Tag Archives: drama

Movies: Emma (2020)

I’m a fan of Jane Austen’s novels. And I enjoy a good period/costume drama. So I was probably already primed to like this most recent adaptation of Austen’s story.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Emma is about the titular character, a 21-year-old busybody who fancies herself a matchmaker. But by meddling in others’ love affairs, she actually goes about nearly ruining lives. Emma is often portrayed as having the best of intentions—a sweet but misguided nature. That is certainly the take they had in the Gwyneth Paltrow version, which is probably the best known. But in this one, Emma is really kind of terrible, almost even a bit unlikable. And it works. Because, in truth, to get the full character arc, Emma must start out as someone who needs to change, and she needs to come to that realization.

This take is beautiful to behold as well. The costumes, the sets—all lovely. I did find myself distracted by the fact Emma wore makeup and pretty much no other [female] character did. It was very obvious. But other than that, a mostly gorgeous sight.

In short, I do really recommend this version to fans of Austen or this genre of film in particular. I’m not sure the average viewer would love it, but it’s definitely worthy of attention from those predisposed to it. So glad that Universal chose to release it on demand early to those of us stuck at home.

Movies: Marriage Story

As a rule, I don’t typically love Noah Baumbach films. And I can’t say I love this one, either. Only that I tolerated it better than most others of its kind.

The movie is pretty much what every clip you’ve seen suggests: Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charlie and Nicole respectively, an artistic couple (he’s a director for theatre productions and she’s an actress) going through a separation that falls into a messy divorce. At the center of their many issues is their son Henry. Nicole takes Henry to LA, where her family lives and where she’s shooting a television pilot. Charlie believes they’ve agreed that they will all live in NYC together once the pilot is done. But free from Charlie’s decisions, Nicole begins to make different plans for herself… and Henry. Mean-spiritedness ensues.

If you enjoy watching people do and say terrible things to one another, this is the movie for you.

Which isn’t to say… Well, “enjoy” is the wrong word. I could have gone my life without watching this movie and probably wouldn’t have felt like I’d missed anything. But I’m not sorry I watched it? That’s maybe the best I can say for it? That, and that parts of it are likely to stick with me over time. Which is, at least in part, the point of art: to make an impression.

I’ll admit I haven’t actually seen many of Baumbach’s movies (the ones he’s directed, I mean). I do recall liking The Meyerowitz Stories, but I really did not like The Squid and the Whale, and I never even made it through all of Margot at the Wedding. Baumbach was once described to me as “Wes Anderson without the whimsy,” and that seems about right. I do love Wes Anderson, but it’s the whimsy that makes me happy. Meyerowitz came closest in a Royal Tenenbaums kind of way. There is, between the two (and yes, I am aware of the work they’ve done together), a real fixation on creative genius, public perception, and family hierarchy (which I suppose is “private perception”?). Marriage Story doesn’t quite go there because it’s so caught up in the drama of a dissolving relationship, but it touches on it—Charlie’s “genius” and how Nicole’s mother adores him, and the fight over who boosted whose career. I do find such themes interesting, but the lack of depth to them here makes them, and the movie, slightly less so. For me. Great performances, though, and Laura Dern definitely earned all her praise. In short, I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one, but I wouldn’t warn people away from it either.

Movies: Parasite (2019)

I actually found this movie difficult to watch. Not because it’s bad; it’s far from that! But because it is so tense and anxiety inducing. At least for me. I don’t mind a good thriller, but whew. This film had me in knots.

I went in knowing very little except that I’d heard Parasite starts as one kind of film and ends up as another. And of course I’d heard it’s incredible (and therefore nominated for so many awards, having already gathered a fair amount of hardware—”hardware” being the industry term for award statuettes). I won’t be able to see all the nominated pictures, but I’m trying to get through at least a few, so last night I watched this one.

A non-spoiler sketch of the plot: a poor Korean family is given a lead by a friend that allows them to insinuate themselves into a wealthy family’s household. The poor son goes to tutor the rich daughter, the poor daughter becomes an art therapist for the rich son… Pretty soon the whole poor family is employed by the rich one, the latter none the wiser that their entire staff is related.

And then things go sideways.

That’s all I’m going to say about it. The movie is clever and intense, well written and well acted. It’s solid, is what I’m saying. Deserves all the accolades it’s received. And still I had the hardest time sitting through it because I was squirming so hard.

Worth a watch? Absolutely, if you can stand the mounting tension.

Movies: Joker

Decided to go ahead and watch this one, and I can see what all the buzz is about. Joaquin Phoenix does a stellar job overall, though I have minor quibbles. So many people love the score, too, and I think it’s quite good, but I also found it a bit distracting? Then again, this isn’t my usual kind of movie, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask.

For those even farther behind than I am in these things, Joker is a movie about, well, the Batman character’s origins, I guess. Phoenix plays Arthur Flack, a hapless clown-for-hire with dreams of being a standup comedian. Arthur is a bit… shy of a full quotient of IQ points, I guess? He has a mental illness that can cause him to begin laughing uncontrollably during moments of intense stress. And he also has a habit of daydreaming and not always knowing the difference between those daydreams and reality. In all, he’s portrayed as someone childlike and well intentioned who has been dealt a poor hand in life. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who wants to see it but hasn’t.

Honestly, I found the first part of this movie kind of boring. It’s all very artsy and atmospheric, but it took a while for anything interesting to happen (in my opinion). Once things did get rolling, though, I mostly enjoyed it.

I will say I find it crazy annoying that every movie even tangentially related to Batman has to do the killing-Bruce’s-parents thing, though. We all know the story, we’ve seen it hundreds of times, and in this movie it just wasn’t necessary at all. It added nothing, nor did it give the Waynes’ deaths any new twist. So boo to that.

Anyway, I’m sure Phoenix will win the Academy Award because, hey, a movie that kinda sorta talks about how the system fails those with mental illness, plus a lead who not only lost lots of weight for the role but also plays someone mentally ill? That’s a done deal, isn’t it? Look, I know I sound snarky, and I kind of am. I haven’t seen all the contenders, so I can’t really say if Phoenix deserves to win. But I know what the Academy tends to like. This role ticks a lot of their boxes, and Phoenix does well in it.

Overall, I’m glad I saw it, if only to see what all the hype has been about. The movie is lovely to look at and interesting, but it reminds me of a glossy magazine ad for cologne or something. Artsy but a bit opaque in what it’s really trying to get at. Which is funny since at the same time I felt a bit beat over the head by the underlying social commentary. Well, those ads often have a pungent sample in them, too, don’t they? This isn’t to say Joker is a bad movie or has no merit or whatever. But for me there was a lot more style to it than substance.

Television: His Dark Materials, “Lyra’s Jordan”

Yeah, yeah, I’m a week behind because I hadn’t realized the show had already begun airing. Lovely think about television these days is that if you miss an episode, you no longer have to wait for a rerun. I’m old enough to remember a time before that, a time when if you wanted to record a show you had to have a blank tape and VCR. Yeah, I’m old.

First things first: I did read The Golden Compass once many years ago and it left very little impression on me. I never even bothered with the subsequent books. I don’t know what it was about that book that failed to grab me; I remember almost nothing about it except the big bear and a vague sense of not liking any of the characters, which is probably why I didn’t want to spend any more time with them. So I won’t be comparing this to the books because I remember so little of the one I read, which is actually kind of nice because I’m coming at this relatively fresh and unbiased.

This episode, which is the first of the series, begins with a lot of title card reading. Stuff like that always gives me pause because if the screenwriter and director couldn’t accurately convey the world in the, you know, actual film part, maybe they shouldn’t be adapting this material? Any movie, or even book, that requires that much information before it even gets started… needs to be rethought. Viewers (and readers) aren’t entirely stupid. They can figure things out without you having to bury them in pre-info.

That aside, I did find this a relatively engaging series premiere. James McAvoy plays Lord Asriel, an explorer who leaves a baby named Lyra in the care of Jordan College in Oxford. (Note that this is an alternative dimension to our world, meaning some things are familiar and some things aren’t. For instance, everyone has a “daemon,” which is basically their soul, but in the form of an animal outside their body.) There seems to be a prophecy around Lyra, because of course there is. She grows up none the wiser and at around age 12 is selected to become the assistant to Ms. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Meanwhile, children have been disappearing, including Lyra’s friend Roger. Ms. Coulter promises Lyra that once they reach London she will help find Roger (and, possibly by extension, other missing children as well).

Before Lyra leaves with Ms. Coulter, the Master of Jordan College gives her an alethiometer, a device that—once Lyra can figure out how to work it—will tell her the truth. It’s something she must keep hidden because it’s illegal to possess without permission from the Magisterium. Of course, the first time that Lyra tries to use it, it doesn’t work. Why the Master couldn’t tell Lyra how to use it is unclear. Probably because he wanted to be sure there was more tension in the plot.

There is also a plot involving Lord Asriel’s explorations into something called “dust,” and the fact that the Master of Jordan College tried to poison him… This seems fundamentally to be a disagreement between the Magisterium and science/academia. Which is to say, a fight between religion/faith and hard facts.

Bottom line is that Lyra is a chosen one and the fate of the world as everyone knows it seems to depend on her choices. *yawn* I’m so over these kinds of stories, AND YET… I did really enjoy this, surprisingly so. It’s nicely done, and while I don’t love any of the characters, I don’t dislike them as much as I did when reading them. If that makes any sense? There is a real sense of dread around the kidnappings, and the central mysteries are set up well, designed to draw the viewer along. I’ll definitely watch the next episode at least.