Friday, March 31, 2017

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. American Pastoral - This is an amazing story, and should, in theory, be an amazing film. Something's missing, though, and I can't quite put my finger on it. It's Ewan McGregor's directorial debut, and it's certainly not bad for a first effort. The cast is phenomenal - especially Jennifer Connelly. She's one of the most consistent actresses in Hollywood, and somehow is still under-rated. I wish the story delved into her psychology more (which I have a feeling the novel does); mostly because I wanted to watch more of Connelly in this role. Dakota Fanning is still awesome - she gets a lot of hate now, while everyone praises her sister (whom I also adore), but it's totally unnecessary to compare the two (although, I am a complete hypocrite because Kate Mara > Rooney Mara). Also, the daughter at a younger age is played by the little girl who plays Josslyn Jacks on General Hospital and holy crap....she's a good little actress!! I think the biggest problem I have with the movie is the narration from the brother and his friend (told from a 45 year high school reunion) - it doesn't really make sense how these two people would really know the inner-workings of this family dynamic. My other problem is that it just doesn't go deep enough. The whole dynamic of this entitled family during this time of racial tensions (the Newark riots of 1967 is a key scene, and eerily reminiscent of watching the present day news) and how this family is torn apart by this entitlement is fascinating. The extreme rebellion of the daughter is the driving force of the story, yet strangely not really explored enough. There's so much there to explore, too! Like how she goes from violent protests to Jainism. It's incredibly interesting. I added the novel to my read list, hopefully it dives much deeper than this film.

2. Manchester by the Sea - I was prepared for an emotional movie. So many people commented on crying during this movie; I waited to watch it in order to fully prep myself. For most of the movie, I was left confused. It's sad, sure, but hardly an innovation at emotional manipulation. Then, towards the end, the scene with Michelle Williams that has been used in many ads, and all of Michelle's awards clips, broke me. It's like I've seen it so many times, but I never really understood what it was referring to. Obviously, knowing the story behind it, is heartbreaking. *spoilers* I guessed from the initial viewing of this scene, that they lost a child together. But, Jesus Christ, all three children?? From a fire?? Ugh. I can't think of anything worse. So, when she says "you can't just die", I just burst into tears and I couldn't stop. And, in all honesty, if I lost my three children in a fire that was my fault, I would want to die. I can't imagine living after that. I like that the ending didn't try to erase anything, or give any closure. Overall, I think the movie is a very successful story of loss (in many different forms). As far as Casey Affleck goes, I'm not sure it's an award-worthy performance. However, I've been a Casey Affleck fan ever since Ocean's Eleven. And as far as the controversy, I feel like it is extremely one-sided, and as much as it pains me to say, I don't really believe the story 100%. However, it also bothers me that Affleck has never denied any allegations. So, I'm on the fence about the whole thing. I'm bothered that these allegations from 2010 have suddenly resurfaced as a "dark secret"- I remember reading about it when it happened, it was public information and was reported on extensively. Why is it suddenly a thing just because he's in a movie that had awards buzz? It's like it was purposely meant to destroy his awards momentum, and that is ridiculous. Anyway, Michelle Williams does give an award-worthy performance and she's in the movie far more than I was led to believe. And what is it with Kyle Chandler picking small roles in Oscar nominated movies?? He has a knack for it and it kind of blows my mind (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Carol, The Wolf of Wall Street). On a side note, I didn't know that there is an actual town called "Manchester-by-the-sea". How cute! Learn something new everyday!

3. Complete Unknown - I never heard of this movie, but I have Amazon Prime now, and it was listed as a new release starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon...and YES PLEASE! Apparently, it is an Amazon original. I had no idea they did original movies (and a lot of them!). I don't think this one was given a wide release, though. And I understand why. The story is good, but it's just really slow and really boring. It's set up like a slow-burn mystery, but it is given away from the beginning, so I'm not sure what the "mystery" is supposed to be. I can relate to the main character, because I've done the whole "start over" thing (and am sort of doing it right now), although not to such extreme (I've always remained myself, and I keep in contact with the important people in my life). I understand the need to start over, though. I understand the need to have a blank slate. Ultimately, I find it a bit unfulfilling. I regret not keeping in touch with certain people - ones who have had a positive effect on my life. It's a bit of a psychotic nature to just show up in someone's life, which is the plot of this movie. She disappears, and then reappears in her ex-boyfriend's life and pretends she's someone else. He obviously recognizes her and begins to question her motives (which aren't as exciting or malicious as we expect). It's just a blah movie, however, the actress who plays Shannon's wife is absolutely stunning. I've never seen her before, but now I'm obsessed (her name is Azita Ghanizada).

4. Hacksaw Ridge - Where do I begin? I will start by saying I liked this movie much more than I was expecting to. I've read a lot of mixed reviews, and I haven't really been a fan of Mel Gibson's previous directorial ventures. I was expecting to be bored, and I wasn't in the least bit. It is full of energy, intensity, and urgency. However, the real success is deemed from the story, itself, and boy, is it an incredible one. I would argue that it would be hard to make a "bad" movie out of this true story. And I can (perhaps) argue that a better one could have been made. I will always be aggravated by films that show war heroes "falling in love" before they go to war, as if it makes his life "more" worth living, and/or makes someone "more" worth saving. The love story is completely unnecessary, and horribly over-dramatic (and grossly over-acted by both parties) and if you research the "real" story, it isn't even portrayed in a correct timeline. There are quite a bit of differences in the true story vs the film, which always happens in movies, in order to create dramatic effect. However, a very minor thing that bothers me (in a major way) comes from a comment that my boyfriend (who LOVED the movie) made during a key scene in the movie in which a Japanese "sniper" is featured - my bf pointed out that the Japanese did not have snipers in WWII because it wasn't an honorable way to kill someone. That's a pretty big error...right? Especially when it seems that Gibson went out of his way to show the Japanese "honorable" war tactics. So, I looked it up and found several articles about a Japanese sniper actually shooting our hero (that was cut from the movie version). And I thought, well, my bf is wrong (it happens sometimes). Then, I curiously looked up the word "sniper" in relation to WWII, and it has a completely different definition than our modern-day sniper. So basically, Gibson heard/read the story of him getting shot by a Japanese "sniper" and decided to add a sniper scene to the movie (without doing SIMPLE research that took me 2 whole minutes to find). And that drives me insane. It's also necessary for me to address the elephant in the room, that it is very problematic for a known anti-Semite to make a movie about WWII. It's an interesting choice, and in my opinion, a calculated move to focus on the Japanese enemy. I'll just leave it at that, though: Problematic. I also think that Vince Vaughn was a terrible casting choice. I'm a huge fan, but his performance is laughable (and not in a good way). It felt like a parody. As for Andrew Garfield, someone I'm also a fan of, I didn't love his performance either. He played the character very dopey. That could have been based on the character, although nothing I've read described him that way. It's an odd choice, and it didn't work for me. As for the brilliance of the film, starting from the initial climbing of Hacksaw Ridge until the end - it's a stunning achievement. The violence is visceral, and never forgiving in its brutality; Combined with the sheer act of bravery and selflessness from Desmond Doss, I can't help but be blown away. Some of those battle scenes are the best ever put to screen, and as much as I would like to, I can't deny that Gibson created an extraordinary film. Well, half of a film, at least.

5. Kubo and the Two Strings - The animation is wonderful, and stunning, and magical, and OH MY GOD I WROTE A WHOLE PARAGRAPH AND BLOGGER WENT DOWN AND DIDN'T SAVE IT. I have to write the whole thing again and I have no memory of what I wrote. Anyway, so yeah...the animation is great. However, the story is kind of slow and depressing. There is a nice uplifting ending as a payoff, but it takes so long to get there, and I'm not sure it's worth it. The voice actors were a little off for me - especially Charlize. Her voice was so monotonous, and part of the reason the film moves so slowly. I hardly recognized Matthew McConaughey's voice. It sounded like a Brad Pitt/George Clooney hybrid. I would have preferred his natural voice. And *spoiler* were we not supposed to know those were his parents the whole time? Because it's obvious from their very first introduction. I think even kids would have picked up on that. I think the tone of the movie was a bit all over the place, too. It was too mature for children, and a bit too scary (but hey, Scar from The Lion King was pretty damn scary too, I guess), but the jokes were all catered to children. It just didn't work for me. Overall, though, if you are a fan of animation, I highly suggest watching this just to experience the beauty of it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Thoughts on 6 New TV Shows

1. Riverdale - So...I don't get it. I mean, I like the show, sure. In the same way that I enjoyed Gossip Girl, The O.C., and the show that it copies the most from, Pretty Little Liars. Literally, every story line so far has been done by another teen show (student/teacher thing - Dawson's Creek, and obviously PLL. The jock who also is a musician thing - Glee, and yes, also the comics, but I feel like critics are praising this show for this well-rounded character, as if it didn't exist on television before). I don't get why it is being so praised - and like from legitimate film/tv people who would usually look down their noses at shows like this. It's nothing special, at all. I also don't get the love for Veronica, when Betty is clearly the stronger character and better actress. Plus, I don't get the relation to the comics, other than the names, and appearances of the characters. Archie, for me, was always about this happy-go-lucky guy and his friends getting into dumb high school fun/drama. Apparently there is a version of Archie that is horror themed, and I guess that is what this show stems from, but I just find it weird. I also don't get the guy who plays Archie. Is he supposed to be hot? And can they get like a professional to fix his awful dye job? And I can't believe that the kid who plays Jughead is Ben from Friends, but now I can't unsee it. Anyway, after all my ranting, did I mention that I actually do like the show?? Because it's a fun, trashy, teen drama, and I am always a sucker for those.

2. Powerless - I like the idea - a series focused on the "others" in a superhero world. It's cute, and a lot of fun can be done with that; especially within a sitcom format. Unfortunately, it's super cute, but not any fun yet. And it's certainly not funny at all. Vanessa Hudgens is part of the problem; she's super adorable but her comedic timing is non-existent. Danny Pudi plays the exact same character from Community, but without the supporting characters to make him funny. It's all fixable at this point, but I haven't really heard anyone talk about it, so I feel like it will get cancelled before given a chance to get good. It's a shame because there are so few good sitcoms right now.

3. Legion - Visually stunning. I'm not fully on board with the plot and some of the over-acting (*ahem* Aubrey Plaza), but I am intrigued a little bit more with every episode, so I guess that is a success. I just think each episode is really dragged out for effect. I would prefer a shorter season with episodes of quality, in this case. If they keep throwing in scenes like the muted one, though, I will keep watching. I like the cast a lot - Dan Stevens is wonderful, but my favorite is Jean Smart. She was so good on Fargo last year, so I am very happy that Noah Hawley recognized her genius. Rachel Keller seems very familiar to me, but I haven't seen her before. I think she just reminds me of Ruth Wilson (which is a very good thing). I'm hopeful that the show continues to grow a little bit faster than it has been, and continues to be as weird and beautiful.

4. 24: Legacy - Ugh. I love 24 so much. It's such a perfectly ridiculous action/drama television series. The problem with a reboot is that Jack Bauer IS 24. Chloe IS 24. Tony Almeida IS 24. Without these characters, it's not 24. However, there has been talk of Tony among the new characters, and if he shows up, I will scream out of sheer joy (I'm a few episodes behind, DON'T SPOIL ME!!). As far as the new cast is concerned, UGH. So dull. Everyone except Kathryn Prescott (from Skins! I LOVE HER!!). Aside from the countdown clock and the split screens, the show doesn't feel like 24 at all. It's just another generic "save the world from terrorists" tv show, and we have enough of them already (Homeland, Quantico, Blindspot, I could go on for FOREVER).

5. Feud - I've only seen the first two episodes so far, but it is GLORIOUS. Just so much fun. I should have guessed with a Ryan Murphy show - his first seasons are spectacular, but Scream Queens was such a disappointment, that I had my doubts with this one. I was so wrong. It's fantastic to watch the ins and outs of this epic "feud" that was pretty much forced upon these two powerful women in Hollywood. I can't wait to see more. Surprisingly, I haven't seen Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. It's one of those movies that I've always assumed that I watched at some point. I'm going to wait until the series is over to watch it. It will be more fun that way.

6. Taboo - OK, I can't really say much about this show because I gave up after two episodes, but Jesus fucking Christ was it difficult to get through those two episodes. I struggled with every minute. Not only was it boring, but Hardy's accent is hard to understand. And I'm usually pretty good with accents. I decided to cut it out of my life quickly instead of furthering the torture.

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. The Accountant - This was the most boring movie I've watched in a while. It's a shame because I wanted to love it. It's so weird how Ben Affleck can be so great in one movie, and then the next he's a big dull dud. It's like he forgets how to act. Or maybe he doesn't care. The supporting cast is great - Anna Kendrick (who has grown on me), J.K. Simmons, Jean Smart (I am LOVING her resurgence), Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, and the girl from the new tv series, Shooter (I think I like her. I know I like the show) - but all were given very little to do. I was never really invested in the plot at all, and it was obvious from the beginning that J.K. was more important to the story than he was letting on. I don't really have anything else to say. It's just mediocre to its very core.

2. Passengers - From the trailers, I knew this movie was going to fail. And it shouldn't have. It stars two of the biggest names in Hollywood at the moment, looks fantastic, and seems to have an intriguing premise. There was just something off about the trailer, though. It seemed like they gave away waaaay too much, the dialogue was stiff, and there was just something not quite right. When the film was finally released, it received a fairly strong backlash for an unexpected reason - a film starring a highly successful female actress (known for badass independent roles) was accused of some pretty icky and offensive story-telling. So, it seems like a HUGE part of the movie is left out of the trailers. *spoilers ahead, that is, if you live under a rock* The plot is about this one man, who is part of a group of people who have voluntarily been placed into a hibernation state in order to travel to another planet (that takes like 100 years to get to). The problem is that he wakes up too early, after a glitch in the system. He lives a life of loneliness and depression for a full year (and that's supposed to be long time, apparently), until he decides to wake up the pretty girl he's been eyeing up (essentially murdering her). And THEN we are supposed to root for them as a couple. Pretty horrific, right? However, it makes for a pretty interesting commentary on what humans will do to avoid being lonely. This is where the movie succeeds. It never tries to pretend like what he does isn't horrific. It's part of the plot. So, in short, the outrage is kind of ridiculous. The problem is that they went with a happy ending, and therefore negating his horrific act. My proposed ending would have been a much stronger commentary - and that is that he should have died (after all, he's a MURDERER), and then she would have been stuck in this same void of loneliness, so then she wakes someone else up, essentially giving in to her own imperfect human nature. It would have been depressing as fuck, but it would have given the movie a point. And man, that would have been a fantastic story. Plus, it would have solved the whole misogynistic aspect if she does the same exact thing...right? Anyway, other issues with the movie - Pratt and Lawrence struggle with their chemistry and the plot of saving the spaceship gets really ridiculous once Lawrence Fishburne shows up. And one major plus of the movie - it's fucking beautiful. Those production design nominations are TOTALLY deserving.

3. The Girl on the Train -  Oddly, I liked this movie. I didn't really expect to. The ads reminded me of Gone Girl (which originally I liked, even with all of its many faults, but the more I think about it, the more I HATE it with a passion). I am not familiar with the book, so I thought that the story was going to be all twist and turny (like Gone Girl), but it was pretty obvious as to how it was all going to was just a matter of getting there (and movies like this, it's ALWAYS the husband. Never fail. Although the whole gaslighting thing was unexpected, and oddly relevant to current events). I adore Emily Blunt. She is great here. Kudos to the supporting cast, too - Laura Pepron, Lisa Kudrow, Allison Janney, and JUSTIN THEROUX!! I haven't seen him in anything in so long. I know he's on that show that gets some pretty good reviews (I want to say it's called The Leftovers), but I haven't seen it yet. I don't think I've seen him in anything since The Ten which was like 10 years ago. Overall, I was fully entertained watching this movie even though I couldn't really relate to it. I don't really understand obsession/jealousy of complete strangers (although I get that she is replacing this obsession with her own experience in a marriage). I do connect to the scenic environment though - I used to take that train ride all the time when I was in college - and I actually remember staring out at the houses along the tracks. It was surreal watching her do the same thing, albeit more focused. While this film might not be as well-made as Gone Girl, it certainly has a better story (and a better female lead).

4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Ok, I probably can't give a fair opinion on this film because I fell asleep while watching it. Twice. However, I think that speaks volumes, because I rarely fall asleep (I think the last time was with Hugo, which kind of makes sense. These types of movies are obviously not my favorite). I hated the Harry Potter movies (SORRY NOT SORRY), so I guess I shouldn't have expected much with this movie, but it looked kind of cute. And the parts that I was awake for were cute. But it was all so dragged out and boring. The biggest reason why I didn't like the HP movies, though, was because of the acting. It's pure torture. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson were just unbearable to watch, but I am willing to give them a chance now that they are older (and so far Radcliffe has redeemed himself, Watson not so much, but I'm excited to see Beauty and the Beast). At least this was well-acted, although I feel like Eddie Redmayne always portrays his characters as if they are autistic (which is confusing sometimes). Anyway, I'm sure many will find joy in this movie, and that's always a good thing. It's just not for me.

5. Arrival - So, I loved it. Not in the way I thought I was going to love it. The sci-fi was a little dull and unoriginal. However, the human story behind it is A+. Sure, it's a story about this language expert trying to create a dialogue with alien invaders, and essentially saving the world by bringing "us" together (world peace...blah blah blah), but it's also a story of motherhood, and the joy and heartbreak that mothers endure. It's the story of a devastating loss, having the choice to do it all again, and deciding to endure the same pain because it is part of your own identity. I am not a mother, but I have great respect for all who take on *literally* the most important role in our modern world. I also know that my own mother endured a great deal of suffering as a young mother, and I know that if given the choice, she would do it all the same. Whether you want to classify it as destiny, God's will, etc., we can't deny that our choices and our past all form our future. Changing it could be catastrophic. I love that this is what the story evolved into instead of a straight-forward sci-fi. Amy Adams was definitely robbed of an Oscar nomination, and the film is a very close third in my list of favorite movies from 2016. There was only one very obvious misstep - and that is the one piece of dialogue that ruins the whole movie's "surprise" twist (the part where she refers to her daughter's father - I groaned internally because I honestly felt like it ruined everything that came before it). The actual twist is revealed a few scenes later, so I think it was supposed to be more of a foreshadowed hint, but unfortunately it is screaming with overt plot details. Other than that, though, a stunning piece of film-making.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

3 Thoughts on The LEGO Batman Movie

1. The "meta" superhero story - As much as I love the new incarnation of Batman, and other superheroes, it's kind of nice to see a new animated tale of these beloved characters. It's more explicit in the "good" guy versus the "bad" guy, has fun with the story (as opposed to the "real" grittier versions), and it can be over the top ridiculous because it's a cartoon! It's reflective of the superhero genre, in that it recognizes the personal side of being a superhero. Most of these stories equalize "personal" story with "love" story, while this one shows the loneliness that someone like Batman would encounter. I think Batman v Superman attempted to do the same (with the whole "Martha" bit), but it came out of nowhere and was therefore laughed at. This movie embraces Batman's loneliness and tries to teach the lesson of opening up to others - like working as a team to accomplish a common goal. It also touches on the subject of competition as a motivator - i.e Batman needs The Joker in order to feel fulfilled and become a better superhero. Overall, it's a super cute way of sending these positive messages to kids, while still entertaining an adult audience.

2. The jokes - While I enjoyed the story and the animation, I'll be honest, I was hoping for funnier. It's cute and there are moments where I smiled, but there weren't really any laugh out loud moments. Of course, there are plenty of Marvel digs, as expected - none were funny. A lot of the jokes, not just the Marvel ones, seemed really obvious - like the references to Robin and his outfits. I realize it's for kids, so obvious jokes are necessary but I feel like the jokes were too adult for kids, but too obvious for adults to enjoy - does that make sense? Anyway, I did enjoy the many references to old school '60s style Batman, although I'm not sure many kids did.

3. The cameos - Just like The LEGO Movie, the cameos are fantastic. Aside from the typical Batman characters (friends and foes - like every friend and foe that exists in the world of Batman), there is a whole slew of "bad guys" at the end including a Dalek, a Gremlin, King Kong, The Kraken (OMG hilarious!), and The Wicked Witch of the West. All of it was perfection. I also liked that Michael Cera was the voice of Robin - because that's just perfect. And it took me the entire movie to realize that it's Zach Galifianakis' voice for The Joker. I knew it seemed familiar, but I couldn't place it. Actually, all of the voice actors were perfectly cast for their characters - so much so that I would actually love to see a live-action version with these same actors.