January 28, 2020

Judy (2019)

Renee Zellweger

Oh God. Where to start.

Judy Garland's story is so fucking depressing. I knew this going in. And yet somehow, I still was totally bummed out watching the movie? I know tragic stories are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but that doesn't make the story any less compelling. Especially since they smartly splice a dual timeline so we get both the past and present - giving viewers a fuller picture of how she got to where she is.

Let's get to the nitty gritty: is Renee Zellweger good in this? Yes, though I wouldn't go so far as to count it flawless. There are large spans on time in which she completely disappears into the role, melting her voice into a deeper rasp that renders her indistinguishable from the character. But there are also little moments when I was pulled out of that, reminded of Zellweger's characteristic mouth scrunch or mousy voice that would peek out at inopportune times.

Maybe I'm being overly harsh. After all, she completely carries the movie. But like Joker, when only one person is the focus, it's also much easier to pick out any flaws in the performance. After all, there's a lot of down time.

So while Zellweger does a good job with it, and the movie is decent overall - creating a biopic is always tricky - it's also very slow. With a lot of musical numbers. And not like, people are doing things while singing. Like, you are watching a faux Judy Garland concert, in which Zellweger stands in place and sings half a song and you just sit there and watch it like you're in the audience. It's on brand, sure, but not the most riveting stuff cinema has to offer.

Ultimately, this movie seemed in want of a message, for lack of a better word. Yes, Judy Garland was a star. Yes, she was totally mistreated by Hollywood (and seemingly everyone else in her life). But what else? Why does this story need to be told right now? What should we, as viewers, take away from all this?

Maybe it's wrong to assume a writer needs to go into a story with an intent in mind. After all, there were definite themes: her need to be loved, the incessant pressure she faced to keep performing, her struggle against substance addiction. All I'm saying is that one particular theme did not emerge as the frontrunner and I think the movie suffered for it. It was both all encompassing and scattered, trying to narrow focus on a specific time in her life while shoe-horning in everything they could to give more context to her life. As I mentioned above, the dual timeline was a smart choice and I think it helped. But it also didn't always directly correlate to the events in the present timeline. And it also didn't feel like quite enough.

Biopics are hard. You can't cover everything. But for a movie showing the life (but not death) of one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, it felt a little...incomplete. Maybe those who are more familiar with her body of work would get more out of this.

Final word: Fine, but probably better if you're a huge Judy Garland fan.

January 23, 2020

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Matt Damon, Christian Bale

My reaction before watching this: oh God why is this a movie do I really need to watch it curse my decision to be a movie blogger I can't sit through another boring movie please kill me

My reaction after watching it: any Oscar voter who isn't completed riveted by this story should forfeit their voting privileges because they clearly don't recognize great cinema

But seriously. This movie is pretty much my idea of a nightmare movie. Car racing? A historical drama about...car engineering? White dudes galore? Hard pass.

But here's the thing - good storytelling can overcome any of that. All of that. The reason this movie is getting the acclaim it's getting (ok ok, beyond the fact that it stars two very big actors), is that the storytelling in it is excellent. It didn't have to be. It very well could have been a boring movie with far too much racing footage and long soliloquies waxing on about the beauty of speed or some other nonsense. Instead, it managed to be a beautiful portrait of determination (I'm talking about the men, not the Ford Motor company because fuck them) and what full throated support can accomplish.

That being said, I have SO many feelings about the actual events in this movie that I CANNOT SHARE because they'd be spoilers. And unless you're some kind of die-hard racing fan, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't know this story. So I'll focus on the things I can talk about.

#1. Christian Bale. It's...almost strange to hear him talk in his natural accent? But once you get past that, it's impossible to tear your eyes off of him. I know performances where actors play eccentric characters always get more attention and love than less uh, dramatic roles, but he really is magnetic in this. And if you don't believe me, try to isolate just Matt Damon's parts and see how much he outshines him.

#2. Speaking of Matt Damon...he is just so dull here. Like, white bread with mayo-type dull. I don't have anything against Matt Damon. Really. I think he's great in some movies! This is not one of them. He brings literally nothing to the role. He doesn't make it worse, but also not better. Like, the one thing he needs for this role is a Southern accent, which he doesn't even have, so I don't understand his casting in this. Yes, he's famous, but did they feel like people wouldn't watch it on Christian Bale's name alone? Josh Lucas has an excellent Southern accent in Sweet Home Alabama and honestly, I felt like he and Matt Damon could've switched places in the movie and the whole thing would've been better for it.

#3. I really need whoever has seen this movie to reach out immediately so I can scream about my inability to sleep after watching this movie. (No, I am not exaggerating. I wish I were.)

So, uh, I guess I'll wrap this up with: you can't even judge a movie by its [boring] premise anymore? I am shook.

Final word: But seriously, is there anything Christian Bale can't sell?

January 21, 2020

Parasite (2019)

Song Kang Ho, Choi Woo Shik, Park So Dam, Cho Yeo Jeong, et al

Rarely do I take the time to think about the brilliance of a particular title. After all, there are so many other surface-level ways to evaluate a movie--the poster, the trailer, even the actors in in. But the title? Even a good movie can overcome a terrible title (for example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). But a perfect title can do more than just compel people to watch the movie; it can add another layer of depth to something already expertly crafted--the icing on the cake, so to speak.

So it is we get the word Parasite. Highlighting the destitute Kim family and their slow creep to infiltrate the wealthy Park family, this term is apt because it describes both the fact that they cannot survive with the host family, and the way they are viewed by the host family: interlopes, leeches, less than.

This movie is the first thriller I have ever seen where I wasn't absolutely terrified out of my mind. In general, I think of the term "thriller" as just a way to describe scary movies that lack gore. But this film had an insidiousness about it--a low simmering tension throughout that kept me on high alert, just waiting for what would happen next. It was terrifying in a different, more subtle, and more relatable way. Instead of waiting for zombies to pop out of walls or mass murderers to show up at the door, this discomfort stemmed from forcing the audience to evaluate the character's behavior. Who was really the parasite here: the wealthy family that couldn't function without their money paying for the help of poor workers? Or the poor family that manipulated their way into earning a living off a wealthy family, thereby displacing other poor workers in a fight for the scraps?

A lot has been said about this movie and its overall message (go ahead, Google it!), so I don't feel like I have any new insights to add to that. What I do want to address, however, is the fact that Hollywood has somehow managed to praise the movie without actually acknowledging its actors at all. How is it that a movie can be so brilliant as to land on a number of "Best of" lists, garner Oscar noms for both Best Picture and Best Director, yet not a single acting nomination? How is that Scarlett Johansson can get not one, but TWO acting nominations without any nods for these cast members? How exactly is a movie brilliant if the actors in it are not?

Beyond the class warfare in this movie, I think what is striking many of us in the Asian-American community is the representation shown in this movie: Korean spoken instead of English; a variety of characters; the spectrum of good to evil-type behaviors. This movie is speaking to us (well, me anyway) because instead of clinging desperately to the one or maybe minor two characters in a movie, I'm able to see an entire screen of Asian faces and not have to feel like I don't want to root against them. I'm able to see an entire complex narrative fleshed out without pandering to the white experience. Watching this felt like the manifestation of this somewhat sarcastic article I wrote about Asian representation in media. (Side note: could I just watch more Asian-based films? Yes. But I want those films to break into the mainstream here in the US too.)

But in all seriousness, Asian or non-Asian, this movie had everything. Plot, tension, acting, cinematography (it's not just for outdoor panoramic shots!) - yet somehow people are looking only at the overall package and not all of its component parts. So while the recognition of this movie signals a big step forward in Hollywood, the fact that its actors are still being overlooked shows that we still have a long way to go.

Final word: Park So Dam would absolutely crush any high school movie - please put her in everything

P.S. I couldn't quit put my finger on the discomfort of the "Indian" theme running throughout and this post finally put it into words. So give it a read because it's good.

January 17, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac

Look, I've tried to like Star Wars. With the notable exception of The Last Jedi, I've made the effort to see all the movies. (I even watched them in the "proper" viewing order the first time - read my takeaways here.) So even though I'm not a mega die-hard fan of the series, I figured I know enough about it to watch the "final" (I'll believe it when I see it) installment.

I'll admit upfront: I loathe Adam Driver as an actor. To me, he is the ultimate over-actor, aka why frown when you could pout, why raise your voice when you can shout, why be angry if you're not flailing your arms kind of actor. The fact that people find him sexy in some way is what puts it over the top for me. Like, no. Just no. Honestly people, get some standards.

I'm also not the biggest fan of Daisy Ridley. Like, she's fine in the way Wonderbread is fine if you really need to make a sandwich. She's a bit bland for me, like Keira Knightly-lite. And as much as I love Keira Knightly, I don't really need a knock-off copy of her. But she's fine.

So already, this last trilogy sets a bit of a challenge for me. But whatever, I watch it anyway. And I worry: will I be able to follow what's happening without having seen The Last Jedi? It is, after all a trilogy.

As itv turned out, I had no problems following along. Why? Well, because it's the same damn plot. Evil Emperor Palpatine, a dark mask that warps the voice, Jedi power, Millennium Falcon, Chewy, Ewoks, blah blah blah. It was like deja vu, but with less desirable actors.

I get that this was meant to be some sort of sentimental send-off. A tribute to the Star Wars movies that came before. So in that narrow regard, I guess it's a a triumph of some sort. But like, this is what you chose to do with the "last ever" Star Wars movie? Really???

Like, why did Kylo even need the mask? Darth Vader used it to breathe. How does it make sense that he would just create one for himself and oh, now he suddenly has a different voice? Why? Whyyyyyyy? (But oooh, it has red slashes across it to mimic the scars across his face? *eye roll*)

I don't generally like to wade into Star Wars controversies (mostly because the die hard fans are honestly frightening), but being a person with eyes who uses the internet, it's a bit hard to avoid reading about. So in that regard, I want to throw my two cents in about a couple of things.

1. The FinnPoe shipping is real. And quite honestly, the two of them had more chemistry than literally anyone else in the movie, including the Kylo/Rey connection we're supposed to feel

2. Speaking of Kylo and Rey...maybe I missed something by not watching TLJ, but uhhhhhh I'm not feeling it. At all. And not just because I hate Adam Driver. They really have no chemistry. Also, the whole situation between them felt so...contrived? Predictable? Just not fresh or exciting in any way.

3. Kelly Marie Tran. Sigh. I am SO disappointed I missed the movie where she had a big role because she might as well have no existed in this movie. From what I read of TLJ, she'd had a meaty role (which is when the racists crawled out of their holes and sent her death threats for apparently daring to exist in a movie), which all but disappeared in ROS. If I hadn't read the previous internet discourse, it wouldn't even have occurred to me that she was anything but an extra. I don't know why this decision was made (though I have a few guesses!), but it seems like a waste to have done a bunch of character-building throughout a movie, only to discard them the next time around.

4. Regenerated Carrie Fisher gives me the creeps. I understand why they felt they needed to bring her back for this movie and that not having her would have changed the story, but like, no. I'm 100% against conjuring dead people out of thin air to suit a story, unless that person died during filming and the entire thing would have to be restructured and re-shot otherwise (see: Furious 7). It's all just a bit too sci-fi for me.

Ultimately, I was really unimpressed by this movie. It was possibly the least exciting, most unimaginative conclusion to a series that has somehow spanned decades. It wasn't worse than say, The Phantom Menace, but is that really saying anything?

Final word: It's finally over*

*oh please, this is Disney they'll never stop finding ways to make money off this franchise

January 14, 2020

Bombshell (2019)

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie

I need to start with a disclaimer: this movie is not intersectional. It is for sure peak white feminism, focusing only on the plight of white women who are afforded the privilege of creating careers off racism. I know this. I acknowledge this. I am fully aware of how this creates an unsavory taste in the mouths of WOC and how it can make them not want to watch this. I want to get this out of the way because of course it is a huge weakness of the story. But it is also a true story, and you cannot create intersectionalism where none exists.

That being said, this movie keeps a very tight focus on the sexual harassment case and the culture at Fox News. I think this was a very smart play because frankly, there's no other way to get everyone on the side of the heroines who espouse things like "Santa is a white man." (Also, props to the director for stealthily sliding that in anyway.)

Even while hating the fact that a movie was made about the sexual harassment of only powerful white women, I still liked it. Did it make women I normally dislike sympathetic? Yes. But it also made sure not to totally gloss over the havoc Fox News has wreaked on the American public, repeatedly referencing the toxic culture of fear it has instilled. I also feel like it might be impossible as a woman in corporate America to not relate to this story in any way. I don't know if I can name a single woman acquaintance who has *not* been sexually harassed at work?

But setting aside the particular facts in this case, what impressed me most about the movie was its ability to keep a brisk pace and the integration of proper dates, people, and real footage of the event. I always think it is much more difficult to craft an interesting story out of something that already happened and was highly publicized, as everything is open to higher amounts of scrutiny. But the way the story was woven, balancing the both similar but varied experiences of three different women, was really well done. Also, I am totally blown away by Theron's ability to embody Megyn Kelly. For some reason all the accolades have gone to Margot Robbie, which seems strange to me when I had to keep actively searching Theron's face to convince myself it was really her. Being able to accurately portray a living person honestly seems like it deserves its own award category.

This movie will not be everyone's cup of tea. I get that. It's deeply uncomfortable to watch, even already knowing how it will all end. But I am hoping that regardless of how you feel about the women of Fox News, we can all agree that the type of sexual harassment portrayed in this film is unacceptable and that no woman deserves to suffer through it. Even if they are the kind of person who wants to die on the hill of "Jesus is white."

Final word: Well written, well acted.

January 13, 2020

Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix

Hey, remember when The Dark Knight came out and everyone was flipping out over how dark and gritty it was because it was an exciting shift from the typical "comic book movie?" God, I hope this movie signals the death knell for that. (Hint: it won't.)

Look, I'll fully admit I did not go into this movie with a whole lot of excitement. For one thing, another movie about the joker? At this rate his franchise is multiplying as quickly as Spiderman. For another, I just don't really get that jazzed about origin stories. They're just prequels with prettier titles. But I held out hope because well, Joaquin Phoenix.

I was not prepared for how much I loathed this movie. Like, temped to just straight up quit watching it, which you know I never do. I mean sure, it's not my style of movie, but I've certainly sat through worse. Somehow this one just got to me.

For one thing, it's just so goddamn boring. It's not necessarily the pacing, as I generally prefer a slow movie. But when you already know where it's going to end up? It's taking the scenic route for the sake of taking the scenic route. Except the scenery is just Joaquin Phoenox forced laughing and occasionally killing people.

I know one of the things people really loved about Black Panther was the complicated morality of the "good guy" vs. the "bad guy" and how really, anyone can see themselves as the good guy. I get that. And I appreciate it in certain circumstances. But in trying to craft a complicated backstory for the Joker, it feels like they instead tried so hard to make him sympathetic. Which like, sure, yeah, okay. But he's still a homicidal maniac? What, exactly are you hoping to achieve by explaining that he was abused and bullied and whatnot? To humanize the joker? How about making him the face of an anti-capitalist movement? Are you trying to make him into some kind of a hero?

A lot was made when this movie debuted about the danger of glorifying the violence and how certain populations might come away with a dangerous message from it. And no, that didn't happen. But even knowing that, I couldn't help coming to the exact same conclusion. Like why are we as a society so eager to delve into the psyche of a white male mass murderer and put his actions into context, when countless scores of ordinary people are not afforded the same courtesy? This isn't just a movie, but practically a mirror into regular life.

Ultimately, my problem rests on the shoulders of Phoenix. A lot of praise has been heaped on him for his performance, and I respect him for doing what he could with what was a very bare bones script. At the same time, the fact that entire movie focuses almost solely on him and him alone, the flaws are easier to pick out. I'd hoped we were past awarding actors just for losing lots of weight and overacting anger, but here we are. (No but seriously, what purpose did it serve for his character to be emaciated? It's not like Phoenix is a pudgy dude. Was it really necessary to make him lose all that weight for this?) I'm not saying he didn't do a good job--I'm asking if this is really what we consider to the best performance actors can give. (Because let's be honest, we all know they're going to give him the Oscar for this.)

I know I'm going to take a lot of flack for this opinion. I know that a lot of people want to see it as an intimate portrait of mental illness or the ills of a capitalistic society. And maybe that is what director Todd Philips set out to create. But to me, it felt more like a movie that took itself far too seriously, while only giving the slightest of nods to deeper themes so that it could go back and claim anyone who didn't see it as not understanding the material. So let me be clear: I understood it, I simply didn't like it.

Final word: Thanks, I hate it

January 12, 2020

Late Night (2019)

Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson 

You know how children are often so different looking than their parents? Like how two unattractive people can somehow create a marvelous looking child, and vice versa? (Yes, I realize there are people out there who truly believe all children are beautiful, but I am not one of them. I'm not saying they can't outgrow it, and I realize there are more important things than looks, but yeah, objectively not cute children exist. *shrug*)

This movie feels like one of those unattractive children. I adore Emma Thompson. A woman who wrote the screenplay for Sense & Sensibility and cast her 31-year-old self in the role of the 19-year-old protagonist? Absolute legend. And Mindy Kaling? Ok, so I didn't watch the office, and I couldn't get into her show, but I did read her book and it was funny. And I love her unabashed fight to bring more diversity to every project she's on. Add all that to a story about women fighting against a male dominated industry? Should've been a shoo-in.


It wasn't bad. I'm not sure anything with Emma Thompson can be bad. (Wait, scratch that. I just remembered her turn as Mrs. Potts in the live action Beauty and the Beast movie and her Snarky Award for it.) It was just...fine? Like, perfectly unoffensive. Not funny enough to laugh out loud, not terrible enough to turn off (even considering I watched it for free on Amazon Prime). Just fine.

These are the movies I always find hardest to review because there's just nothing standout enough to even critique. On the other hand, I feel like I've been screaming to let women make mediocre movies because then we'd know we really "made it" as equals. I guess this is a step toward that. *shrug*

Final word: Stop Nominating People's Performances In Unmemorable Movies 2020

January 7, 2020

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson

Satire is a tricky beast. Hit it too hard and the joke becomes stale. Don't hit it hard enough and it's not recognizable as satire in the first place. Too much of it and the audience gets bored. This movie strikes precisely the right balance between all of those points.

I'll be honest: I wasn't super looking forward to this. Yes, Taika Waititi is a genius. Yes, the previews were mildly funny. But right now? In this political climate? Joking about Hitler? No thanks.

But this is where the film is brilliant. It is over-the-top enough so that no rational human could somehow take away the wrong message. It's not glorifying or even making light of the destruction of the Nazis, despite the numerous moments of levity. Does Waititi play a caricature version of Hitler? Yes. But do you like Hitler more because of it? Of course not. The story is intended to be seen through the eyes of a Nazi youth, so it tracks that much of the actual horror of the war and Germany's role in those would remain virtually unseen.

This movie has a depth to it not shown by the previews, the poster, or really any of the promotional material. It's a sneaky depth, that draws you in and pulls emotions you weren't expecting to have in a satirical war movie. It was risky, I'm sure, to hide all the best bits for the people who actually watch the film, but made the pay off that much sweeter. Because for those who are willing to take a chance of what looks like a funny Hitler movie, they are rewarded with a touching not-quite-coming of age story about a boy learning to decipher the world around him.

Final word: No joke, this movie is deeply enjoyable.

Bonus plus: Everyone in this movie, including actors I normally don't enjoy, like Rebel Wilson, are good. Even the kid is brilliant! All the kids!