Category Archives: Film

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Fun fact: I only saw the Disney animated Beauty and the Beast once, theatrically, 26 years ago. I had the soundtrack CD, so I know it pretty well, but I only ever saw it the one time. (Less fun fact: Twenty six years ago. I was in high school, which is even less fun still.) Between that dimness and the 30+ minutes of new footage, the original live-action Beauty and the Beast that Disney traced the animation from but then kept locked in a vault all this time was pretty close to watching a new movie; at the least, it was like watching a familiar movie where all I could remember was how it ended. And, I mean, fairy tale, so I would have “remembered” that part either way.

The artificiality of the thing faded sooner than I expected it would. Like, there’s the artifice of most musicals in the first place. Why are they singing? Why does it not bother them that they’re singing? Especially, why does it not bother them that they’re singing in groups?! But that’s not even what I mean. The part where you know all the words and these people should be animated, and they’re moving like the animated people moved in your memory, but they’re real? That was weird. Until it wasn’t, which was my original point, so I guess I’m glad it faded. All the same, there are things in animation that do not translate well in live action. Like, the snowball fight. The girl who has no real options in the world because it’s the 1700s, but even worse, she’s smart enough to understand she has no options, plus everyone dislikes her for being smart enough to know such things, or really any things, so she has even fewer options than that? That girl, and the prince who was such a failure of a human being that a witch cursed him so that his outsides would be more capable of the destructive rages and petulant angers that his insides were already wracked with, that girl and that prince get in a snowball fight. Well, she throws a snowball at him playfully. And, to be fair, he playfully throws one back, only his outside form has not yet caught up with his gradually bettering insides yet, because that’s only just started to happen, so he’s a hulking beast throwing a snowball that fits in his hand and is therefore roughly the size of Emma Watson’s head, and my point here is that Emma Watson getting laid out flat on her back and unconscious from one playfully intended snowball maybe plays better when it’s the animated version of Emma Watson than it does when a 400 pound hairy asshole just nearly murdered Hermione Granger. Y’know? Unless the point of live action fairy tales is to demonstrate just how exceptionally patriarchally bent they are, in which case, nailed it.

The sad part is, I’m not even saying I didn’t like the movie. It was pretty well executed, and he really eventually isn’t an asshole, and probably wasn’t even for the snowball thing; I just twitch at the idea that she had to fix some asshole, as that was her only path to a reasonably good life. I’m sure things have improved since then, though. I mean, not the part where everyone in the village hates Belle, that part is still true. Just ask Hillary Clinton. But the part where it’s possible to have a good life despite being hated for it, that’s an improvement!

I may have gotten off topic? But the truth is, probably not. Anyway, super-awesome coda: there is a drive-in theater like 4 miles from my house! And that is where I saw this. Downside: a hybrid car is not the right car to take to the drive-in. It kept turning itself off to save battery that honestly did not need saving. So, small tweaks. It’ll be better next time.

Also, the back end of the double feature was Rogue One, which I’m happy to report is still good.

Kong: Skull Island

I feel bad about this, insofar as it implies things that are not true. See, I saw the new Kong movie like 10 days ago, on opening weekend. And yet, no review! The implication, of course, is that I didn’t care for it, when the implausible truth is that I just completely forgot to write anything. (I mean, I remembered once or twice while being busy with other things, but basically not at all until I finished the book I’ve been for some reason reading, and then remembered, wait… uh-oh.) So now here I am, both late to the party and simultaneously devoid of credibility.

Through such predicaments I forge ahead! Here’s the deal with this movie. It’s a monster movie, and those are always, at heart, as dumb or as cool as you think monster movies are. Of course there’s no uncharted island in the Pacific populated by humans co-existing with giant prehistoric beasts. Of course there wasn’t in the 1970s when this is set, either, even though it’s mildly more plausible from a “we haven’t charted every square meter of the world yet” angle. And either you’re the kind of person who nods at what I’ve just said and goes on with your day, or you’re the kind of person who says, I know there isn’t such an island. But wouldn’t it be cool if…? On top of that, it’s a Kong movie, which means that an oversized ape is going to fight oversized non-ape monsters and helicopters, and some people are going to respect him while others want to use him, and he’s going to have a soft spot for diminutive blondes. All of these things are inevitable, and you’re either cool with them or you’re not.

My point is this: if you are cool with those tropes and inevitabilities, this is a spectacularly executed example of the genre. Samuel L. Jackson, in one scene, portrays Captain Ahab as well as I believe he has ever been or will ever be portrayed, and John C. Reilly’s character would be enough to carry a lesser movie by himself. (The leads are pretty good too? But with less to work with script-wise, since they are busy being leads.) Plus sexy special effects, an Apocalypse Now visual sensibility without getting bogged down in being anything like Apocalypse Now as a story, and a post-credits scene that has me salivating for this movie to make back enough on its investment.

The Shallows

The Shallows is a straight up woman vs. nature tension movie. One sentence premise that fills an hour and a half of breath-holding and making the same motions the actor is making, as thought it would help her. Remember Frozen? The one that’s not a Disney movie, I mean, where the kids are out skiing and they get trapped on the ski lift at the end of the weekend and have to figure out how to survive the weather or the fall with no help coming? This is like that more or less, but with surfing instead of skiing and with, er, different challenges.

It’s definitely a what you see is what you get kind of flick, and would be moreso if I had not avoided a really obvious one word spoiler just to prove I could. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, though obviously I should be playing video games instead. Still, gave me a chance to listen to the Blues Brothers soundtrack while writing this, so I guess it’s not a bad trade.

(I’m not kidding about that doing stuff for the imperiled character thing, by the way. I was saying for her in Spanish the things she was yelling in English, as though my lesson would help her learn anything or let the people she was yelling at comprehend any better. You know, as you do.)

Logan

So, another X-Men continuity movie[1]. Logan is set in 2029, which is somehow only 12 years from now. I think there are maybe two or three things I can say about this movie, without getting into territory I’d rather avoid. I mean, it’s basically impossible to review anything without spoilers[2], so I always try to limit myself to what you’d know within 5 minutes (or 1-2 chapters) anyway, but sometimes it’s more than that, and this is one of those times.

The first thing is, this is a movie that doesn’t fuck around. Wolverine has always killed people, which is unusual enough for a comic book setting, but he’s never killed people the way he would kill people, you know what I mean? Here, he definitely does. Which is useful as a calibration tool for the rest of the movie, is my point. The second thing, I’ve already said in one of the footnotes anyway, so if you are trying to avoid spoilers more than I am (which maybe you should!), you can miss that easily. The third thing is that the movie is about something. I think it’s been a while since the theme of a film has shone strongly enough for me to care about mentioning it. (Or maybe they’re always so obvious as to not be worth mentioning?)

Anyway, this is a movie about responsibility. It is the lens through which nearly every character views things. Like, I don’t know if everyone is right about what responsibility has or has not accrued to them, nor whether everyone is right about how they do or do not discharge that responsibility. But it permeates every decision, and it’s a strong theme for a strong movie. Which reminds me of a fourth thing I can definitely say, which is that the three lead roles are acted exceptionally well. Nobody will look at this movie when the 2017 retrospective awards season comes along, but I think maybe they will have made a mistake, when they do not.

[1] As opposed to the rest of Marvel continuity, since the Disney people made a deal with the Sony people to share Spider-Man, so now there are only two such continuities extant.
[2] I picked the poster that most reminded me of The Last of Us, because the movie put me in mind of that. Which is a spoiler if you’ve played that game or know of it, but explaining that the correlation is by no means perfect, or even necessarily strong, would itself be a spoiler. This is hard, is all I’m saying.

A Cure for Wellness

A thing I’ve learned from movie-watching is to not go on vacation in Europe. I mean, remember Hostel? Or the second Hostel?

A Cure for Wellness, to be fair, is not about idiot backpacking teens with Eurorail passes. In fact, what it reminded me of for the first half hour or so was Dracula. (The book, I mean.) There’s this guy, probably not named Jonathan Harker, who is sent by his investment firm into the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company CEO from a health spa thingy, except it’s in a castle at the top of a mountain overlooking a subtly wrong village, and, okay, once he gets there the comparison mostly falls apart; after all, instead of an empty husk of a castle with a gothic warlord in a red dinner gown and the most elaborate updo of, I’m prepared to say, all time, it really is a health spa thingy. Or maybe a sanitarium? Or maybe a hospital? It’s fair to say that basically everyone there is getting treatments, no matter whether the issue is a nervous breakdown or a broken femur or just a couple weeks of downtime in a spa.

Also included: history lessons, vitamins, catacombs, a nubile ingenue, and eels. There is a plot, and it’s not a bad plot. It is not, I would posit, two and a half hours worth of plot? But that’s okay! The movie is not here for plot. It’s here for atmosphere, and it’s been a good long time since I’ve seen a horror movie with this much atmosphere. So, yeah. Check it out.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2

I don’t remember thinking John Wick was going to be amazing. It was just an action movie that looked pretty cool, y’know? But then I saw it, and the purity of motive and clarity of purpose have stuck with me ever since. So, when they told there was going to be a sequel? Damn right I’m gonna see it!

Which I have, and apparently on opening weekend to judge by the crowds. So, okay, cool. This means they will make back their budget and do chapter 3, which is fine, because I want to see that too. Still, that’s not what I’m here to talk about, so let’s get to it.

The thing about Chapter 2 is… all actions have consequences. Since this is a movie about the consequences of the original, of course the purity has dried up. See, there’s this guy who helped Wick get out of the game, before the events of the first movie. And now that he’s apparently back in, said guy decides to call in the favor. The thing about an organized criminal underworld, with its declared neutral spaces and its own economy and its codified rules about favors owed, is you know whatever the favor is? It’s not going to be pure. It’s going to be complicated and messy, and that mess is going to get on you. Which I like to think is why Wick retired in the first place. He finally found a chance for thing to be clean and orderly, and he took it.

Not anymore, is my point. This is not to say I didn’t like it. It was stylized and hilarious in the same ways the first one was[1], and I care enough about what happens to John Wick to look very much forward to another sequel. (And I have some good ideas about how that sequel will go, let me tell you.) I just cannot say that I liked it as well as the first one; that, I would recommend to anyone who is okay with the genre. This, I would recommend to people who really liked the first one, but would not bother to talk about it otherwise. Y’know?

[1] Only, seeing it in a full theater made me realize that mostly people do not think these movies are as funny as they are. I wonder which of us is wrong.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

I’ve reviewed, let’s see, four of these movies before. All of them except the first one, which predates my presence here by a couple years. And I’ve mostly liked all of them! (At least, as far as I can remember. I didn’t actually check any of the reviews, but that time when I rewatched the whole series in advance of the most recent movie but this one is pretty fresh in my mind too. So, I liked them is what we’re saying. If you have time to prove me wrong, feel free!)

The nominally final chapter, though? Like, the bits and pieces of new world building were cool, and I don’t want to give them up. But the plot was so damn linear. Alice gets in a fight, she gets a mission. She gets in another fight, she moves toward her mission. She gets in another fight, she gets a little closer to her mission. And so on. None of them felt this bland before!

I’m sure I’ll give it another chance when it’s time to marathon the whole series, but until then, I’m pretty disappointed in a mediocre capper on such an otherwise reliable sequence. Cool graphic design on the poster though, right?

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed was a game with an incredible premise. Using an sfnal device called The Animus, you could connect yourself to display monitors and relive the genetic memories of your ancestors, with an audience of observers along for the ride. This was a tool to tell the story of a war down through the ages between the Knights Templar (on the side of order, thoroughly lawful evil) and the Assassins (on the side of freedom, thoroughly chaotic neutral) to determine the fate of humankind. See, there’s this differently sfnal device called the Apple of Eden which nobody seems to exactly know how it works or what it does, but which everyone agrees will allow their side to win once and for all.

It was, unfortunately, an incredibly flawed game in execution, but both the basic premise and the underlying modern and historical parallel stories that premise enabled were not among the problems the game faced. In the meantime, that series has blossomed into some dozen or so games now, the first third of which I’ve played.

Enter last month, in which a movie based on that series was released. Which makes sense! You have a pre-built plot that contains lots of lavish historical sets and an interesting conflict, not to mention all kinds of cool parkour and medieval weapons combat. What’s not to like? Only… I mean, it wasn’t bad. Those things I said about how rich the premise and conflict are, they are true and cannot just be erased unless you made a movie that was actually unrelated to anything the games had done. And they did not, this is definitely an Assassin’s Creed movie.

At the same time, the plot fell apart to such a drastic degree in the final act that I don’t actually know what character decisions were made or how I should feel about them, even though up until then I had liked the two main characters (the Assassin descendant and the Templar scientist) and their developed relationship. Plus, the lush historical settings? Were instead consistently crowded with so much dust and smoke that you couldn’t really sit back and enjoy them. I did not expect anything so immersive as a 60 hour game can provide, but, talk about missing the point. Especially since the historical setting and timeline (1490s Spain) are both unaddressed by the games.

I guess what I expect is that any potential sequel will fix all of the niggling flaws and turn into something brilliant, just like the second game did. The parallels are just too strong to ignore!

Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is weird. First of all, yes, I saw Rogue One over the weekend. Of course I did! And I liked it. Yet, I have been avoiding this review like the dickens, and I don’t know exactly why. My best guess is, I liked it better than it probably deserves. The first act was scattered, and the second act was solid enough[1], but the third act was 100% predictable due to its inevitability. It’s hard to drum up much care about characters whose arcs you already know when you sit down in the theater, you know?

Nevertheless, I did care about them. I cared about all of the new characters[2] and I cared about watching the journey, and I didn’t mind the CGI faces very much, and basically everything that happened was good. Hell, even the music! Not composed by John Williams, and it still felt like a Star Wars score. Which is good, 2016 being the way it has been.

Anyway, that’s my point. It was part hot mess, part incapable of surprising plot twist, and could easily be accused of leveraging nostalgia for everything left that was any good. But screw it, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and a thing that feels like a Star Wars movie is going to be unavoidably good. Hell, it was better than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Also: I feel like they earned the title, and I was not confident I would feel that way.

[1] albeit with a missed plot hole that you could drive a Star Destroyer through[3]
[2] except maybe the insane terrorist guy on Jehda? I gather that maybe he’s in the Rebels cartoon that I haven’t watched any of, and maybe it would be easier to care about him if I had? But I did not, at all.
[3] Plot hole in comments, due to spoilers.