from the racist train-wreck that is Green Book
    • First Reformed: Another one I missed.
    • Green Book: If you don't know the story (and controversy) behind this one by now, you're not paying attention.
    • Roma: Since I'm picking this to win Best Picture, I think voters will kick the Screenplay award to someone else.
    • Vice: I find Adam McKay to be a genius in turning otherwise undesirable subjects into engaging movies and I don't doubt this is any different, so this would be my runner-up pick.

    Best Adapted Screenplay predicted winner: A Star Is Born

    This might be the closest we have to an honest-to-God toss up. Each of these scripts is unique and though some were more commercially popular than others, the only one I can safely eliminate with confidence is the Coen brothers one, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Not because the Academy doesn't love the Coen brothers (they do), but because it has the lowest profile of the nominated movies and therefore is the least likely to have been watched by voters. Maybe that's unfair, but there's a reason more nominations usually equals more wins. I don't make the rules, I just play the odds.

    That being said, I think Can You Ever Forgive Me? was the most interesting in that it took what is otherwise not a super interesting story and stretched it into a full length feature worth watching. But BlacKkKlansman stayed very true to its source material (which I think should be rewarded). Ultimately, I'm cynical and think the Academy voters can't wait to give A Star Is Born an Oscar for something while simultaneously depriving Spike Lee of ever winning anything, so I'm not willing to bet that the best screenplay will actually win here.

      Best Makeup & Hairstyling predicted winner: Mary Queen of Scots

      Best Costume Design predicted winner: Black Panther

      I'm still a little miffed that Colette didn't get a nomination for this.

      Best Cinematography predicted winner: Roma

      Best Original Song predicted winner: "Shallow," A Star Is Born

      • "All the Stars," Black Panther: I expect Black Panther to clean up on all the "minor" categories, but not this one.
      • "I'll Fight," RBG: Uh, I watched this movie and I could not for the life of me tell you when this song occurred. 
      • "The Place Where Lost Things Go," Mary Poppins Returns: TBH this wasn't even my favorite song of the movie
      • "Shallow," A Star Is Born: Honestly, I'm not a fan of a song that draws out a 2-syllable word into 4 when it could have just inserted another word to compensate, but I dunno, people are crazy over this so I assume it'll win
      • "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings," The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: This movie doesn't appeal to me, on any level. I assume it really only got watched by voters because of the Coen brothers name.

      Best Original Score predicted winner: Mary Poppins Returns

      I mean, it's a musical. It feels like it would be hard to top a musical for this category.

      Best Documentary Feature predicted winner: Minding the Gap

      • Free Solo
      • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
      • Minding the Gap
      • Of Fathers and Sons
      • RGB

      Best Animated Feature predicted winner: Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

      I did watch Incredibles 2. I swear I did. I just didn't feel motivated enough to write about it after watching it, which I think says something. I think it says this is the year Disney gets de-throned, even with 2 offerings in the mix. I don't know a single person who watched Spiderman and didn't love it. Not one. And damn it, that means I'm going to have to reverse me strict NO MORE SPIDERMAN MOVIES rule.
      • Incredibles 2
      • Isle of Dogs
      • Mirai
      • Ralph Breaks the Internet
      • Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

      Best Foreign-Language Film predicted winner: Cold War

      • Capernaum (Lebanon)
      • Cold War (Poland)
      • Never Look Away (Germany)
      • Roma (Mexico)
      • Shoplifters (Japan)

      Best Sound Mixing predicted winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

      Best Sound Editing predicted winner: Bohemian Rhapsody

      Ok, to be honest, I just assume the same movie wins for both of these categories. I know it's lazy, but c'est la vie.

      Best Production Design predicted winner: Black Panther

      Best Visual Effects predicted winner: Avengers: Infinity War

      • Avengers: Infinity War: Yes, yes, I realize I'm probably the only person in the world who hasn't seen this movie, but I've read all the spoilers on the Internet (unavoidable), so I feel informed anyway?
      • Christopher Robin: I was more impressed by Ewan McGregor's acting, knowing the visual effects were added later, but the animals themselves didn't blow me away. Pooh definitely could have been cuter.
      • First Man: Too realistic and it'll feed the rumors that the moon landing was faked! LOL
      • Ready Player One: It certainly looked like the inside of a video game, which I suppose is a triumph, but nothing about the movie felt special.
      • Solo: A Star Wars Story: From what I heard, literally no one liked this movie, so...

      Best Film Editing predicted winner: BlacKkKlansman

      This isn't normally the category I pay the most attention to (because frankly, you really only notice it when it's really bad), but considering it was one of the categories the Academy tried to boot into the commercials, I especially wanted to take the time to highlight it. Also because of all the tings Bohemian Rhapsody did right, film editing was NOT one of them. So I'm optimistically going with what I thought was the best that I saw, which was BlacKkKlansman. But the Academy has a way of always letting me down, so I'm sure I'll be wrong.

      Best Animated Short predicted winner: Bao

      • Animal Behaviour: Ah. Where to start. I could probably write an entire entry on this one there was so much going on, but I will just say that while it was clever, I was so turned off by the animation style I could barely watch it. I really hate ugly animation and this is very crude drawing.
      • Bao: Oh man, I cried so much watching this. This was far and away my favorite. I liked it better than the movie it preceded in the theaters, even. (Incredibles 2)
      • Late Afternoon: Annoyingly, the "Oscar shorts" package I rented on Comcast didn't include this one, so I didn't manage to see it.
      • One Small Step: This had the most straightforward plot of all the entries (without speaking to the one I didn't see, I suppose), but it was still enjoyable. Clean animation, easy story that yes, maybe manipulated the heartstrings a little too easily, but I still enjoyed it.
      • Weekends: This one was odd. The animation was very pretty and the story invoked a lot of visceral reactions, but was a bit scary and I found the ending a bit unsatisfying.

      Best Live-Action Short predicted winner: Marguerite

      I'm guessing completely blind on a few of these categories, not having seen any of the entries. It's like March Madness, but in February!
      • Detainment
      • Fauve
      • Marguerite
      • Mother
      • Skin

      Best Documentary Short predicted winner: End Game

      • Black Sheep
      • End Game
      • Lifeboat
      • A Night at the Garden
      • Period. End of Sentence.

      Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

      Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

      First, a petition to stop making Melissa McCarthy utterly hideous in every role she plays. She is a lovely actress and it's patently unfair that she always has to play these gross, schlubby characters. I want to see a glammed up McCarthy in a romantic comedy with the hot guy she deserves.

      Okay, now that that's out of the way, I can agree the reason she probably keeps getting cast in these roles is because she's so damn good at playing them. She's so skilled at injecting just the right amount of humor you sometimes forget you're watching a drama at all.

      This movie could have been bad. It could have been really bad. After all, who really cares about memorabilia collecting? And sure, people love a good story about a con artist, but without McCarthy's expert performance, we could just as easily have been left wondering why this story was made into a movie at all. Instead, she reels us in with juuuuuuuuust enough sympathy to ride along as she counterfeits her way through the art (letter?) world, while reminding us that this is not a hero's story. McCarthy is the reason we stay conflicted, stuck in the tension of wanting her to pull it off while simultaneously hoping she gets what she deserves. 

      But ultimately it's the scenes with Richard E. Grant (who, btw, filmed an utterly delightful reaction video to his first ever Oscar nomination for the role) that bring this movie to life. Their interactions-the comedy between them--stand in stark contrast to the seriousness of the crimes they are committing. And that is really what this movie is: ridiculous comedy in the heart of something that takes itself very seriously.

      Final word: Underestimate Melissa McCarthy at your own risk

      The Wife (2018)

      Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce

      I love a good story about long suffering, resentful people. Especially when said people are women. But there needs to be more. I need more than a simple narrative about a woman who never got credit for her work. (It's not really a spoiler, they basically tell you in the trailer.) 

      What the movie does well is its nuance. Glenn Close manages to straddle the line between righteously angry and placatingly stoic and delivers an entire performance while uttering a bare minimum of words. But besides her performance, what does this movie give us that's new? The story lacks originality. It lacks sizzle. It even lacks compelling characters, outside of Close. Jonathan Pryce is easily pegged as an insecure narcissist. Their son is a petulant, needy, overgrown man-child. And Christian Slater, who pops up almost unexpectedly in this movie, is a journalist who makes your skin crawl every time he talks. The end result is a cast no one cares much about, telling a story you can already figure out.

      I don't know, maybe I'm too optimistic, but I want to see stories about women burning it all to the fucking ground. I want to see them rise, a la Colette, and claim what's rightfully theirs. And if they are going to stand by their man, so to speak, then they'd better have a damn good reason. And Jonathan Pryce's character does not seem like a good reason. But like I said, maybe I'm too optimistic.

      Final word: Meh.

      February 21, 2019

      RBG (2018)

      Biographies are tricky. Biographies about people who are still alive are always, always trickier. Sure, you get the chance to interview them, but is it worth the trade-off of being under scrutiny. In this case, I have no doubt the creators of the documentary meant this to be a shining portrait of the iconic Supreme Court Justice. But I think that in and of itself is problematic. 

      When I watch a documentary, especially of a person, I want fresh insights into that person. I want facts I've never before heard, interviews from people I didn't know about, pictures from their past, etc. This movie only sort of partially delivers on that. While yes, it gives pictures of a young RBG and interviews a couple of her childhood friends (adorable, btw), it mostly rehashes much of what anyone who knows about her already knows. It's a very basic documentary.

      Don't get me wrong. I don't want to hear about RBG's scandals (if any exist) right now. So I understand the desire to make what it hyped as a "love letter" to the justice, but it was BORING. I didn't fall asleep or anything, but it didn't wow me or hold my interest the way I expected. I mean, I was watching a documentary about the life of a woman I deeply admire and respect and I was BORED. 

      It shouldn't have been boring. This women has done incredible, nation-changing things. So hopefully someone will make a more comprehensive biography in the future that can perhaps be a bit more candid, and one that doesn't include interviewing Orrin fucking Hatch. 

      Final word: I'm hoping the feature film about her is better than this.

      Won't You Be My Neighbor (2018)

      I think there are certain images we hold in our heads about what documentaries look like and what they are like to watch. This movie, to me, fits that classic description--it's quiet, it pulls heavily from original footage, there's a lovely voiceover narration, and it's chock full of interesting behind-the-scenes looks.

      Of course, not all documentary subjects are created equal. For this one, the connection comes from a deeply ingrained nostalgia for the show so many of us grew up on. The sight of Mr. Rogers in his red sweater, tying his shoes, and grabbing the trolley stirs instant, albeit fuzzy, memories of childhood and a vague sense of comfort. I may not remember specific episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, but I distinctly remember watching, and loving, it.

      So the way this movie is successful is by focusing on the show and nothing else. The entire documentary is about the show. Not Fred Roger's personal life, not lives of his family members or crew, or anything not directly affiliated with the show. Everything in the documentary relates only to the show. Its genesis. Its episodes. Its longevity and reach. Everything you've ever wanted (or in most people's cases, didn't know you wanted) to know about Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

      But even if you didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers telling you you're special and loved, this documentary is so well plotted and focused that it's interesting even to those who may not have been aware of the show previously. In fact, by the end, if you're not bemoaning the current state of children's television and calling your elected representatives to ensure continued funding for public broadcast stations, I'll wonder if you were even paying attention to the damn movie.

      Final word: It was so good it even made me like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood more.

      February 19, 2019

      Christopher Robin (2018)

      Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael

      How do I adore this movie? Let me count the ways.

      No seriously. I rented this movie, watched it, then watched it again before the rental expired. I loved it that much.

      How much of that is due to cheerful memories of Winnie the Pooh is hard to say. Where Mary Poppins Returns fell flat for me due to a lack of connection to the original material, this movie hit all my favorite nostalgia points. And the movie is oh-so-clever about it. The entire film is littered with references to past Winnie the Pooh moments, which I love because it's enjoyable even if this is your first film with the characters, but adds a layer of depth if it's not.

      And of course, Ewan McGregor. I LOVE Ewan McGregor. I'm not sure how it's possible not to. But even if I didn't, I'm convinced there needs to be a separate category of awards for people who act with imaginary objects that are CGI-ed in later. He does such a good job. To make us feel a real connection with these stuffed animals, and care about them the way we do, is a triumph. 

      But even beyond all that, nearly everything in this movie is flawless. The acting, especially from Bronte Carmichael, is wonderful. (And you know how I feel about child actors.) The animation of the animals, which I was definitely skeptical of going in, was also wonderful. (Though I have some lingering questions about why all of them were stuffed animals but Rabbit was an actual bunny.) Even the production design, set in what looks to be the 1920's, is well executed. 

      Overall, this movie mixes just the right amount of nostalgia with sweet charm and comedy at exactly the right moments. And as much as the industry overuses this word, there's not better way to describe the movie than heartwarming.

      Now excuse me while I go watch it a third time.

      Final word: I'm shocked this movie didn't receive more buzz.

      Mary Poppins Returns

      Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Miranda

      Emily Blunt is a treasure. Let's start there. Comedy genius, action star, singing nanny--is there anything this woman can't do? No one can feel confident remaking Julie frickin Andrews, but Emily Blunt is flawless. Her voice even manages to take on a little extra British nanny-ness if you know what I mean. (If you don't, go watch a few scolding episodes of Super Nanny and you will.)

      Lin Manuel, on the other hand, is fine. He is also a treasure in his own right, but he doesn't seem to bring the same charm here that Dick Van Dyke did in the original (though his accent is markedly better). Everyone else, from the kids to Ben Whishaw to Emily Mortimer, does a perfectly good job. Everything in this movie is good. Even the songs are good! And yet...

      I don't know, maybe I just don't love Mary Poppins. I never did much as a kid, I suppose I shouldn't be shocked this version of it didn't connect to me either. The movie is good, undeniably so. It doesn't have any major flaws or even points of weakness. I just...don't care.

      This feel like kind of a bummer of a review, but for once, I'm giving this disclaimer that my indifference shouldn't deter people from watching it. I know that my opinion is probably a bit of an outlier on this one. Who knows, maybe it just caught me on an off day.

      Final word: I'm sure other people will like it.

      February 13, 2019

      Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

      Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie


      I want a do-over. I want a do-over of every history class I've ever taken, where the narrative is centered around the woman. Around the minority. Around the person whose story was never told to me before because "history is written by the victors." But most of all, I want those stories to have their day in the sun because they deserve to be told to everyone--not just people like me, who seek them out.

      But for that to happen, these stories need to be told well. This one is not.

      It has flashes of brilliance. Saoirse Ronan, for one, is absolutely captivating as Mary Stuart. She plays a multi-faceted character that is both strong and stubborn while simultaneously humanizing her and showing vulnerability, all while keeping the poise of a queen. The interactions between Ronan and Robbie, who plays Elizabeth I, are equally riveting, with the two women showcasing an unspoken bond of comraderie atop a layer of distrust and tension because the bullshit patriarchal society has set them up to be rivals. Oh wait, did I add that last part in myself?

      Seriously though, this story is interesting if no other reason than because it's not the dominant narrative. But that also leads to the precise problem with this movie, which is that it expects the viewers to already be familiar with this history. The story dives in with little more than a few lines explaining the preceding 18 years of Mary's life, while dumping her onto beach with a bunch of French-speaking handmaids and no clue as to what the hell is going on. It's sort of explained as the movie goes along, but the crumbs of knowledge come so slowly you'd be better off Googling it so as  follow along properly. Because honestly, the movie does follow history for the most part. There seems to be far less fiction in it than most historical movies. But what good is that if the viewer has no idea what's happening?

      Part of the issue is that the Mary/Elizabeth rivalry spans a number of years. So to maximize the drama and truncate the plot to fit into a reasonable-length movie, a number of things are cut. Namely, transitions. Scenes jump from one to another with little indication of how much time has passed or events in the meanwhile in an attempt to keep focused on the main conflict. It gives the illusion of a dual POV with both Elizabeth and Mary showing their struggles, but it is really only Mary's story with the occasional glimpse into Elizabeth to show what Mary could not know. It's an unbalanced view that adds little, other than to enrage the viewer with repeated examples of misogyny toward women in power and their attempts to minimize it or strip it away entirely.

      Ultimately, what has stayed with me from this movie is the gentleness that was shown to the female characters. For all of Elizabeth's talk of "becoming a man" to survive in a man's world, it showcased both hers and Mary's love of their respective countries in a completely different way than the men around them. It showed women leaders and the environments they navigate, and how that couples with what society expects of them. But more importantly, it centered their stories (though really, much more Mary's than Elizabeth's) in a historical setting that is often told with them as a plot point in someone else's progress instead as the hero to their own story. So yes, I want more of these. I want to see the nuance in every goddamn woman in history, from the Queens of England to the women who were never allowed to rise up the ranks in the first place. I want their stories, and I want them told with this kind of care. Just, you know, with better editing and plotting.

      Final word: It feels sort of wrong to bag on a historical movie about women when Hollywood has put out about 1,000 terrible war movies starring only men, but this could have been better. Especially considering women only "get" so many movies made about them.

      February 4, 2019

      The Favourite (2018)

      Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone

      This movie is bananas. I honestly don't know how to better summarize it.

      First of all, it's historical fiction. But somehow the only fictional parts are the rabbits (which actually serve as a shortcut for key plot points, so still necessary), and an unconfirmed romance. So while making a movie about a bisexual love triangle about people who may not have actually been bisexual might seem like a completely fictitious movie, somehow it's not? It's hard to even explain.

      What's completely bonkers about this movie is that where in my last review I complimented BlacKkKlansman for following the exact rules of tight storytelling, this movie works for the exact opposite reason. This movie follows almost no normal conventions, with tiny, choppy scenes, weird section breaks, humor in completely odd places, and you know, all-female sex scenes. And yet...

      The reason this movie works is the acting. Generally, I roll my eyes when all the major characters from a movie are nominated for Oscars because come on, they can't all be that good. (cough, cough, American Hustle, Three Billboards, The Master, Doubt) But here? I honestly had to give it some real thought as to who did the best job. (I did eventually decide on Olivia Coleman.) Even Emma Stone, who I loathe for vague and impossible-to-pinpoint reasons, was excellent. And her accent was on point, which is always always always a problem for me when Americans play British. (See: Jena Malone as Lydia Bennett in Pride & Prejudice.) The three women in this movie each play such complex characters, shifting between good and evil, kind and cruel, even sane and crazy--completely seamlessly. You can't decide who you like and who you hate from scene to scene. And the more you think about it, the more complex it becomes. The relationship dynamics, politics, power structure--they're all intertwined, but laced with incredible wit and a constant reminder that women run the fucking show.

      I don't know, man. I really don't know. I feel like I'm sitting here, trying to write this review, but all I can do is shake my head and how strange the whole thing was and wonder how on Earth I can write a coherent review of it without spoiling the plot. And maybe all I can say is that I can't. That's it's one of the rare movies you really have to be there to get. So be there. Watch it. And come back and tell me what the hell to think about it.

      Final word: 48 hours later I'm still thinking about it.

      February 2, 2019

      BlacKkKlansman (2018)

      John David Washington, Adam Driver

      If you go to Spike Lee's IMDB page, it lists 82 directing credits to his name. EIGHTY-TWO. He's literally been directing things for the last 50 years and this is the movie he finally gets recognized by the Academy for. Huh.

      Here's the thing: there's nothing really wrong with this movie. It's a fabulous premise, well acted, and very powerful at times. It was obviously written with a lot of thought and intention, and not a single scene is wasted or fluff. In that regard, it's a Masterclass in storytelling.

      It's also 100% for white people. Let me explain:

      This movie, while entertaining, was basically a PowerPoint presentation where every slide reads "racism is bad." There was an attempt to add nuance in the police's role in upholding and perpetuating white supremacy, but wasn't dug into nearly as much as drawing parallels between the behavior of the KKK and current crops of MAGA-hats, with little winks to the language used by Donald Trump and even a whole reel of footage from the racist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Make no mistake--this movie has a message to deliver.

      To be clear, I am in favor of messages in movies. I don't mind a little leading toward a drawn conclusion, nor do I like a "both sides"-ing of issues like racism or the KKK. I do, however, want to think at least a little bit during a movie. Watching this was like being on autopilot, the only drama coming from not knowing the exact outcome of this particular situation. So while this movie should have drawn me in by this exact, particular situation, the continued references to our current day pulled me out into the broader, political crisis of today. So while that was definitely the point, and a helpful lesson, it felt a little like a color-by-numbers picture. Like, the final result is obvious before even starting to color so there's no surprise.

      What I will comment on, positively, is the way this movie handled the blurring between fiction and non-fiction--a common complaint I have with biopics (see: Bohemian Rhapsody). They stayed as true as possible to the story, and the additions (like Stallworth's girlfriend, who was likely fictitious) only enhanced the story without forcing major changes in the overall plot.

      Overall, it feels like the reason this movie, more than any previous film directed by Spike Lee, is garnering attention because it was made to help white people feel triumphant that they are siding with the correct side of this story. They can point to this clear-cut portrayal of racism and say "that there is bad and I condemn it" while also feeling like they've learned about black history through a monologue from one of the founding members of the Black Panther party. It's coddling. It's telling audiences, "here are the bad guys and they can be defeated." But even with the little nods to systemic oppression, with police brutality against blacks or microaggressions at work, this movie does a disservice to white audiences by letting them believe that ultimately, people will do the right thing. History has shown us that the people in power in this country will not cede their power or adapt to change willingly. Hell, there are elected representatives right now (like the infamous Steve King of Iowa) who talk openly of white supremacy and white nationalism without consequence. So while this movie might make you feel good to watch, it's a hell of a letdown when you realize it's lulled you into a much rosier picture of what racism looks like and how it manifests. The KKK is the easiest, most obvious target to decry when thinking about racism against black people. But compared to the police, the judicial system, and even academia?

      It might seem unfair to judge this movie on what it could have been or what I think it should have been. I don't mean to. The movie, as it is, is a good movie. Is it Spike Lee's best movie? Hell no. Is it even one of the best movies of the year? I don't know, that remains to be seen. All I'm saying is that for a movie that takes itself so seriously, it could have been more, well, serious. It's entertaining, but let's not hold it up as anything more than a hell of a story and a light introduction (pun intended) for white people into racial oppression in America.

      Final word: Good, but simple. Like a baby step into fighting racism.

      January 24, 2019

      Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

      Rami Malek

      Biopics. They can never quite seem to satisfy everyone.

      Too accurate and the surviving people contest their portrayal. Too much artistic license and the purists contest the facts. A truly good biopic is hard to find. (Cue a hundred responses to this pointing out all the good biopics I'm overlooking.)

      So here's the thing. Bohemian Rhapsody is a mostly enjoyable movie. It is not a good biopic.

      First of all, the inaccuracies. There's just so many of them, some created for no reason. For example, the formation of the band. Why would it be necessary to lie about this? For extra drama? It didn't even seem realistic. In fact, it was so unrealistic I literally Googled it while watching the movie because it didn't seem believable. Which then, of course, made me suspect everything else in the movie. In short, it's distracting and unnecessary. If you're going to bend the facts about certain events, there damn well better be a purpose. 

      But even then it gets tricky. Like Mercury's AIDS diagnosis. The way it was portrayed in the movie was obviously to add drama for the band's final performance at LiveAid. Except that wasn't the band's final performance. Mercury (and the band) continued to make music for YEARS after that. So while I can understand wanting to culminate on a powerful performance, it shouldn't mislead the viewer into thinking Mercury died shortly after that (which yeah, the movie definitely insinuated). Not to mention the complete fiction of the band breakup...

      Much like adapting a book to a movie, this story will anger many longtime Queen fans with its inaccuracies. It angers the LGBT community with its sanitized portrayal of Mercury's sexuality. (Side note: in case anyone still doesn't understand, bisexual =/= gay. Portrayals of people on different parts of the spectrum are important. It's not that hard.) And it should anger anyone who's ever had to take a plotting course because the first 25 minutes of this movie are utter garbage fiction. (I nearly turned it off I was so annoyed.)

      It also inspires. The one thing this movie DOES do well is capture the brilliance and creativity of Queen. In a world where every movie, every song seems to be a poorly copied version of something else, it's inspiring to watch four utterly wacky minds come up with the kind of music Queen did. They were absolutely brilliant at reinventing themselves, reinventing what rock and roll music was, and reinventing the limits of what a song could or could not do. The power of their music is on full display and it's what makes this movie worth watching. (And unless you are one of those diehard Queen fans or you know, alive during the 70's, you'll probably be surprised to find out they are the artists behind some of the most iconic songs you hear all the time.)

      Also, Rami Malek. His performance is not to be overstated. Not only does he nearly identical to Mercury (it's uncanny, really), he embodies the role in such an incredible way. And to do it with those ridiculous teeth? It's a wonder he could even say his lines, let alone act through those chompers. If you do watch the movie, do it for his performance alone. Also, so you can Google the cast afterward and see how well they cast the thing. 

      Final word: Conflicted. Much like this movie.

      January 11, 2019

      Boy Erased (2018)

      Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe

      Sometimes movies can be really difficult to talk about it. The emotions they evoke, the stories they tell--even the powerful lessons gleaned from them. Some stories are so difficult to discuss that I'd rather people just watch them and spend some time reflecting on them. But then of course, there's the risk that certain populations would never watch it at all. Or watch it and somehow still not come away with the lessons they should have. Because while art is supposed to be left to interpretation of the consumer, this movie most definitely has a lesson, and there IS a wrong conclusion to draw from it.

      So, I'm going to dive in.

      For those unaware, this movie follows the true story of an 18-year-old son of a Baptist preacher who is sent to church gay conversion therapy after being outed to his parents. It is a painful watch. It's sad, dark, and emotional. But what makes the story powerful is actually the nuance woven into the story. It's presented in a delicate way so as to not turn off the viewer immediately. What do I mean by that?

      First off, Hedges' parents, portrayed by Kidman and Crowe, are not Bible thumping monsters. Yes, they send him to conversion therapy. But they aren't physically abusive. They don't scream at him or hurl hateful insults about him (or other gay people). They show moments of love and tenderness and show just how common it is for parents to believe they are doing the right thing for their child, even when that thing is completely monstrous. They don't see it. They don't see themselves as monsters. And much of the outside world doesn't either, which only makes it more complicated and difficult for the child affected by all of it.

      The conversion therapy they send him to is equally nuanced. I mean, it's not, in that it's clearly terrible to subject children (or anyone) to this kind of shaming and proselytizing about their sins, but it's also not electroshock therapy and physical abuse (which yes, also happens at some conversation therapy "camps.") So while it was clearly horrific for me to watch, I could also heavily religious people see all of this and sort of tsk tsk while thinking to themselves it doesn't seem that bad. By not crossing that line into the cartoonishily villainous (which I think electroshock therapy counts as), it keeps the audience engaged and frightened the entire time. 

      Yes, I meant to use the word frightened. Because this movie is terrifying. It's sad, to be sure, but more than anything, it's frightening. It's frightening to think that gay conversion therapy on minors is allowed in 36 states (as stated in the movie's postscript). It's frightening to think that parents could beat, abuse, or even just excommunicate their child because he/she is gay. It's frightening to think of these children, dealing with so much already (including assault or other harassment they can't talk about for fear of outing themselves), losing the support and love of their parents. And it's frightening to think of the millions upon millions of people in the world who would like nothing more than to use religion to tell gay people that they should hate themselves. That is really the hardest part of it all to watch.

      So yeah, this movie is difficult to watch. And it's even more difficult to talk about. But we need to. Because like the movie said, gay conversion therapy is still allowed on minors in 36 states.

      Final word: Oh My God. Literally.

      P.S. I really did not want to knock anything about this movie because it's so good, but two Australians faking Texas accents was... not my favorite.

      January 9, 2019

      Colette (2018)

      Keira Knightly, Dominic West

      Let start by saying I am 100% about this trend of highlighting women's stories, especially those whose work went uncredited for too long. Let me follow it up with my wish for those stories to be as accurate as possible.

      It's not the story I have an issue with. It's the fact that it starred Keira Knightly. Now, I adore Keira. I've said it about a million different times in a million different forums. I will watch absolutely anything with her in it.

      But she's not French. And honestly, if you're going to make a movie about one of the most prominent French novelists of all time, it seems more than a tad disrespectful to cast it with British actors. Like, how are you going to show Colette writing in French with a British-accented voiceover? 

      The other thing: I love a good post-script after a movie has wrapped. But I found this particular post-script lacking. For all the work they spent building up her genius, they neglected to highlight the mind-boggling volume of work she actually put out over her lifetime. I understand the decision to focus the story only on a small portion of her life, but again, if you're going to do a post-script, at least do it justice.

      That being said, there is a lot to like about the rest of the movie. It's a story about writers, which I will almost always love, even if I get frustrated at the portrayal that writers sit down and knock out a book in one sitting with minimal re-writes. (Who knows, maybe they used to back in the day.) But more than that, it's a story about female empowerment and the audacity of women pursuing their own happiness and worth. So naturally, my type of movie. 

      It also leans into the LGBTQ aspect of Colette's life, showing her same sex relationships with the same unflinching sensuality that is usually reserved for heterosexual couples. It uses proper gender pronouns for "Missy," her long-term androgynous partner, and even delves into the politics of fashion at the turn of the century. Not to mention, the dresses. Oh God, the dresses (and hats). Let's just say I want the costume designer on this set to dress me in real life. 

      So, the authenticity problems aside, it was still enjoyable to watch. But what do I know? I'm bound to love almost anything Keira Knightly is in.

      Final word: Interesting story, but would have been more authentic with French actors.

      P.S. If this movie doesn't get nominated for Best Costume Design at the Oscars, I'm going to flip a friggin table. I have never wanted to look like someone in a movie as much as I did in this one.