Tag Archives: drama

Cold Skin

Remember that weird-looking (or perhaps I mean surreal-looking) movie about the people in a lighthouse dealing with mermaids? So, I never saw the one you’re thinking of, but I did see Cold Skin, which is as far as I can tell the same movie but a few years earlier. Probably there are differences?

In this case, anyway, the narrator arrives on a remote island to document a year’s worth of weather patterns, because it’s 1914 and that’s how people learned things back then. Via British people with notebooks living in cabins on remote islands. Only, the prior year’s weather documenter is nowhere to be found, and the only witness is the lighthouse keeper, who has armored up his lighthouse like a medieval fortress with multiple layers of those pointed stick emplacements you use to keep out zombies or armies of such size that forward pressure from the soldiers in the back ranks impales people until the sticks aren’t a problem anymore.

Thereafter follows a rollicking good monster movie which is also a meditation (and an unexpectedly timely one at that) on how people cope with isolation. And a number of other things that it would be very spoilery to go into, but I was surprised by just how much I liked this. Then, later, it turned out to be an adaptation of a Spanish novel, and I became less surprised, as sure enough it is in retrospect a very literary movie. In tone and pacing, I mean. And also in depth. (This is, to a minimal extent, also a pun.)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

I scrolled to the tail end of my watch list on Shudder last night, because it’s been a minute or three since I watched anything there that wasn’t hosted by Joe Bob Briggs. The movie at the end was conveniently short (since I was halfway thinking about going to sleep early instead) and in English (since I wanted to get my outstanding review handled before the plot got very busy[1]), so perfect placement, and thusly did I watch Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, which is one of those recent modern movies with a heavy ’70s aesthetic[2]. Check the poster to your right, for example.

Despite the 20th C gothic setting, which is teenager gets away from her creepy stepdad by taking a summer job as caretaker for her mother’s shut-in sister who lives in a big empty house but refuses to leave her bedroom or for that matter even open the door to be seen by anyone due to agoraphobia and also she has a heart condition, despite all those horror movie trappings, this easily could have been mistaken for an awkward teen lesbian coming of age art film. Because there’s the alluring raven haired beauty at the grocery store, and wait, she’s interested in me, the quiet shy wallflower, as a person? And she’s a free spirit who doesn’t wear a bra when changing clothes into the flapper gear in the basement of the big empty house? And she’s maybe interested in me as more than just a person?

But this is a horror movie, and the shut-in aunt is downright creepy, and long story short there’s more going on than coming of age, and for that matter more going on than a plausibly haunted 20th C gothic empty old house. But like indie arthouse flicks in general, it is definitely more concerned with mood and atmosphere than it is with plot, and the result is I’m not entirely sure whether I was satisfied or not.

But I think so. The final shot of the movie does a lot of heavy lifting, is all I’m saying.

[1] Which goal, incidentally, I think I accomplished? I missed an early key transition, but since it had been expressed in the plot summary, no confusion!
[2] The House of the Devil, for example, although that’s more mid ’80s aesthetic.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

A Quiet Place (2018)

I saw A Quiet Place more than a week ago now, but I’ve been distracted by too many other things (work, D&D, personal stuff, probably more) to remember to write a review. The short version is, it was good!

The longer version is that it was a very spare, quiet movie that indicates John Krasinski[1] has a future as a director. I mean, haha, quiet, but the truth is, it may be some of the most effective uses of sound and lack of sound that I’ve ever, um, seen. See, there are these monsters[2] who move incredibly fast and hunt by sound. So, if you make much noise anywhere, they’ll get to you in seconds rather than minutes, and if you make noise when they’re close, they’ll just get to you. Also they’re powerful and indestructible. So, life in this modern world kind of sucks.

Perfect setting for a family drama, right? This particular family has one deaf child, which made them uniquely suited for quiet communication, and they’ve done a good job of sound-proofing their pretty much everything. But there are conflicts that it would be spoilers to describe further, and there’s a new baby on the way, and they are about to have a very, very bad day.

So: yes, this is a horror movie. But I’m not sure that is the primary classification, because the interrelationships are a lot more important than the body count. Even if it wouldn’t normally be your thing, I say give it a chance.

[1] If you know him, you know him as Jim from The Office.
[2] Where did they come from? Why are they hunting? (They don’t seem to eat, only destroy.) We won’t ever know, the monsters are setting rather than plot.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Monday was random movie night, and the random movie I ended up seeing was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is about, well, honestly the title is not wrong, you know? You see, some amount of time has passed since Frances McDormand’s daughter was killed, and she is unhappy with the speed of justice, so she takes matters into her own hands via the powers of advertising!

It is my understanding that this movie is not being well received in the liberal community because it is making heroes out of really terrible people. I don’t think that’s right at all, though. It is a movie about people who either are outright terrible, or are deeply flawed but recognizably trying to do right, or are too consumed with their own problems to remember to care about anyone else. (Or, at best, they are the people being hurt by the three people I just described.) So, right, it is a movie about those people, and their attempts to do the right thing.

I’m assuming that’s what is disliked, that they are clearly trying to do the right thing. That is a little too shades of grey in a political climate where we would prefer everything be as cartoonish as it is in the news right now. I have two reactions to that: 1) People in real life mostly are not cartoonish, despite the implausible reality of the current news cycle. 2) If someone is trying to do the right thing, that does not mean they’ve been given a redemption arc. Even if you accomplish doing the right thing, which is not guaranteed, one right does not make up for years of wrongs. Sometimes years of right don’t.

Anyway, I’ve gotten very far afield of what this review should have been, which is why I hate so much that I’ve gotten bad at writing reviews before I see other responses to a movie (or really anything else I review) before I’ve formed my own. I don’t like responding to responses instead of to the thing itself, because it always ends up dumb, like this did.

I would mostly not recommend the movie, although it is at times extremely funny, because it’s also extremely dark, and mostly people know better than I do if they would like that. But if you would, you probably will.

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.)