Saturday, 18 November 2017

Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird (2017) - Greta Gerwig

       Sooo I know we like to have fun here. We like to tell jokes, shoot the shit, have a good time. Wait, what? It's only me? Well either way, this is a safe place for non-sensicalness. However, the movie Lady Bird, the first time directorial effort from accomplished actress and seemingly-all-around-lovely-person Greta Gerwig (Frances, Ha, Greenberg, 20th Century Women), has truly put me in an odd spot. I loved this movie so much, I found it so refreshing, accurate, and relatable, that I have nary a funny or silly thing to say in reviewing it. This movie is funny, it's sad, it has so much earnest emotion behind it and feels so specific and personally crafted that it feels almost erroneous to try and make jokes about it. Buuuuuut, like this movie proves, a person has got to try and be who they are and figure things out on your own, whether it be living your truth regardless of your family's beliefs, standing up for yourself as an individual against your parents ideas for you, or realizing the guy you're dating is actually just a piece of shit like Jess from Gilmore Girls. God, remember Jess from Gilmore Girls? That show really keyed into exactly how fuckable Milo Ventimiglia was going to grow up to be...
       And I did it! I made a joke about wanting to fuck a former 23-year-old playing a high schooler in an overwrought sitcom from when this movie took place! BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME. BABY.
       Lady Bird is maybe the best movie I've seen this year. It is surely destined to attain classic status in the genre of "Coming of Age," though I don't want that title to sound reductive. This movie is as much about adults as it is teenagers. It's thoughtful and funny, it's sweet but not saccharine, dramatic but oh-so believable. If it sounds like I'm gushing, it's because I am. I loved this movie so, so much. And for anyone who reads these blogs (I'm positive I'm the only one. Yes, I reread my own blog posts, sue me. Please don't sue me. I'm very poor) you know that me actually loving something is very, very rare.
       Saoirse Ronan is the titular Lady Bird, a high school senior local to Sacramento who hates Sacramento with all her heart. She even changed her name from Christine to Lady Bird in an obviously teenage attempt to define herself as an individual. She dreams of going to school on the far superior (because it's new) East Coast. In the meantime she goes to Catholic school, joins a play, has her first serious boyfriend, learns about sex, and everything else that happens to people in their formative years. The loose plot lends all of its time and energy to creating incredible characters. I don't want this review to turn into The Chris Farley show, but it really is an impressive feat Greta Gerwig has pulled off. Every character, seriously, every fucking character is well-conceived and understandable. I have empathy for basically every person on that screen, even the football coach forced into directing the school musical, who cheers with fists raised when his star nails his big solo (like I said, it's a funny movie).

       There are two main things I think this movie has working for it. Number one, and most important, is how specifically personal Gerwig makes it. It's dead set in the middle of Sacramento with references and shots that probably have a great deal of meaning if you grew up there (which I did not) which somehow still seem to resonate just as strongly for anyone. This movie is so personal yet so relatable, which, trust me, is an incredibly difficult tight rope balancing act to accomplish. t's not easy to make people feel like they know a place they've never been to, but Lady Bird does it so easily. The movie also takes place during 2002-2003, when, I feel confidant in guessing, is when Greta Gerwig was a senior in high school. In fact, everything that happens in this movie feels like it happened to Gerwig, which is so refreshing and honest and makes the movie endlessly entertaining.
       The other thing in the movie that works so well is every relationship that's presented. Saoirse Ronan fucking KILLS it in this movie, and it's so clearly evidenced by how genuine all of her interactions come across with others, even when she's lying about knowing who The Doors are to seem cool (read: a high schooler). I want every movie to star Saoirse Ronan. She is my favorite person named Saoirse, ever (Have you seen Brooklyn? Oh my god that movie is so good just typing its title makes me wanna have a nice cry). The movie is as much about her relationship with her mother as it is about her and her best friend Julie, or her budding romances. And the movie never short changes any of these relationships, they're all fully formed and in one way or another remind me of of my life.
       Her relationship with her mother, amazingly portrayed by Laurie Metcalf, is one of the highest points of the film. It feels like such an authentic relationship. In the first scene they literally go from crying together over The Grapes of Wrath on cassette (so funny) to the daughter jumping out of the moving car to avoid being criticized moments later. It's hilarious, yes, but also so representatively perfect of what it feels like to be stuck in the car with your mother for hours on end. Their interactions are frustrating and often sad, with both women to blame at different times for their rifts, but it's also so heartbreakingly sweet. GODDAMN IT I HATE HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS MOVIE.
       My favorite thing about this movie is how similar it feels to my own life. And that's where the magic really happens: How do you make something so specific (2002, free spirit girl who's a high school senior, Sacramento, Catholic school, struggling family) so easy for others to relate to? I really only relate to the 2002 and high school part and this movie still made me feel like I was growing up all over again. This movie is truly for anyone who has ever had to grow up (read: everybody) regardless of when or how, and that's because it's just that good.
       The OTHER best part of this movie (seriously, I'm sorry, I know this is a boring review that is just sucking this movie's cock) is Jon Brion's score. I don't know if you guys know this, but if a movie has a score by Jon Brion, it's probably going to be a great movie (Eternal Sunshine, Magnolia, I Heart Huckabees, Punch-Drunk Love). It just adds the perfect note of melancholy beauty that only Jon Brion can whimsically imbue in his scores. I could have closed my eyes the whole time and still loved this movie.
       Ugh, I'm sick of hearing myself right now. Have I gushed enough? Probably not, but this seems like a good place to stop. I loved this movie. Thank you Greta Gerwig. Don't stop acting as well, but please, please, please don't stop making personal, funny, attentive movies like this one, either. Goddamn.

Grade: 100 out of 100 pink casts and gay boyfriends

2002 ALERT! Things that made me groan or giggle with nostalgic glee:
Pooka shell necklaces!
Crash by Dave Matthews!
9/11! (Okay there was no GLEE involved, but still, totally captured the era)
Clove cigarettes!
Going to Denny's after school plays!

"Sacramento is the Midwest of California."
"Some people just aren't built happy."
"I like dry humping so much better." Me too, dude. Me too.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Justice League

Justice League (2017) - Zach Snyder (Also Joss Whedon, at least for any shots where the camera lingered on Gal Gadot's crotch and ass for uncomfortably too long)

       Recently while teaching one of my classes (I'm an ESL teacher, you see) the subject of the most recent World Series came up. Regardless of having now lived in LA for over a year and having no real affiliation with the Cubs (I'm from Chicago, you see), I still wanted the Dodgers to lose. I thought it would be kind of funny to see my LA friends, who are all decent people who happen to like a sports franchise from their hometown, be mad and upset about LA losing (I swear this has a point, you see), and during that class one of my students (Who is from Korea, you se--okay, I'll stop) correctly pointed out that makes me a hater. It's true. I am. I'm a fucking hater you guys. I kind of like hating things, a bit of a contrarian if you will (don't worry, by this point in the review you're supposed to hate me). So as you can imagine, I bought my opening night ticket for Justice League licking my lips and tapping my fingers together like Monty Burns in anticipation for a new, sure to make many people happy, Hollywood action hero DC abortion. Something I can really sink my teeth into with hatred. And boy was I...kind of fucking conflicted. Because I didn't hate Justice League. Sure that's not the highest of praise....but...I DIDN'T HATE HATE THIS MOVIE AND IT'S DRIVING ME CRAZY.
       Justice League is the culmination of the past four DCU outputs that started with Man of Steel four whole years ago. Out of those four, Wonder Woman was the only that was, frankly, not shit. And like every other non-DC-obsessive neckbeard who pours over movie news on the internet every goddamn day, I expected this to be another steaming pile of fuck-garbage, no better or worse than BVSDOJ. But it's....not.
I know this isn't the correct Flash and I do not care.
        Let me be clear. Justice League is not a good movie. It's not even a good superhero movie. It has so many problems I am probably going to have to just bullet point them during this review. It is aeons away from what the original Avengers (sorry for an obvious comparison but it's the correct one) was able to accomplish, and I don't even really like The Avengers. The bad guy in Justice League is easily the worst villain to ever exist in a modern superhero movie. It is an ugly, poorly-designed CGI-fuckfest of a film. And I sort of, almost, kind of, maybe liked it. Or at least didn't hate it.
       If I sound vague or confusing that's because that's how I fucking feel. How did this movie happen, and more importantly, how did I not despise it? Despite it's many, many problems, it had an almost endearing quality of fuck-uppery to it.
       I will spend basically zero time going into plot details because that's what the filmmakers did. There's a bad guy. He is bad because he is bad (you see) and wants to kill the world because that's what bad guys do. His name is Steppenwolf and he is the best/worst villain to ever be in a superhero movie. He is 100% uncanny valley CGI nightmare fuel. Who the fuck designed him? Who thought he was a good fit for a possible billion dollar movie? He looks like Thanos from the MCU had sex with The Rock's Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns and they gave birth to a baby with all of the bad Hepatituses (but none of the good ones). Seriously, it's bad.
       I cannot stress enough how ugly this movie is. It has so much bad CGI, entire sets and action pieces look like crudely drawn scenes on Microsoft Paint. The final fight scene is done in...Russia? I think? It doesn't matter though because it's just one big dreary haze of red with those awful flying zombie flies (they were the...bad guy's bad guys?) zipping around. And Henry Cavill's upper lip...ugh.
       So, then, what does work? I groan at the prospect of writing these following sentences, but there are some legitimately decent moments between our heroes. The movie does actually have a sense of humor and at least seems concerned with making our five main characters enjoyable to watch. Ezra Miller's The Flash is very one note, but dumbly sweet. The movie also does a decent job of showcasing each superhero in their own right, making a case why each person needs to be there.


      Which then brings me to a big criticism, one of the movies biggest fucking issues: Superman. I appreciate that Henry Cavill barely ever appeared in the trailers, but fuck did Supes' arrival back into the fold suck out everything possibly interesting from the flick. I mean, of course he was going to be in the movie, I feel like that alone isn't much of a spoiler, right? But the way the movie introduces him back into the team basically robs every other character, you know, the ones we have been getting to know for the last hour and a half, of any agency. "Well thank god Superman is back. He's a beacon." He can do what we can't because Superman, even though he's dead and not even really in this movie.
       Why have Cyborg if Superman do the same thing? He's just as fast as the Flash and even though we don't get a cute post-credit scene about it I'm sure he swims faster than Aquaman. I'm not saying they shouldn't have Superman in a Justice League movie, all's I'm saying is Superman's arrival 100% halts the movie's narrative and shifts any dramatic focus squarely off the characters I actually started not hating (namely the Flash. But also I kind of hated him? Ugh, what was this movie?)
       This movie is a goddamn mess. Most of the dialogue is a joke (why do they insist on making Amy Adams say the worst things ever? She's a goddamn treasure and you are RUINING her), the narrative structure is all off (it takes the bad guy the first hour to steal the first two boxes and then he literally takes the last one off-camera in two seconds), and it is emotionally tone deaf. But it's somehow not the worst.
         Okay, I said I was going to do it and I'm a man of my word (blatant reference to better Batman villain), and I feel kinda crummy about it, but I gotta, it's the only way to get the rest of this review finished. Here's a bullet point of the rest of my thoughts of this movie:

  • Slow motion criminal kicking over a CRATE OF ORANGES. You're right, movie! Things are baaaad! Seriously though, the shot of oranges being kicked lasts like 24 seconds.
  • The maguffin in this movie is three power cubes (seriously, EXACTLY like in Avengers), but for some reason they are all called "Mother Cubes." Mother Cubes. Seriously. And Steppenwolf (The Scorpion King's baby) KEEPS SAYING THOSE WORDS ALL THE TIME. "Don't worry, Mother! I'll have your cubes soon!" "Mother!" Steppenwolf was seriously like if Buster Bluth drank too much juice and became an evil demigod.
  • "You smell good." Why do these movies hate Amy Adams so much? They make her say the absolute stupidest shit ever. Ugh, "you smell good." Barf. Go watch American Hustle, she's amazing in it.
  • Cyborg as a character is massively frustrating character. He is "discovering" his powers throughout the movie, so he basically has no idea what he can and can't do. Awesome, us too, buddy.
  • The movie did go by fast, which I appreciated it. It wasn't as bloated as every other DC movie. But at the same time a lot of characterization (Cough Cyborg, cough Aquaman) felt rushed as hell. However, I don't think if we got extra footage it would have made any of it any better. It's very paradoxical.
  • This movie is terrible. But it almost accidentally became entertaining in a "I'm so bad," kind of way.
Grade: 4 out of 10 Mother Boxes!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - Kenneth Brannaugh

       Murder on the Orient Express is potentially a good, very fun movie. It has a hell of a cast (Rey, Cat Lady, Dame Judi Dench's accent, Bobby the Hotel Manager, Vickie--Or, Christina, I mean...or was she Barcelona? And...shudders...Josh Gad), a visually dedicated director in Kenneth Brannaugh, and a decent idea for a mystery at the middle of it (have you heard of Agatha Christie? I think she used to write for Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars). It's stylish and even tries to have a bit of a sense of humor about itself. So why did I fall asleep for a good forty-five minutes of it? Oh yeah, because it was boring as fuck.
      The second the movie gets on the titular train (Titty Train, as it was called during production, #Imdbtriviapage#Nottrue), the movie gets stuffy, slow, and boring. By the time the Titty Train comes to a halt so has the narrative (LITERARY PUN-BURN). And for all it's misdirection and twists, the movie is actually much more interested in an entirely other mystery, existing mostly in flashbacks. Just a train full of backstories stuck in a tiny set for almost two hours while all we do is talk about the reasons everyone may or may not be on the train FOR THIS EXACT TRIP?!?! Do slowly explain more!
       The movie starts out great. Christie's most famous character and the world's most famous detective, Hercule Poirnot (Brannaugh), just solved a helluva whopper of a mystery in Jerusalem and stopped World War III (Wait...this movie takes place in 1935...HE COULDN'T EVEN STOP WORLD WAR II. WHAT A FUCKING CHUMP). Then we get about fifteen gorgeous minutes of wide shots, exotic Middle-Eastern and European tableau. Poirnot's excessive idiosyncrasies, like needing his eggs to be the same size or stepping with BOTH feet, are even kinda cute. But then we get on the train, with about 40 different characters, and the movie just stops.
       Now look, Agatha Christie was one of the world's greatest writers (Was? Is? Is Agatha Christie still alive, guys? I need answers! I don't actually have wifi, this review is just the scribblings of a mad man locked far away from humanity, using only his excrement and fingers to write), and she definitely knows how to write a hell of a murder mystery. She wrote great mystery thrillers in the 1930s. But that's just the thing. This isn't a book, and it isn't the 1930s, and Kenneth Brannaugh seems a little too insistent of making it feel exactly the same anyway.
       Some books don't translate well to movies. And that's okay. They are extremely different artistic mediums. For books, it doesn't matter nearly as much if you stop the narrative to have a paragraph (or page, or chapter) describing someone's back story. In fact it can delay other aspects of the story and add suspense. But it's different in film. You need different ways to create and build suspense. And having a character talk like a narrator going over the bullet points of their life and every specific reason EXACTLY WHY THEY'RE ON THIS TRAIN gets suuuuuper fucking boring in the visual medium of movies. Ever hear the expression, "Show, don' tell?" That goes doubly for movies. Cuz you use your eyes, you see.
       Since I didn't see a solid forty minutes in the middle of the film I don't quite feel it's fair I review it in its entirety. Though, let's face it, the fact that I fell asleep during a 12:15 showtime on a Saturday afternoon when I wasn't even hungover is review enough. But because of that, to make sure you get your money's worth with this review (haha, no one involved here is making ANY money), let me pad it with some things that possibly happened in the middle:

  • A scene where Johnny Depp gets drunk and abusive with all the young women on set.
  • Willem Dafoe cuts off his penis.
  • Poirnot talks about the difficulties of directing Thor, but ultimately says he enjoyed the experience.
  • Josh Gad ran around asking everyone if they've ever seen Th Book of Mormon.
  • Johnny Depp, once again, starts verbally and physically abusing all the female cast members, and then all the men on the train say he probably didn't do it and the women are just saying it for the attention. 
       I guess what I'm really trying to say about Murder on the Orient Express is: Fuck you, Johnny Depp, you fucking piece of shit.
       Oh yeah and the movie is forgettable and faithful to the source material to a fault. Skip it.

Grade: 5 out of 10 adorably snoozing amateur movie reviewers. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Review: Daddy's Home 2

Daddy's Home 2 (2017) - Who gives a shit? An old Carl's Jr Bag filled with human excrement.

       Last week I saw the movie A Bad Moms Christmas, which was a sequel to the wholley forgettable Bad Moms from a years ago. Even though it had a cast that was game, it had a terrible script and was blandly unfunny. A real turd, basically. But Oh Lord Almighty how I look back fondly on that day. It seems like a far-off paradise to me now. If you had asked me last week if A Bad Moms Christmas was the worst holiday comedy sequel featuring one gender of parents while their OWN PARENTS also come to visit and cause a real mess of things, I would have definitely proclaimed, "Of course! How could two movies SO specific and terrible, both with one parent who is overbearing and overemotional and one who is a rock'n'roll absentee type, both so nauseatingly rote, so childishly and lazily created, happen TWICE IN THE SAME WEEK?"
       Well fuck you, Daddy's Home 2. You take the fucking cake, you movie-equivalent-of-being-forced-to-watch-your-parents-have-sex. You are the worst thing a person could possibly see in a movie theatre right now.
       Daddy's Home 2 continue the story of Mark Wahlberg's Dusty and Will Ferrell's Brad, two co-dads who don't always see eye to eye on how to raise--aww, Jesus Christ, I can't even do it. I can't even be bothered. Want a synopsis (you don't)? Go to IMDB (don't do it). I feel ill. Mel Gibson and John Lithgow play the respective grandpas. Linda Cardinelli is there, sort of, in the thankless mother role. Okay, looks, I saw the trailers. I wasn't expecting to really 'like' this particular film, but setting a low bar for a movie just because it's a comedy sequel isn't fair. The filmmakers involved in this movie, and if you really think about it, A LOT of people who were involved to make this movie a reality, didn't have to make a shitty version of whatever this movie is. They could have, ya know, tried. The first one had at least a few moments based in character motivation that resembled a comedy.
       At least Bad Moms Christmas is rated R. Ferrell and Wahlberg know how to swear funny, that certainly could have helped. And while Bad Moms seemed to think saying "What the fuck" every couple minutes warranted as a joke, you still got some great Kathryn Hahn sass mouth (I do love her) going around to garner some laughs. But DH2 is stripped of absolutely anything interesting or provocative, so blandly fucking neutered. I'm not saying a movie needs swearing to be funny, but if youre not going to go with that approach, then you can't instead just have lazy, screechy physical comedy we've all seen a thousand times before. People get hit with snowballs no fewer than six times (is getting hit with a snowball funny? Has it ever been?) I lost count after 11 how many times Ferrell get hit by something. A great deal of the slapstick defies laws of physics and basic understanding of how human bodies and every-day objects work. Which, hey, wanna go bizarre and absurd? Why not? Just make something funny.

       Everything about the stunt casting (and it is stunt casting. He doesn't even act. He just chuckles with his gross crinkled paper laugh and slaps people with the back of his hand for emphasis. The whole. Fucking. Movie) to play Wahlberg's father made me feel dirty. It uncomfortably plays to all the worst things about Gibson's real-life persona. He's a macho man's man who tells his grandson to abruptly kiss a girl on the lips and then slap her on the ass after. Christ, he probably didn't even know he was on a movie set. And John there. Look, I love Lithgow, and I hope he made a decent paycheck, but he adds literally nothing to this movie.
       I haven't even gotten to the worst part. I HAVEN'T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE WORST FUCKING PART, YOU GUYS. It's one thing to make a comedy that isn't funny, I mean, I'm not happy about it, but sure, waste our time. But the movie offends greater than just not being funny, it's so utterly tone-deaf to the way human beings interact and think and behave that as a result it's squirmingly unbearable to watch. There are four, let me repeat, FOUR different scenes where huge crowds of people gather around to watch this family argue or go bowling improv. They are supposed to be emotional, or heartwarming, or...something, but instead they made me hoping for an aneurysm just so I could stop feeling so embarrassed.
        John Lithgow's shocking discovery (fart noise) that he and Will Ferrell's mom split up is actually revealed while Lithgow is called up to be part of an improv scene. I wish to god that sentence wasn't true. And the worst part is the audience is laughing the whole time. It was brutal. The end of the movie (which is seriously a twenty minute scene, all played out in front of a huge group of strangers at a movie theatre), involves a group song and three different people making proclamations of love while the crowd of whoeverthefucks cheer them on. I promise it's even worse than how I just described it. It is truly awful, some real non-human shit. In the last ten minutes the movie became about the meaning of Christmas and family when the 80 minutes that preceded it were solely about Will Ferrell's nuts getting hit.
       I could go on. I could spew more angry, hateful garbage about how creepy and weird this movie is (the young boy at one point kisses his step-sister and slaps her on the tush, and after another moment it is never mentioned again), but there's no point. It is offensively cruel and rude filmmaking to pander so low to the abilities of human people to understand human things. Do yourself a favor and see A Bad Moms Christmas.

Wow. This has been a real rollercoaster of a week, movie-wise, huh?

Grade: One million dead Christmas Wishes.

Also: Both movies end with the grandparents flying to Las Vegas to get wild and crazy. If either of these come to fruition as sequels I swear to god I'll have a breakdown, shave my head, and eat all my hair.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Review: The Florida Project

The Florida Project (2017) - Sean Baker

       The Florida Project is a very quietly ambitious movie. It's dramatic but funny. Very little happens in way of plot, but it manages to represent several very different characters in a way that's honest and captivating. It's mostly about children and childhood, but it doesn't treat its audience like a kid. It's a smart and well-acted movie that is so simple in premise and so delicately well-done that it almost seems ridiculous it hadn't been made already. I mean, yeah, similar films have probably been made, but not as good as this. It was moving and not and tragic but not overwrought and it made me feel emotions in my chest-brain area.
       There are a lot of characters floating around The Magic Kingdom, the low-rate, nearby Disney World-but-certainly-not-in-any-way-affiliated-with-Disney-World hotel that functions as close to a permanent residence as the law allows for many of its tenants, but the story truly belongs to Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). She's a mischievous but sweet six-year-old girl on summer break, precocious but not in a twee, Wes-Anderson-dancing-on-the-beach-to-French-vinyl-precocious. She's actually believable. She's still a child who says silly things, plays with her friends, and lies when she's afraid of getting in trouble. She just happens to be more perceptive than most her age, and a lot of that is because of her tattooed, blunt-smoking and hustling mother, Hallee (Bria Vinaite), who takes her daughter along with her as she hocks cheap perfume outside fancier hotels than the one she lives in and teaches her daughter how to twerk.
       Most of the movie focuses around Moonee and her two best friends, Scooty and Jancey (do kids in Florida really have names like this? I genuinely can't tell if I hope so or not) while they do the things kids do: they play. They run around. They spit on people's cars (again, I mention: Florida). They go swimming. Long stretches involve these three just being kids. Luckily for us, it's very charming and never veers off into too precious or aimless. I truly can't tell how much of the scenes with the children had actual scripts, and how much of it they were able to just get these pretty great children actors to riff while spending time with each other. It's a testament to the direction and script by Sean Barker (co-written by Chris Bergoch) that I can't quite tell. Either way, the children are all appropriately adorable and their scenes together range form sweet to downright funny.
       But the film's subtext is always there. These people in the hotel, former teenage mothers and grandma's forced to care for their grandkids, are clearly not in ideal predicaments. What the movie does so smartly, however, is keeps all these more dramatic elements at bay, squarely seen from Moonee's perspective. The narrative threads and adult problems are still presented to the audience, but only incrementally, bit by bit, almost like we were children who don't quite yet understand the world we've been thrust into.
      The hotel where they live, just outside Disney World, is also such an integral part of the story. Moonee and her mom live close enough to see affluent families in richer hotels take private helicopter rides to and from the park (and gleefully flip them off in the process). Moonee is able to panhandle for ice cream bucks from tourists with kids of their own. The looming shadow of Disney World is a constant reminder of their every day difficulties. They're so close to the Happiest Place on Earth (my idea of happiness is very different than that of the Disney Marketing team, but whatever), and yet they're stuck just on the outside. Moonee is just too unequipped to fully understand it. She only sees some free ice cream. To really drive the point home, The Florida Project was the original name used to describe Disney World when they were first conceiving it (get it? Get iiiiit?)
       Willem Dafoe takes a break form being the scariest actor in the entire universe to play Bobby, the hotel manager who (shockingly, I know) is gruff but has a heart of gold. Even this role, as silly as it sounded as I typed it, is done with craft and a lot of care. He's an actual person and in just a few scenes they really us a pretty clear picture of who he is. Most films/actors require much more effort and time than that, but The Florida Project makes it look easy.
       For a movie that deals with so many depressing and heartbreaking themes, it's fairly incredible how enjoyable and realistic it feels while it's playing, With its lack of narrative momentum and almost two hour run-time, I never once felt my attention waver. And I think that's because the movie feels just real enough, and most importantly, Sean Barker and the filmmakers refuse to judge anybody. Not the people who've isolated themselves or made bad decisions, not the people who've had to steal to pay the bills, and not even the more affluent people who can actually afford to go to Disney World and not just watch the fireworks from the field behind the parking lot. The Florida Project simply lets them exist in a particularly well-made world. Even if elements are unfamiliar, Moonee's story of childhood is just as relatable and honest as she is.

Grade: 17 Strawberries and Raspberries Eaten Together

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) - Yorgos Lanthimos      

       Imagine, if you will, let's say...a pizza maker who only eats leather shoes. Or, or, or a man murders a thousand people with an antique ship in a bottle and is rewarded with cacti. Or a die-hard Rick and Morty fan who has healthy human relationships. If these things sound absurd and utterly ridiculous to you, then you are only about halfway on the way to grasping Yorgos Lanthimos' newest movie, a mystery/thriller told by way of an absurdist Mony Python comedy, the succinctly named "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." Yes. That is really the title. The movie is tense and at times frightening, and at other times the goofiest thing I've seen in a while. It's like Park Chan-wook and Luis Buenel did messy hand stuff under the table at a dinner party and cleaned it up with a napkin and then that napkin got pregnant and had a baby that grew up to be the screenplay for this movie. Which, clearly means I liked it.
       None of this should come as surprising to those familiar with Lanthimos' previous work, including his first English speaking film, "The Lobster." That film was about a calmly dystopian future where single people were hunted down and turned into house pets. In his new film (once again starring Colin Farrell, who plays a Cincinnati, I think, surgeon who still has Farrell's own Irish accent. God, I love it when he does his real accent), Lanthimos and screenwriter Efthymis Filippou don't so much make a whole new world in this film, instead opting to show us our own, more relatable world in a sterilizingly unrelatable way. Everyone speaks in a forthright deadpan, an almost robotic-like Tommy Wisseau understanding of how humans speak. It's ridiculous and blunt and awkward and at times very funny. Colin Farrell is weirdly obsessed with metal wristwatch bands versus leather. "You have some hair under your arms. But not as much as my dad. He has three times as much hair at least. And on his back," two children comparing levels of puberty discuss.

       So, right, the plot, which, let me stress, is not very important, centers around Colin Farrell's surgeon and his strange, mysterious relationship with 16-year-old Martin. Their relationship is central to the main struggle of the plot, but suffice it to say, Martin's inclusion into Farrell and his family's life does not mean good news for any of the people involved (his wife, Nicole Kidman plays his wife with strange, coma-pretending-sex-having-zeal, or his kids, a choir-singing teen girl and a 12-year-old boy with hair too long). 
      From there the movie morphs into a strange morality tale where no one in the movie is particularly interested in being moral. It sure is fun and weird and odd, but it also makes the characters completely unsympathetic. It's an interesting dichotomy. The stranger they get the more awful they become, which makes it funnier, somehow making me feel more and less invested in the story at the same time. If this is a movie about parenthood, you definitely would not put it in the "How-To" section for any new parents. 
      The performances range from bizarre to great, but it's hard to gauge how well anyone is really acting with the strange, stilted dialogue. Kidman can go from benevolently wooden to cruel and snide to downright dead-eyed and creepy between scenes. Barry Keoghan plays the afflicted teenager, Martin, with a creeping disturb that teeters from invoking sympathy to full-blown fright. And for as strange as the whole movie plays, the third act of the film does a decent job of delivering on the movie's wacky fucking narrative. 
       This movie is strange and not completely together. The humor sometimes detracts from the tension, and vice versa. It doesn't quite tell a story about people I want to know or experience, but that is clearly part of its charm. I've never enjoyed seeing a full-grown man spinning in circles for so long. 

Grade: 4 Bleeding Eyeballs out of 7 metal watch bands.

Oh I forgot, but Alicia Silverstone is in this movie! Alicia Silverstone, you guys!!!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review: Suburbicon

Suburbicon (2017) – George Clooney

       Suburibicon is a strange, little movie. It's a black comedy that isn't all that funny. It's a comment on racism that doesn't actually say anything about racism (other than it's bad, which like, I mean, yes, George, I agree, but...duh?). It's quirky characters but we don't actually get to know any of them (this is even more problematic when you realize there are only about 8 speaking roles in the whole movie). It's...all just slightly off. I didn't hate it. I just wish they the creative team behind this movie, which includes George Clooney, who can certainly direct (Confessions of Dangerous Mind) and a screenplay that was co-written by Clooney and the fucking COEN BROTHERS (goddamn, Coen brothers, I love you. I seriously value them more than most of my actual human friendships, because Fargo) had taken the ideas and characters of Suburbicon and reorganized them in a way that just made more sense.
       Without getting too spoilery, this is definitely a movie and a universe the Coens helped create. It's basically Fargo in suburban 1950s as opposed to the frozen snowscape of Minnesota and North Dakota. There's a bumbling husband, a failing marriage, money problems, two funny-yet-menacing criminals, a lot of slow action building sharply bookended by horrific, yet still sort of silly, violence and bloodshed. "Holy shit," he realized while typing this sentence, these movies are EXACTLY the fucking same. So why is Fargo one of the greatest movies ever made while Suburbicon is only barely not the worst movie Clooney has ever directed (cough cough LEATHERHEADS cough cough)? Well I'll tell you in three words consisting of a proper noun and a curse word for emphasis: Marge. Fucking. Gunderson.
      Fargo's m ain character, earnest and awesome and pregnant Frances McDormand's cop investigating the crimes is our window into the grimy world the movie creates. She is smart and relatable on so many levels, that when all these absurd things start happening and people get murdered left and right, she is there to help tether us to the ground, to make the monstrosities more palatable, and, when experienced from her eyes, even darkly funny. Suburbicon does NOT have a Marge Gunderson. And that's not Matt Damon or Julianne Moore's fault. Their characters are very much kept at a distance from the audience. Unfortunately its in service of a “twist” that isn't really a twist and isn't really surprising, so we aren't rewarded plot wise, and all we get in exchange is barely knowing anything about our two “leads.” By the end I didn't know Matt Damon's character (however, his name, Gardener Lodge, is pretty solidly dumb and funny) any better, and I sure as shit didn't care about him any more. He was kind of just a prick, which made him much less funny, which was a big problem.
       Instead we get the movie told through the eyes of his mostly mute son, Nicky. This robs the movie of a lot of its agency, as this child character just doesn't have the necessary tools to carry the emotional weight of the story. And against this entire family crime drama, there's another subplot about the new black neighbors who are facing violence and discrimination for moving to their perfect, white suburban paradise. It's a noble idea, sure, one that tries to leave the movie with a hopeful image of coexistence between races based in innocence and friendship, but it just doesn't land the way Clooney and team wanted.
       This movie isn't terrible. There's a few good performances (mostly I mean Oscar Isaac, who should have been the main character, probably, but instead was shoved to the side for two measly scenes) and a few laughs, but everything about Suburbicon left me almost as cold as Matt Damon's line readings (Ooooooo CHARACTER DEPTH BURN, MOTHERFUCKER).  

GRADE: 2.5 out of 5 Punched Matt Damon Faces