Tag Archives: movies

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.

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.

The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

Okay, so I’ve had some time to sort of mull this whole thing over, and while my feelings are still complicated, I do at least have some overall thoughts about those last three Star Wars movies. Keep in mind that this is all purely subjective. In fact, this post is as much for myself as anyone, as writing helps me suss my thoughts.

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. Yes, I knew as I watched it that it was pretty much, beat for beat, a retread of Episode IV. But I didn’t care. At the time, I was so excited to have a new Star Wars movie—one that was so much better than those prequels (which I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch again since seeing them in the cinema)—that I was probably primed to like it no matter what. But I loved the new characters, the dynamics that were being built. We took our kids to it, and at the final scene my daughter (who was seven) asked, “Who is that?” And with tears in my eyes, I said, “That’s Luke Skywalker, baby.” So, yeah, I was all in. I saw the film three times in the cinema and have rewatched it several times at home.

Sure, later on I had to wonder at Rey’s sudden ability to beat Kylo. I pretty much had the idea she had to be Luke’s daughter, ferried away to keep her safe or something, and I know I’m not the only one to lean that way. But whatever. I was open to whatever was to come next.

I had more complicated feelings about The Last Jedi. There was a lot I liked about it (mostly Kylo/Rey stuff) and just as much that I didn’t (the moments of humor felt misplaced to me). I was a bit confused by Luke’s final stand or whatever, not sure why he had to die except that mentor characters always have to die, I guess. I had no problem with the introduction of Rose and still don’t entirely understand the ire people have toward her, or toward the movie as a whole, except for misogyny and racism in general? I’ll admit that after the first viewing, I didn’t think I liked this movie, either, though I couldn’t immediately say why. However, I also saw this one three times in the cinema, and came to like it more and more. It is, for me, about on par with TFA, or I may even like it slightly more simply because it definitely feels more original.

Ah, but then The Rise of Skywalker happened. And I just… can’t. I can’t with this movie. I think what I can’t get over is the return of Palpatine. The groundwork wasn’t laid for it, so it feels just so improbable. And the sending out of a message? And the idea that Snoke “worked for” Palpatine or some such? None of it makes sense. The killing and immediate resurrection of main characters cheapens everything. It doesn’t feel like there are any stakes because Rey has already managed to defeat Kylo many times, and characters don’t stay dead, so… ??? Do I like that Kylo is redeemed? The fangirl in me adores the character of Kylo Ren. He’s easily the most interesting, most developed character in these films because he’s the only one given deep-seated conflict. Yes, he behaves like an angry emo child. But that’s at least interesting. And I’m a Reylo fangirl, so…

And yet. Here’s where we get into the world of fandom vs. canon. Let me just say I studied fandom psychology as an undergrad. But that was in a pre-social media world (yes, I’m that old). Fans didn’t really have a hope to influence creators because they didn’t have that kind of access to filmmakers. So wish fulfillment for fans came in the form of fan fiction. And that was fine. We all understood that we could make up our own stories and enjoy the characters in our own ways and the creators could do what they were going to do, which we may or may not love, but we didn’t really get too upset about because we had our own outlets for rewriting things the way we wanted. But now fans feel entitled, it seems, to certain outcomes. And they do get angry when things don’t go they way they want. Fans want to write the scripts. And that’s just ridiculous.

But it does seem to me that creators do sometimes give in to that pressure. So I feel like Kylo’s (Ben’s, if you prefer) redemption and that Reylo kiss was definitely a bow to fans. I swooned, of course, but was it the best direction for the story? I do have some doubts about that. (I think it would have been more coherent to follow Ben Solo/Kylo Ren as the main character of these films, probably because I do still find him to have the most interesting arc, but that’s just me, and didn’t we just talk about fans trying to steer the ship?)

For me TROS ruined things. I was all in until this film. I can forgive a lot, but this one just had too many problems for me. The sudden excising of Rose’s character, the insertion of random other females as if to be sure the Finn/Poe fans didn’t get their way—it just felt too disjointed from what came before. It felt, as I’ve said previously, like Abrams and Johnson were in a tug-of-war instead of building on each other’s works to create a cohesive whole. If you tell two architects to build a building that consists of three wings—Architect 1 gets wings 1 and 3 and Architect 2 does the middle bit—but don’t give them more guidance than that, the final structure might not end up looking quite right. Particularly if Architect 1 had stuff he expected wing 2 to have but Architect 2 does his own thing? They need to work together for the design to mesh.

I only saw TROS once in the cinema. I know I probably need to see it at least one more time to resolve some of my feelings about it. I mean, I think I could at least sit through it again, which is more than I can say about the prequels. But at the end of the day, the sequel trilogy was, for me, a game of diminishing returns. I enjoyed the first, most of the second, and almost none of the third.

So much of today’s biggest series start strong and founder because no one has a big picture vision, or if they do, they allow outside influences to alter it and therefore undermine what’s being built. We need showrunners/creators that don’t just have a great idea but also have the ability to follow through (or the willingness to delegate rather than control issues). And while fans have a right to their opinions, I don’t think they should demand that things go a certain way to satisfy their particular desires. Yes, even though you think you could do it better or your idea is the best. That’s what fan fiction is for. Leave the creators alone.

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.