Tag Archives: drama

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.

Much Ado about Nothing (2012)

MV5BMTgxNjQ0MjAwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI1NDEyOQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Legend has it that when Joss Whedon was filming The Avengers, he was forced by union rules into a two week break. During that break, he decided to adapt, direct, and score a Shakespearean comedy, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. (Okay, technically, probably only the principle photography happened during the fortnight and the rest came before and/or after, depending on what would make sense. But I have no way of knowing it didn’t all happen during his vacation, so!) It being the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, the Alamo Drafthouse has been showing lots of adaptations lately, and Monday night, off we went to sup on the fruit of this legend.

Despite my utter lack of qualification to review Shakespeare, I’m kind of forced to by circumstance. The acting is as good as you’d expect[1], and the direction was modern and noirish, both of which displayed some… well, I can’t tell if flaw is right, but it probably is, and that’s my English Lit degree focussed on mid-millennium British masters bias showing. So, let’s say, displayed some flaws in Bill’s work and then see if I prove my case.

Much Ado about Nothing has two plots. In the first and far superior one, two acid-tongued frenemies reunite after the fellow of the pair returns from campaigns abroad, and their friends trick them into either falling in love or admitting their real feelings for each other[2]. As far as I’m concerned, this story has no problems and is basically 100% hilarious. In the second story (which contrary to my ordering appears to be the main plot of the thing and the source of the title), the prince sets up his best friend with their host’s daughter after the friend has fallen in love at first sight, but the prince’s bastard[3] brother arbitrarily decides to interfere in the pre-wedding proceedings.

That story… well, first it does the “we love each other after five minutes because we’re both so very pretty” thing that Shakespeare parodied in Romeo and Juliet, only this time he plays it straight, which while not a story-breaker is certainly an odd choice. But then when John the Bastard enacts his evil plan to make it look like the host’s daughter bangs random people on the verandah every night, the prince’s friend doesn’t just break up with her, he publicly humiliates her at the altar. Which, you know, some people are assholes, and that’s fine. But her father joins in on the humiliation, and that’s less fine, although I’m forced to acknowledge that virginity in the 1500s was more important than family, however insane that sounds.

But least fine of all is that she wants him back and everyone sets about proving her innocence to win him back. I mean, the innocence, sure, but she wants him back??? That’s too skeevy, even for the 1500s.

But okay, that’s Shakespeare and the 1500s, and what can you do? It’s central to the plot, and however delightful Benedick and Beatrice are, whether in banter or askew courtship, there’s not enough there to fill both reels. The biggest failure was Joss’s alone. At the big wedding scene in the finale, the prince’s friend (now penitent and set to marry the host’s other female ward by way of apology for embarrassing the first daughter unto death[4]) says that he’ll marry whoever he’s been asked to marry, even “were she an Ethiope”, while the camera lingers on a black lady standing nearby, who we had never seen before and, the movie ending some five minutes later, were certainly never to see again. And it’s like, I get what he was going for, “look how uncomfortable this line that Shakespeare wrote is, you guys!” But it just didn’t work. I can’t really explain why, scenes that were far worse have worked far better for me[5], but after my gasp of shocked laughter acknowledging what Whedon had pointed out, I couldn’t really agree that it was worth the scene existing.

But these are, if not nitpicks, certainly neither of them enough to detract from how wonderfully presented the so-called backup plotline was. Lovely film, would watch again.

[1] I mean, yes because they’re all Whedon alums, but also because it’s Shakespeare. I assume it’s that people won’t submit slipshod quality if it’s the bard rather than that his writing is so good, people are forced to be better actors.
[2] Reader’s / viewer’s choice, really. Take your pick.
[3] Bastards are evil by virtue of their ungodly births. It is known.
[4] Because, 1500s. JFAM, the past, what is wrong with you?
[5] Tropic Thunder springs frequently to mind. “What do you mean, ‘you people’?” “…what do you mean, ‘you people’?!”

10 Cloverfield Lane

MV5BMjEzMjczOTIxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUwMjI3NzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Friday was movie day, as occasionally comes around. And unexpectedly, 10 Cloverfield Lane was the new movie of the weekend. I’d been interested in this since I heard about it, and the lone preview I’ve seen helped that interest along, so.

Short answer: I liked it. But, here’s the problem with naming your movie after Cloverfield[1]: if the new movie is a direct sequel or shared universe sequel or prequel of the original, then the tension of the unknown is greatly reduced by this knowledge. Yet, by contrast, if the new movie is not directly related in some way to the original, then you’ve squandered this reduction in tension for no apparent reason. Or, even worse, tried to trick people into thinking they should be worried about the tension of the unknown when they shouldn’t be. No matter which thing is going on, my real point is this: if your audience is sitting there thinking about relationships to other movies and whether they make sense or even exist instead of fully paying attention to the movie you made, probably the title should be different.[2]

In a valiant attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m not saying which of those possibilities occurred, but I’m definitely saying I was thinking about this more than I would have liked. Especially because, late act revelations that the movies are linked or not, this one easily had the legs to stand on its own. The first 5-10 minutes in a nutshell: The second most successful alumnus of the old NBC soap opera Passions wakes up to find herself chained up in a fallout bunker by creepy John Goodman, but the good news is that “chained up in a fallout bunker by creepy John Goodman” is currently the safest place she could possibly be, because the world is ending. Just ask creepy John Goodman!

Who wouldn’t want to watch that movie, I ask you? I’ll tell you a movie you probably haven’t seen that this was a spiritual successor to: After.Life. Man, I should watch that again. For at least two three reasons.

[1] Really, after any previous movie whose tension relied in part on the unknown; this point is broadly applicable.
[2] Or else if you did it on purpose to get people into seats and that’s the only reason, you are a bad person who should feel bad.

Majo No Takkyûbin

MV5BOTc0ODM1Njk1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDI5OTEyNw@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_The second outing of the weekend was to catch the one Miyazaki movie playing this month at the Alamo Drafthouse that I both had not seen and could fit in my schedule[1]. Hence, Kiki’s Delivery Service, about a 13 year old girl sent out on her own to make her way in the world for a year, in the traditions of her people. Who are witches, I should probably add.

Based on the vehicles and architecture, and other clues, I’m guessing that the never specified timeframe for the film is in the late 1950s or early ’60s, and I’m also assuming the locale is Japan. The latter is more strongly implied than the former, but neither is by any means definitive. For most of the movie, I assumed the point was mostly to showcase the gorgeous animation and soundtrack, via long, contemplative shots of Kiki flying across the countryside on her broom, or walking through her new city, and that the job (she delivers things for people, as you might expect) and relationships she was forming were mostly beside the point.

But then my mental jokes about making a 13 year old run off and earn her own living were translated seriously onto the screen, as she quickly lost her [Japanese phrase that means joie de vivre] in the humdrum grind of using her heritage and passion as a means of keeping herself fed and housed. From that turning point and throughout the final act, the story turned into more of a meditation on whether and how she could come back to herself and find her happiness, and now I think the movie is a love letter to post-war Japan, unsure of herself and finding her footing after a resounding defeat.

But maybe it’s just a feel-good movie about a witch and her sarcastic cat. That’s cool too.

[1] The only other one I’ve actually seen was the only other one that matched up schedule-wise, sadly. (Mononoke.)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

MV5BMzg4OTcxNzAyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc4MTEyNjE@._V1__SX1859_SY847_You know the drill by now. Some people trapped in a dystopic nightmare got tired of sending their kids off to the annual deathmatch, and once Jennifer Lawrence came along and showed them that the Capitol could be defied through the power of teamwork, they all came together to act on this new knowledge / long-standing grievance.

Other than mentioning the second act’s surplus of death traps[1], anything at all I could discuss about the plot would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that the second half of Mockingjay’s adaptation continued to deliver on the promise of the rest of the series: to remain as faithful as possible to the original story while jettisoning everything that held it to the level of teen melodrama rather than realizing its potential greatness. I don’t know that I’ve ever said, “Naah, just go watch the movie.”

[1] Because if you can’t have teens killing each other, you can at least still have the environment trying to kill a lot of folks to make up for it; this is still a Hunger Games movie, after all!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

MV5BMTA2OTM5MjQ0OTZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg3MzcyMDEx._V1__SX1859_SY847_The Hunger Games books, as I have said elsewhere, had a glaring flaw: I eventually stopped liking the narrator. As I have also said elsewhere[1], the movies have taught me that this is because of how much Katniss Everdeen doesn’t like herself. The third book has been split into two movies[2], and at least in this first half, the trend of Jennifer Lawrence portraying a much better Katniss than she ever portrayed herself through her narration continues like gangbusters.

See, there’s this civil war going on, right? Over the last two years’ Hunger Games, Katniss has demonstrated (accidentally? on purpose? does it matter, though?) that the Capitol can be fought, so now people are fighting back. Plus also there’s a secret rebel army that was lightly foreshadowed and a big propaganda war and all kinds of things that would be pretty big spoilers, so trust me: plotwise, it’s pretty okay.

But mostly what I have to say is more praise for Ms. Lawrence. Because, well, here’s the thing. I am quoting past me, after having read the entire trilogy: “the movie will succeed or fail on the strength of their Haymitch actor alone. That guy? He’s compelling.” And you know what? Woody Harrelson has done an outstanding job. But I was so very wrong, and it’s because I didn’t think Katniss could be redeemed. Instead, when I watch these movies, I see the character that the people of the Districts fell in love with, not the self-loathing, self-doubting emotional mess from the books. And the fact that she still lashes out with the same anger, collapses with the same grief, capriciously flits from one of her two men to the next and back… it was never about her actions, it was about her emotions, and this is a character I can get behind.

There’s still a movie left, but if it succeeds as well as the rest have, this will be my favorite adaptation of a series by a long mile. It kept everything good and jettisoned everything bad, and that pretty much never happens.

[1] At least, I think I have in print? Certainly I have aloud.
[2] I find myself wishing this was less common. It’s cool and all that, to my two year old memory, they are filming every scene in the book. But book adaptations are an art, and while I have nothing to complain about regarding this particular film, it nevertheless seems like a bit of a cheat to not have to go to the effort of actually adapting the book after all. Plus blah blah blah cynical money-grubbing studios, I suppose.

Veronica Mars

MV5BMTQ4MDc0Mjg4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODk3NjYyMTE@._V1__SX1217_SY911_I don’t even know how to review this movie properly. Which is to say, outside the context of a three season television series that you may not have seen before. Inside that context, it would be a breeze, believe me. But outside, there are two giant stumbling blocks in my way. One is how immediately immersed I was in the world, just as though I’d never left, without any of the pesky (albeit brilliantly accomplished) ten minutes of introduction to all the characters you wouldn’t know about if you’d missed the show in the first place. This lack, in addition to highlighting my lack of objectivity, serves to introduce the second stumbling block, which is that I spent a minor chunk of change on the kickstarter for the movie. Having been funded by fans, there’s a really good chance that it’s not my failure to separate out my sense of homecoming and look at it externally that’s the problem. They know where their money came from and who their primary audience would be, and I think maybe it’s not concerned with newcomers in the first place. So, I’ll give up on that angle and move on.

Do you even know they made a Veronica Mars movie? Fan or not, if you missed the kickstarter, it may have slid under the radar. Anyway, it released last weekend, and you can theater it or stream it. (I think I get a bluray eventually?  But it was streaming in this case, as I live in ye olde future.) If you are not a fan of the show through inaction, you’ll get a lot more out of the show than the movie, at least until later. If you are not a fan of the show through choice, you sadden me. If you are a fan of the show… here’s that really easy review I promised you a while ago.

You know how I said it immediately felt like a homecoming? That was not a clever riff on the fact that one of Veronica’s reasons for returning to Neptune is her ten-year high school reunion. (The main reason being, of course, a murder.) Because, really, it felt like no time had passed at all since the last episode I watched. And okay, not remembering much of what happens in either of the latter two seasons meant I was playing a little bit of catch-up, but not much, and not in a way that took me out of the joy of coming home. By the end of the movie, I was ready for a new season or a new movie either one, and pleased as I could be that the door is wide open for that. So: you should really go see this movie, or stay home and see this movie, or whatever it takes to convince them to do it again soon. If not for yourself, do it for me. Aw, who am I kidding, seriously, do it for me, and I’ll hope in turn that you enjoyed yourself while doing it.

Because I am a good person.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

MV5BMjIyMjMwNDU3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzYxODU5OA@@._V1__SX640_SY720_Cutting right to the chase, the cinematic adaptation of Catching Fire was superior in every way to the first film, and more than that, it told a better story than its source material did. So there’s quite a lot of good here.

See, the really quite spectacular Jennifer Lawrence[1] has been given much better material this time around, and what looked in the book like a girl stumbling blindly into the role of hero of the rebellion looks here like a game of cat and mouse between Katniss Everdeen and President Snow. (In case I’m pretending you already know what’s going on in the sequel of an adaptation of a trilogy of books, I am. In case that bothers you: there’s this girl who not only won an annual deathmatch designed to keep the common folk down on bended knee before Snow’s Capitol, she beat the system and won for her boyfriend(?) as well, which nobody has ever done before. She made Snow look symbolically weak, and people have become inspired by her, and this entire movie is basically a reaction to that premise. Also, there’s another deathmatch, since those are annual like I said.)

Whereas in the book, I contemplated that Katniss’ transformation into a symbol of the rebellion was certainly implausible but possibly not meant to seem that way, it is played note perfect here. She’s only trying to be a good person, but everything she does exposes the hollowness behind Snow’s power, so it’s easy to see why people would be inspired by her, despite her own doubts, anger, and insecurities. And it still doesn’t hurt that you can’t see inside her head, as she is growing more likable along the film trajectory instead of less so along the one that played out in the novels.

I’m still not convinced that the mess of a third novel can be rescued, but if the same writing/directing team tackle that adaptation, I will find myself hopeful all the same.

[1] I have got to see Winter’s Bone. Probably also the movie last year she got the Oscar for?

Gravity

MV5BNjE5MzYwMzYxMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTk4MTk0OQ@@._V1_And then I finally saw a new movie, for the first time in I really don’t want to look up how many months. Gravity pits George Clooney (charm amped up to 12) and Sandra Bullock (charm amped down to 5 or so) against space in a nailbiter of an escape movie. See, there’s an exploded satellite that, post-explosion, has become a debris field, but not to worry, that won’t stop either Bullock’s specialist repairs on the Hubble nor Clooney’s “you didn’t have to be there because I’m so good at painting the picture” stories that everyone in Houston has heard dozens of times before. ….until it does. Debris fields can be a real bitch that way.

What follows is 60 minutes of sheer adrenaline broken up by 20 minutes of philosophical musings, gorgeous tracking shots of the earth and space and the tiny objects floating above the former from within the latter, and occasional bursts of tension-relieving humor. Do you want to see it? Probably, as long as you like solid acting and are not allergic to being tense for long periods of time. Do you want to see it on an IMAX screen in 3D? Yes, unless you have that motion-sickness problem some people get, and even then, still probably yes unless you can find it in IMAX 2D, because you’ll be a pretty sad panda if you see it on some middling five-story screen. I mean, it’s space. Space is supposed to be big! Y’know?

But seriously? It was good. And absurd once or twice in the best kind of way, where you are saying to yourself, “Come on! That’s not fair!”, but you are not thinking “Come on! That could never happen!” Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I grew up in the ’80s when the shuttle program was in full swing, and was raised by a man who built parts for it for basically his entire career. So I may be more than usually locked into the idea that space missions matter, among the non-scientist set. But that said, I’m pretty sure this was a really good movie on its own merits, and not just because space is cool. But that said, it was definitely as cool as it was[1] only because space is as cool as it is.

[1] “Cool” and “good” are not the same thing, obviously. But it’s always better when they intersect.

The World’s End

I made the mistake of watching a movie the day before I vanished from the internet for a week and a half, and I made the further mistake of not writing the damned review before said vanishment. So, um, sorry about that.

On the bright side, the movie I saw was The World’s End, a movie which you no doubt already knew you wanted to see because of its links to the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the pretty okay Hot Fuzz. The formula is not precisely the same as before, I guess? Where the other two movies were parodies of the zombie and action genre, this is less parody and more mash-up. In the unlikely event that you aren’t spoiled for the mash-up by previews, I will leave out one of the genres, but the other is…. well, okay, hard to qualify. It’s not precisely coming of age, because although Simon Pegg plays an uncomfortably old-looking man-child, all of his friends have clearly grown up[1]. It’s not precisely whatever genre The Big Chill is, if only because the mood isn’t nearly as solemn as all that.

But anyway, whatever it is, it’s funny and well-acted and building towards something meaningful and fellowshippy, when suddenly…. but, y’know, that’s why you should go see it.

On an unrelated note, I am sad that I do not have a bar named The World’s End to go to. And not only because of books Neil Gaiman wrote once upon a time.

[1] If anything, that’s the point.