Tag Archives: drama

Mulan (2020)

I am growing ever more cynical, a fact of which I am not fond. Especially in a world where I have offspring. (Which this one seems to be.)

The thing about Mulan is, it’s a good movie. It’s got a good heart, a lot of fantasy Chinese combat[1], a cast full of characters worth empathy on virtually all sides of the conflict, and a message worth embracing. I never saw the original animated version, nor do I know if it is based on any actual legend? But there’s a girl, and a war, and a conscription. One male from every family to join the Emperor’s army and save China from, y’know, the Bad Guys. Except in the case of the girl’s family, the only male is her father, still crippled by the last war. So, rather than let him go to a certain death, she takes his place!

Plot twist! (or not), it turns out the Chinese warriors in the age of the Middle Kingdom[2] aren’t cool with the idea of womenfolk fighting, and they will almost certainly kill her if they find out her secret. This is the heart of the movie, and it is also where my cynicism springs to the fore.

The problem is this: as much as I liked the movie, and wanted to like the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to believe in the outcome. This is what 2020 has done to me, I guess. Ugh.

It’s good, though, and it’s okay to be heartwarmed instead of cynical, if you can swing it. I mean, it’s not like it’s only heartwarming, for that matter. Every beat in the movie is earned, even if I didn’t believe it. The failure is in me, and my willingness to be open to the magic of people watching reality play out in real time and change their opinions as a result.

[1] for which there is a term but I forget what it is. I thought it was wuxia, but that does not imply fantastical elements, only the martial arts themselves.
[2] This is a term I have plausibly heard, or possibly made up, and which in any case could have nothing whatsoever to do with the time period in which the movie is actually set. I just want to sound informed without doing any work. The truly sad part is, in the time it took me to type this, I could have just looked it up instead.

The Next Karate Kid

Cobra Kai arrived on Netflix a few weeks ago, and now that I’m back at work (a future month of paternity leave yet remains to me, which I will use later, hooray) I have a lot more time to watch TV[1]. Which means I watched all four of the Pat Morita Karate Kid movies this week, three of which I had previously seen. (And all three of which I would recommend refamiliarizing with prior to Cobra Kai, which I also recommend. It pays off, is all I’m saying.)

Then there’s The Next Karate Kid, in which Pat Morita is hanging out in Boston with the wife of a deceased WWII buddy after a big 50th anniversary of their war heroism ceremony, and then for reasons that do not bear looking at too closely, he’s left in charge of her high school granddaughter for a few months. If you guessed that what she really needs is the kind of discipline and confidence that karate can provide, well, that has pretty much covered every salient point of the movie.

That said, Mr. Miyagi is a hell of a character, and the monk interludes are worth the price of admission, even if plot points such as “why was this a good idea, conceptually, to leave a Okinawan stranger in charge of a teenaged girl” and “how could any school possibly allow a random military guy to put his own private student army in charge of the other students” are truly inexplicable.

I’m not saying go watch it, but there’s good stuff in there if you did. I miss Miyagi all over again, thanks to this big giant rewatch fest.

[1] Unless it has subtitles. I actually am working, and you can’t watch the screen nearly enough to keep up with a subtitled show or film. That’s just math.

Blue My Mind

Another week or so, another movie or so.

This time, a not-particularly-horror movie that combines teen angst bullshit[1] with a modicum of weird body horror, which for the most part seemed out of place, to be honest? 15 year old Mia is going through puberty, which means she doesn’t like her parents, does like the mean girl clique at school, and wants to have all the sex and drugs and cigarettes it is possible for a nearly-legal German teen to have.

But also, strange things are afoot with, uh, her feet. And the family goldfish. What can it all mean? Was she adopted like she thinks, or did she just fall in with the wrong crowd, like her parents think? Does the body horror have any place in this movie? I can answer that one: no, but it did give them a way to wrap things up, instead of just trailing off into disaffected adulthood like most people making “bad” choices end up in fiction. So… yay?

I’m carefully avoiding the spoiler at the center of Blue My Mind, mostly because it was impossible to not know it from the presentation on my streaming service of choice, and the expectation that it would turn out to matter is mostly what ruined the movie for me. Counterpoint: I probably wouldn’t have watched it without that expectation. Counter counterpoint: would that have been so bad?

[1] but no body count

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.