Tag Archives: movies

Movies: Icarus

When my husband suggested we watch this movie, I was somewhat indifferent. I don’t have any particular interest in the Olympics and/or athletic doping scandals. I’ve never been that into sports to begin with (though I do enjoy watching the figure skating and the gymnastics).

Still, we were looking for something to watch, and I’d already dismissed a number of other options. And I generally like documentaries. So I shrugged and agreed.

Wow. This film is intense.

When it started, I was actually a bit confused. Filmmaker Bryan Fogel seemed to be trying to make a movie about athletes doping for some French bicycle race (one that isn’t the Tour de France). I couldn’t tell if he was actually attempting to get away with it… But then why film it, right? And I couldn’t tell whether the man he was working with realized Fogel was doping in order to prove it could be done (rather than doing it in order to cheat and win). But as things went on, well…

I can’t really explain it. You just have to watch.

Basically, Fogel ended up in the middle of the big Russian Olympic doping scandal. And the guy he’d been working with on his cycling documentary had to flee Russia.

It was just crazy. The whole thing plays out like a Tom Clancy novel. I was sucked in. Then again, I do love true crime and, while I typically don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, they are often fun to hear about.

Icarus won an Academy Award, and for good reason. I know I’m way behind on getting around to watching it (the movie came out in 2017), but if you haven’t yet either, I’d say it’s worth your time.

Movies: The Gentlemen

I’ve liked many of the Guy Ritchie movies I’ve seen, and this one seems to be typical of his work, particularly akin to such others as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It has the same quirky, action-comedy tone and the same kind of ensemble cast designed to light up a marquee. It likewise deals in the world of crime, both underworld and upper class.

And yet.

While I did enjoy it, I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. I think this is largely due to how much slower it was to get moving. The Gentlemen takes quite a bit of setup, which is done via extended dialogue between two characters as one tells the other what he knows. Oh, the scene isn’t just two people talking, of course—we get the actual film version of this background. But it’s a conceit not quite clever enough to make up for the lack of action that occurs early on.

The setup is that Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) is a successful marijuana producer in the UK. But now he wants to sell his business and retire. He offers said business to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), but then things start to go south before the deal can be finalized. Another interested party is Dry Eye (Henry Golding), which throws another wrench into the works. And so on and so forth in a kind of whack-a-mole of squashing all the problems that keep arising.

It isn’t as funny as it maybe could have and should have been? Colin Farrell turns up and is one of the best things about the movie, but he’s not in it much. And it was far too easy, far too early on, to figure out what was at the root of everything. So by the time we got to the reveal… ::shrug::

In short, I’m glad I saw it but also glad I didn’t pay to see it at the cinema. It’s not terrible by any means, but not as entertaining as I’d hoped.

Movies: Jojo Rabbit

Finally, after so many people telling me I had to see it (and I did want to, just hadn’t gotten around to it), I’ve watched Jojo Rabbit. I mean, I typically enjoy Taika Waititi’s work; Thor: Ragnarok is my favorite of the Marvel movies, and I thought What We Do in the Shadows was amazingly funny. So I was eager to see this and not surprised that I liked it.

Jojo Rabbit is about 10-year-old Jojo, a German boy aspiring to join the Hitler Youth. He has Hitler as an imaginary friend and advisor. And then he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. It’s based on a book by Christine Leunens, which I haven’t read, so I can’t compare the film to the source material. But the whole thing is somewhat Wes Andersen in style and tone—the bright sets, the serious backdrop, the comedy masking the darker themes. I love Wes Andersen, too, so this all appealed to me.

I will say there was possibly not quite enough going on to completely hold my interest. Andersen’s movies are usually full of odd characters so that there are many people and side plots to pay attention to; that doesn’t happen as much here. Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen have something going on that, I think, had it been expanded would have been a lot of fun, and Rebel Wilson, likewise, adds quite a few comedic touches, but she’s mostly punctuation. I understand that the focus should stay on Jojo and his dilemma, but his problem is fairly straightforward and one note: Jew girl in the house! But if I rat her out, we’ll all be in trouble! This story takes a predictable path of “learning the other is not so different.” And therefore is possibly the least interesting part of the movie, even though it’s packaged nicely with visual interest and comedy. It’s cute but nothing groundbreaking.

In short, the main story is the least interesting story. But any side interests are so far to the side that they almost don’t matter.

That said, it’s all very well acted, beautifully filmed, and still a cute movie. Certainly worthy of one’s time. I think I anticipated more after so much hype from everyone around me. To others who are interested but haven’t seen it, I’d say it’s a solid film but don’t expect to be overly wowed.

Movies: Onward

This wasn’t one I’d planned on going to see at the cinema, but since Disney/Pixar went ahead and released it, we sat down with the kids to watch it. And, uh…

Let me be honest and say I have only sorta liked most of Pixar’s movies. I’m no big fan, particularly of their brand of sentimentality, which seems to be the driving force behind everything they do. I find that kind of thing annoying rather than endearing. So it was a 50/50 I’d get much out of this movie either.

The story is about an elf named Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland, the go-to for nerdy, self-conscious characters). It’s his sixteenth birthday. He never knew his dad, who “got sick” (that’s the only way we ever hear it described throughout the movie) before he was born. Ian’s older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) has a few memories of their dad. He also has a raging interest in the “old ways” meaning the days of magic.

See, while the modern world in this movie is more or less like ours, filled with smartphones and electricity, the past had been way more Lord of the Rings. But magic isn’t really practiced anymore because science is easier.

Still, when Ian’s dad got sick, he apparently also dabbled in a bit of wizardry and left behind a spell to allow the boys to bring him back for just one day.

Cue magical quest and bonding, all layered in a thick paste of sentiment.

The truth is, this is a concept in search of a plot. Everything that happens in the movie (and I won’t elaborate, so as to avoid spoilers) feels disjointed, or at best loosely linked. They are all incidents that… happen, and… It really did feel like people sat down and said, “What can we have them do, or what problems can we give them, that might be funny and also sweet?” And they came up with a list, and had those things happen, and there’s not much more to it than that. The stakes never felt high, and the end results were as expected.

Also, the funny parts weren’t actually very funny. At all. I don’t think I laughed once.

The kids got restless during this movie, and when asked afterward, they all resoundingly preferred Spies in Disguise (more Tom Holland, lots more funny, and all the sweet moments in that one feel earned). I did too. Times a million.

Sorry, but this one fell flat for me. A lot of wasted potential.

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: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This was… It’s a movie based on a magazine article, for starters. I didn’t know that going in. I didn’t know much of anything about this film except: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. What else is there to know?

Well, I had wondered why Hanks had been put into the supporting actor category during awards season. The movie makes that decision clear. Rogers isn’t the real focus here. Instead, the central figure is the magazine article writer, here named Lloyd (actual article written by a guy named Tom). Lloyd has a difficult relationship with his father. Lloyd is given an assignment to interview Fred Rogers. What develops is a kind of friendship? I guess? But this movie is about Lloyd working things out with Rogers as a kind of gentle guide.

Did I like it? Not really. Did I find it moving? Yes, at moments. There’s no rule that says you have to find a movie that pulls at heartstrings to be wonderful. I didn’t really enjoy Lloyd’s story. The movie failed to make me care all that much about him, maybe because I mostly disliked him. The parts that touched me were the ones that brought back childhood memories of watching Mr. Rogers rather than anything about Lloyd and his personal problems.

A few years back we had that documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? That was wonderful. If you have an interest in Fred Rogers, that would be the film to watch. I’m not saying this one doesn’t have value… to certain viewers, looking for something oddly specific, maybe… It’s artistic? I don’t know. But overall it didn’t work for me.

Movies: Spies in Disguise

This was a pretty silly movie. We entered with the expectation that it would be, basically, dumb. And it was. But it was hugely entertaining in its stupidity. Which is really all we wanted.

Will Smith voices Agent Lance Sterling, an American take on James Bond. Tom Holland is more or less doing his Peter Parker thing, only this time his name is Walter, and instead of working with Avengers, he works for… the CIA? I dunno, whatever unspecified agency Sterling serves. Sterling is no fan of Walter’s technology because Walter’s big goal is to not hurt people, just stop them from doing whatever evil thing they’re doing. Sterling, meanwhile, has a “fight fire with fire” attitude and seems to enjoy punching people and blowing things up. Still, Sterling turns out to need Walter’s help when a lookalike villain has the agency believing Sterling is a baddie. Here’s the part you know from the trailers: Walter disguises Sterling as a pigeon and things go from there.

Like I said, dumb. But stupidly cute, too. My kids were howling with laughter, even as they kept saying how stupid this movie was. In the end, they all said they loved it, and even I had to admit it was more fun than it had any right to be. Maybe because we entered with low to no expectations, we were easy to please. But this is one I’d watch again on a long flight or… while under quarantine at home?

Movies: Doctor Sleep

I haven’t read the book. Let’s get that out of the way first thing.

I have read The Shining. And it turns out all you really need to know in order to understand Doctor Sleep is that Dan Torrence was the little boy in The Shining and that, well, he “shines” (by which we mean he has psychic powers of some sort).

Here we pick up with Dan as an adult, coping as best he can with his past and his abilities. But it turns out there is a group of really terrible people who hunt and kill people like Dan in order to “eat” their magic. This allows the hunters to be nearly immortal, so long as they keep killing people who shine. They prefer children because their powers are purer and therefore stronger.

You can probably see where this is going, more or less. The film is equal parts disturbing and cathartic because there’s really nothing more satisfying than watching very bad things happen to very bad people. I’d say on the whole it’s an incredibly good movie because it’s effective. That’s more than I can say for most films these days, so many of which are just action sequence after action sequence until you’re numb. I felt this movie. It had impact.

I’m not much for horror movies; I can read the books but can not really tolerate the visual gore. This one manages to walk that line very carefully. I love a good psychological thriller, and Doctor Sleep definitely has elements of that. Tension builds. And there is blood, but not in excess. I don’t do splatter fests, and this isn’t one.

Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I do love Ewan, though, so that probably helped. I might even go ahead and read the book after all.

Movies: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I, like many, have mixed feelings about Quentin Tarantino. I mostly don’t like his movies, though that may be because I mostly don’t like him. I find him sexist and gratuitous, and the fact that he’s so smug and pleased with himself about these things is a massive turn off. It’s fine. He doesn’t need me to like him, and he clearly has an audience that revels in his bad attitude. And I will say that I’ve enjoyed, if not all of any one of his movies, parts of a few of them?

So. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood re-imagines what might have happened if the Manson Family had picked a neighboring target rather than Sharon Tate and her friends. But that’s pretty much beside the point in this movie. The real story is of washed-up actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt stand-in Cliff (Brad Pitt). Never mind that these guys look nothing alike, mind. Maybe that’s supposed to be funny?

The film meanders through, er… I’m not even sure what. It’s not a cohesive story, more like loosely stitched events. Rick being turned down for a role and having to make spaghetti westerns. Cliff picking up hitchhikers and dropping them at Spahn Ranch. And we follow Sharon Tate around a little bit for no apparent reason except, I suppose, to establish her as the neighbor. And then the whole Manson Family thing and… ::shrug::

It’s not a bad movie. In fact, for me it’s one of Tarantino’s most tolerable. Which probably isn’t saying much. Maybe because I like Brad Pitt, and he’s very Brad in this. Still, there’s no reason this film needed to be nearly as long as it is (running time: 2 hours 41 minutes). A lot of this is Tarantino indulging himself, but that’s pretty much all his movies anyway. He’d be first to tell you he makes movies for him, not for viewers. He doesn’t much care what anyone else thinks.

Well, that’s one way to approach the industry, I guess. Must be nice to be an old, white guy that people hand money to and don’t hold you accountable if you lose any of it making your hack movies.

I can say OUaTiH deserves the production Oscar it won. That much was well done, and Leo and Brad are fun to watch, even if the movie doesn’t give them a whole lot to do. Well, I guess there was enough for Brad to do to win him Actor in a Supporting Role, and I can’t begrudge him that either. He does a fine job, and seems to be having fun at the same time. No one said you had to be miserable to win an Oscar, right? If anything, it seems harder to win for an upbeat role than a serious, dramatic one. So good on him.

So is the movie worth watching? Eh. It’s almost the kind of thing you can have playing in the background while you cook or something. It simply does not require your full attention to follow. But it’s a bit of fun. I’m not sorry I saw it.

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.