Tag Archives: HBOMax

Goodfellas

Last week on the letterboxd dot com weekly movie, the theme was Remembering Ray, as in Liotta, who died earlier this year. Since Goodfellas is a  film knowledge gap for both of us, it was a no-brainer for the week.

The movie is a mostly straightforward biography of Henry Hill[1], a mafia outsider (in that he was only half Sicilian, and therefore not eligible to be the real deal) who nevertheless lived a lavish, crime-filled life from his teens onward as (along with also not-Sicilian Robert DeNiro) a hanger-on to Paul Sorvino as a godfather type and Joe Pesci as an up and comer in the family.

Only, nobody uses the word godfather, or mafia, or even mob. “Family” comes up a fair bit, but not in the way that any of the characters are related or talked about being related, because it’s not that kind of family. All the same, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, because, well. What I will say is that this movie is almost certainly a better depiction of mob life in the ’60s and ’70s. I mean obviously, the guy who wrote the tell-all autobiography probably knows better than the guy who wrote a book that he basically made up from start to finish, but still, you can tell that a movie made up of a series of vignettes about life, love, laughter, and larceny is going to be more true than a movie with foreshadowing, visual themes, and a throughline about inevitability.

All of which to say, yeah, I think The Godfather tells a better story. But I’m glad I finally saw this one, because I should have had it in my repository long since. The only really sad thing is that I can’t hit up Jeff and talk about it now.

[1] In addition to Goodfellas being one of those movies that everyone has seen, Ray is also in the starring role, which made the choice even easier.

Hausu

Man. This was a ride.

You know all the stereotypes about Japanese schoolgirls you learned from anime? It turns out they also existed in 1977 in Japanese cinema. This particular set of schoolgirls, and let me see if I can get this right, consist of Fantasy (who has a vivid imagination), Mac (who likes to eat), Melody (who plays music you see), Sweet (who helps out, like with cleaning or whatever), Kung Fu (who… I mean, you can suss this one out), Professor[1] (she’s smart and wears glasses), and Gorgeous, who in addition to, one supposes, being pretty, also precipitates the main action of the film by being upset that her father has decided to remarry eight years after his wife’s death, so she refuses to take all her friends on summer vacation with him and his fiancee and instead takes them to visit her (maternal, natch) aunt’s House.

Between the melodrama of Japanese schoolgirls and the separate melodrama of the tragic tale of Gorgeous’s spinster aunt, dating back to the war[2], I really had no idea what to expect at this point, and while it perhaps would be better for the viewer to show up similarly uninformed, I gots to earn my money[3] somehow, so, stop here if you want to see the movie based on only the above description and my nod that yes, probably watch it.

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Old

I think the last M. Night Shyamalan movie I saw was Devil? It’s been a minute, is all I’m saying. Now that everyone knows what his schtick is, his strength lies not in tricking you into thinking the movie you’re watching is a straightforward drama when actually there’s a twist, but in giving you the twist early and leaving you to figure out what’s going on, if you can. (The Servant on AppleTV is also doing this, but it’s a multi-season TV show, not a movie.)

Old is about some people on (Mexican? Caribbean? Central American?) vacation who go to an isolated beach for the afternoon, only to discover that they are all aging at a fantastic rate, and also (predictably) that they cannot leave. After a few introductory scenes in which people talk about the importance of living in the moment, seizing the day, all that, just in case the plot was a little too subtle too stand alone, we’re off to the exact races I mentioned. Why is this happening? How can it be stopped? And of course: how would you spend your last day on earth? (Although that one maybe is a little subtle and keeps getting lost in the breakneck speed of the plot.)

Shyamalan will never, I think, top his first two movies. But for the first time in a generation, he’s released something [which I’ve seen] that I can recommend without reservation. It’s probably not great, but then again I think he’s only ever had one great movie. But it’s thoughtful, occasionally frightening, and always engaging. …okay, always after a pretty slow introductory act in which basically nothing happens, but which was probably necessary to the plot making a lick of sense, and for that matter, necessary to the themes working. So I’ll allow it.

Death on the Nile (2022)

I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. I do not think this counts as a moral failing. Particularly because I just haven’t read that much out of the mystery section in the first place, you know[1]? It is my understanding, however, that she is kind of a big deal.

So she has this one character, Hercule Poirot, who is a great detective. Possibly the second character ever to be bestowed with that title in the annals of fiction? And although I never thought about it[2] before Kenneth Branagh’s performance, I guess it must be true that all detectives in the Holmes / Poirot type, who can become (or possibly always are) hyperfocused on specific details and make deductive leaps based on the tiniest shreds of evidence, all such detectives fall somewhere pretty deep into the spectrum.

So, while not knowing the plot meant that I showed up for Death on the Nile to be interested in the details of the murder[s], who did what to whom and when and why, what I left with was a renewed respect for Branagh’s craft, portraying someone who felt very deeply while hating to feel anything at all. It was very subtle, and very moving because of how subtle it was, and I’m sad I missed his Murder on the Orient Express from a few years ago. I shall perhaps eventually do something about that.

[1] What does perhaps count as a moral failing is that what I have read is mostly chosen based on “I liked the TV show they made later.” …then again, if I started reading Christie, it would be because I liked this movie, so.
[2] at least in part because, how much have I thought about this character at all, sure

The Matrix Resurrections

I rewatched the Matrix trilogy last month, on 4k Blu-ray no less (but apparently without a subwoofer, which hurts my soul in retrospect), so that I would be prepared to say whether or not The Matrix Resurrections was a giant retcon, and whether it was a bad retcon, and whether it was a good movie. And I do have opinions on these points!

But first, a few words about makeup and set dressing. I appreciated that the omnipresent dark green drear was replaced by nonstop blues, representing of course the blue pill seen on the right. I won’t go into specifics, of course, but I liked the way the truth of the Matrix was kept while jettisoning the old color palette, and I liked that this occurred for a good in-story reason. As for the makeup bit, upon reflection it would be a pretty big spoiler, so I may bring it up later. But, I was equally impressed with someone’s job there as well.

Anyway, in order: it was not a giant retcon, and it was also not a bad retcon, by virtue of the retcon not being the one I expected. A retcon certainly occurred, but I approve on the whole. It’s the kind that reveals how the world really was always this way and we just hadn’t noticed, not the bad kind that gets a writer out of a dumb corner they could have avoided on either the front end or the back with no real trouble, had they but tried. And it was a good movie if you accept that all the fun being poked is at itself for existing and not at you for being suckered into paying for it to have existed. Or if you forgive all that because it used White Rabbit really well. (Man I love that song.)

The rest, below the spoiler cut.

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8-Bit Christmas

Back when streaming wasn’t a thing, A Christmas Story was such a popular movie that it would play over and over again for like a week straight on TBS, so people could just drop in and out and watch it whenever they felt like. In a strange albeit horrific and commercial-littered way, it presaged the very idea of streaming, at least for this one specific movie.

8-Bit Christmas is essentially Neil Patrick Harris narrating to his daughter his childhood attempts to bag a Nintendo Entertainment System near Christmas, one year in the late ’80s. It is episodic, sweet and heartfelt, and might otherwise become a classic if that kind of thing were possible anymore in such a diverse, fractured field of infinite entertainment options.

Basically, to bring my point back around to an otherwise extraneous introductory paragraph, A Christmas Story was an early ’80s movie about life and the holidays in the 1940s. This is an early ’20s movie about life and the holidays in the 1980s. I’m not saying they’re the same movie, but that’s mainly because I was alive in the ’80s and not the ’40s, so it’s hard to detect if ACS was telling lies or not. 8BC isn’t, though.

Promising Young Woman

Every movie I watched in early 2020, according to a memory that is at worst only slightly flawed in this regard, had a preview for Promising Young Woman. April could not get here fast enough! …and then all the theaters plus pretty much everything else shut down in late March, and when the movie received theatrical release last December instead, I was still not in a place where going to see it there seemed like a reasonable option. Because, you know, vaccines didn’t exist yet.

And so I’m basically a year and a half overdue on this movie. On the bright side, it delivered!

The thing is, oh man, I don’t want to say anything other than go watch it, on the off chance that that barrage of previews didn’t spoil the basic premise. There’s a lot more to see, but those first moments were a killer even in the preview, much less what it might be as a full scene with no idea what to expect.

What I can say is that there’s a little bit of a mystery here. We are presented with the portrait of a woman who was promising, past tense most definitely intended. She was a med school student, but now a few years later she’s a barista who lives with her parents and gets pass out drunk in dive bars. But why? What happened? Can she break the cycle of her existence?

How far will she go to do so?

Separately from the fact that it’s good, it’s something basically everyone should see. I just wish I believed that it would be as meaningful to, y’know, everyone.

Reminiscence

It’s not really clear to me what Kevin Feige is going to do when he tries to introduce the X-Men into the MCU. Not only has Hugh Jackman refused to play Wolverine again, but he apparently got the mutton chops in the divorce with Fox. Seriously, bro looks within an approximation of no differently than he did in 1999.

Okay, dumb mutton chops joke out of the way. Moving on…

Reminiscence is not really the movie I expected it to be, but in a good way! See, what I expected was a riff on Inception but memory instead of dreams. What I got was future noir, every bit as dark and gritty[1] as the stuff from eighty or ninety years ago when the genre arose, wrapped up with a neat little sci-fi bow. Hugh Jackman is the detective, even though that’s not quite his actual job, it’s something more like memory tour guide? And he has a secretary (again, not really, she runs the memory machine in real life) and a femme fatale nightclub singer in a red dress walks through his front door as the first act opens. Someone knew what’s what.

I’ll save you some trouble and say that the story is almost entirely told from a linear perspective, even though the nature of delving into memories again and again makes it feel like that’s not the case, at times. So, call it linear with flashback digressions? And if you like the genre[2], this is a pretty fantastic example of it.

[1] Well, less grit, more water, but “dark and wet” isn’t going to work as a replacement catchphrase.
[2] I don’t actually know whether “future noir” is a genre, or something I made up just now, or what? But what I have in mind is traditional noir, but less sexist than that, set in a no more dystopic future than original noir was set in a dystopic version of its present; just a future that is predicated on the outcomes of our own moderately dystopic present.

The Suicide Squad

I remember liking Suicide Squad better than most people did, even if mostly by comparison to other DC movies on offer in the same continuity. And my just glanced-over review bears that memory out.

The Suicide Squad is kind of an oddly named sequel? It’s maybe slightly closer to reboot than sequel even though there is character continuity and it’s clearly still part of the DC Cinematic Universe. Basically, it feels like James Gunn came along while he was briefly persona non grata with Disney[1] and said hey, DC, you know what would make this movie better? Leaning into the comedy part and out of the grimdark part. And they listened!

There are a few things he did especially right. First: it is over the top. The plot is over the top, the violence is over the top, the character are all aware of these facts and embrace their ridiculous, hyper-violent, insane world for what it is. Second: it is funny. This is another thing the characters embrace. I don’t know how to explain exactly what I mean. It’s not like they’re trying to outfunny each other. But there’s an absurdity to everything that’s going on, and they lean into it instead of staying aloof from it[3]. Third: would be a giant spoiler to actually say, but trust me. Gunn understands the world in which he is operating, and I do not mean DC at large, I mean this series in particular, of which I hope to see more.

This is the new best DC movie, and their trendline has been so solid that I legitimately want to see whatever they make next. …I mean, as long as it’s not another Superman.

[1] For historical purposes: he got “canceled[2]” by right wing people who were tired of seeing their heroes be “canceled” for things they were doing in real time, so they dug up things Gunn had done years earlier, and Disney briefly listened to this and took it as the same kind of thing, instead of noticing that he had learned from the past and was no longer doing those sorts of things. Later, they got over it and there will be a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie after all. Still, I cannot hate the outcome of his personal digression.
[2] For additional historical purposes: canceled is when you did something wrong, and people called you out on it, and consequences ensued. Prior to a few years ago, the people calling you out part rarely happened, and consequences ensuing happened so rarely as to be basically never.
[3] Well, except for Amanda Waller as the orchestrator of the squad and its varied missions, who takes everything and herself just as seriously as she did last time. But even this is an important aspect of the story being told.

Freaky

Horror movies are often funny. It’s a structural thing, I think. Movies with unrelieved dread are hard to watch. So you throw in some tension-relieving fake-outs or a stoner, to name a couple of common examples, and get the audience laughing, so they feel a little better when Kevin Bacon gets it through the box spring. …okay, bad example of a moment when the audience would need to feel better.

My point is, some horror parodies are straight comedies without an iota of actual horror to be found, and many horror movies (especially slashers) can be funny at times. And some horror movies are unintentionally hilarious, of course. But the idea of a horror comedy is a rare beast indeed. …and then try to imagine mashing that up with a family movie like, oh, I don’t know, The Parent Trap or, say, Freaky Friday.

A thing I know in my heart is that the pitch meeting had the movie named Freaky Friday the 13th, and I wish they had stuck to their guns. Trimming it down made me expect something a little more serious, and if I’d believed I was going to get to see Vince Vaughn hamming it up as a high school misfit with a tough past 17 year old girl turned fish out of water serial killer suspect, well, I might have tried harder to see it in… haha no, it was in theaters last fall right after everything opened up but way before anything was safe, didn’t it? But I mean, I would have had larger regrets about the zero percent chance of seeing it under those circumstances.

But I saw it last night, so that’s good too!