Thursday, 28 December 2017

Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour (2017) - Joe Wright

       The first scene of Darkest Hour is a wide crane shot over the floor of English Parliament in 1939, the day that Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister. It's a fine shot that very elegantly shows a bunch of old-ass, wrinkled white men gently shouting at each other in British politeness. "How dare you! Well how dare you sir!" Ugh. This was my first red flag: Old white men surrounded by more old white men doing not only old white men things but BRITISH old white men things. UGH. Then my second red flag came mere seconds later when I reminded myself, "Holy fucking shit. How many times are they going to keep telling this same fucking story over and over and over again?" British integrity! Decorum! Parliament! Churchill! Cigars! Difficult decisions about the honor of our noble Empire! Fuuuuuuck you.
       Look, I get that WWII was a pivotal point in the history of what created our modern world, and I definitely hate Nazis as much as any American--cough, well, okay nevermind, but still, you get it. But why, why, WHY are British and American filmmakers alike so obsessed with celebrating how great we did at shoving it to the fascists 80 years ago? Is it because we feel guilty about not doing as good a job at it anymore (ha, no)? Is it because old white filmmakers are desperately trying to prove the white man's diminishing relevance in today's world (ha, yes). No matter the intention behind showing us the same fucking story over and over again, it has, without a doubt, lost its oomph.
       Did you know the King George VI had a stutter? I did, because I watched it exhaustively portrayed in The King's Speech (that movie sucks). Did you know Churchill was a somewhat-despised-by-his-own party-grump, who, against all odds, succeeded in uniting the British government against the inevitable onslaught of the German forces? I did, because I watched the first season of The Crown last year (that show is actually pretty good, but thank Christ, John Lithgow's Churchill is just a supporting player to Claire Foy's much more interesting Queen Elizabeth). So why-oh-why does this movie even exist if not for any reason other than to get a famous British actor to put on hours worth of fat makeup and snatch up an Academy Award for being one of the BRAVEST WHITE MEN IN BRITISH HISTORY? There isn't any. There is no other reason for this movie to exist, and even then it still serves to show the Godly greatness of old white patriarchal politicians. I reiterate: Fuck you.
       Is the movie well made? I mean, sure, yeah. Is it well directed? Yeah, Joe Wright (of better, albeit painfully British movies like Atonement) knows how to stage a scene and get some good shots. Is Gary Oldman good as Churchill? Of course, Gary Oldman does a great, two-hour long impersonation and is unrecognizable as Winston (although, I genuinely feel most of that credit should go to the make-up artists, who no one really actually gives a shit about. I believe David Malinowski is the key makeup artist for Oldman, but IMDB is not very clear on this), but forgive me if I'm not so fucking shocked and in awe of a veteran British actor of great esteem being able to do a prolonged impression of one of the most famous and most imitable figures in British history. John Lithgow ain't British and did it amazingly a year ago. I could copy and paste every actor you've heard of who's played Churchill but it would take up the rest of this review. This movie does not need to exist. They even keep talking about the forces at Dunkirk, ANOTHER MOVIE MADE THIS YEAR THAT WAS ACTUALLY EXCITING. Uuuuuugh, I didn't realize how much this movie annoyed me until I started writing this review. Hah, this must be what all women who finally sleep with me must feel!
        It doesn't even tell a particularly interesting facet of Churchill's career. The movie takes place during the first month or so of his Prime Ministry, where he was contentiously chosen to take the place of Neville Chamberlain against his own parties wishes, because they wanted Stannis Baratheon-- sorry, something-something Halifax--aw fuck it I'm just gonna call him Stannis, to take the position, which he declined for reasons I don't remember, but were surely very British. Should Churchill be open to the idea of peace-talks with Italy and Germany in exchange for agreeable post-war terms? Or should they....not? It's a tricky situation, surely, and one that Churchill grumpily yells about for almost two hours before deciding to take the tube and ask the common people what they think. Christ. Well there he is quickly reassured that little girls and apparently the only black person in England are "totally on yuh soide, Proime Ministah! We loave ya! Aye!" It's shmaltzy farts and I won't stand for it. Then he goes in front of Parliament and (spoiler alert, fart noise) everyone agrees with him! Why didn't he just take the fucking subway at the start of the movie? Sorry Stannis. I wish Brienne of Tarth woud've been there to kill you when the flick began.
        But behind every great man is a great woman, right? At least we can have a strong female character in the mix, right? Well not here! We do have Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily Collins as Churchill's wife and secretary respectively, but they serve to do nothing other than show the audience just what a gentle and caring fucker this old fuck really is. Lily Collins, who is lovely and has a great energy about her as an actor, doesn't get to do a single thing the whole movie except follow Oldman around and look amazed by every time he fucking farts or chugs a whiskey. Good lord, we get it, WHITE MEN DO EVERYTHING AND ARE THE BEST. Have I mentioned 'fuck you' in this review, yet?
       This movie is blatant awards bate and it doesn't need to exist. Churchill was probably (read: probably not) a decent man who did a lot for Britain and for the world during a difficult time in the world's history (probably, maybe, probably not, not really), but we do not need more films about him. We have fully exhausted the golden age of World War II films where we heroically stood up to the Nazis. Now we're just going to have to wait until 2025 when there's a new group of heroic white people who save us from the Alt-Right. Goddamnit.

Grade: Who knows. Or cares. Read a history book or something.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Review: Molly's Game

Molly's Game (2017) - Aaron Sorkin

         As a general rule, I hate it when reviews automatically start by referencing the other works of the directors, screenwriters, actors, etc. I don't think it's fair to put so much pressure on the filmmakers previous body of work as a form of dictating what we should feel about whatever this newest, reviewable piece of work is (Please don't go back through my previous reviews to see how often I've done this. I'm not gonna do it, so neither should you. Looove you). Yes, obviously, sometimes it can help set up a certain context for what you're about to see, but often it seems like lazy reviewing to me (And clearly I'm such an ingenue of the reviewing game). Well goddamn it all if I can't do the exact opposite of preaching what I sow (is that a saying?), but it's virtually impossible to review the new film, Molly's Game, the first directorial debut of long time screenwriter of walking and talking, Aaron Sorkin, without discussing his larger body of work. Sure, you can enjoy the film on its own merits, because it's overall a well-made and engaging film, but it's also the most Aaron Sorkiest thing Aaron Sorkin has ever Sorkined. Sometimes you just to have to strap yourself in and smell your own dirty fingertips (is that a saying?).
        Aaron Sorkin is the screenwriter behind A Few Good Men, The West Wing, The Social Network, Moneyball, and similar others. If you're not familiar, all those projects have this in common: Everyone talks fast. So fast. Everyone is the most clever person you've ever heard speak. Every conversation is an intellectual dual where everyone is trying to be the most charmingly coy fuck ever born. Everything is done with a small, sardonic wink, the characters (who are all just idealized versions of how Aaron Sorkin wishes humans spoke, because trust me, they do not speak this way in real life) always nodding to the audience, almost as an in-joke about how much smarter they are than the rest of world. It honestly takes a while to get used to how Sorkin-y he can get, and even when you do, it doesn't mean it's always great. Sometimes it is (The Social Network), and it's used to further the characters and narrative in a meaningful way. Sometimes, however, it's less successful (Moneyball) and it just serves to show unpleasant people not only being unpleasant but also totally fucking know-it-all-y at the same time (how many bullshit adjectives can I invent for this review? I might reach Sorkanistic levels of bullshit!) At best he's very clever, and at worst he creates non-humans that not even aliens would want to anally probe.
       Okay, okay, so how does this all factor into Molly's Game, the true(ish) story of Molly Bloom, the runner of one of LA's biggest underground poker games, packed to the gills with actors and other big celebrities, before moving to New York and getting accidentally mixed up with the Russian mafia and arrested as part of a widespread RICO charge? Well it's important, because not only did Aaron Sorkin adapt the screenplay from Molly Bloom's book, but for the first time in his feverishly sly career, he also directed the flick as well. And honestly? It's good. It's quite good. It's also SO Aaron Sorkin it almost collapses under its witty banter, all-too-clever repertoire, and never-ending slapshot-speed narration.
       But it doesn't collapse. And a lot of that is because Jessica Chastain is the greatest.
       The movie has some missteps along the way (which I'll get to), but Jessica Chastain's protrayal of the titular Molly never gets too precious or clever, despite Sorkin's nonstop barrage of geniuses talking quickly at you. She's strong and doesn't take your shit, but still finds a way to express a sense of humor that isn't too smug (which is essentially Sorkin's number one speed). You not only enjoy watching Chastain get deeper and deeper into Molly Bloom's semi-seedy yet extravagant poker life, you understand the choices she's making. She's one of the most relatable Sorkin characters to ever grace the screen, regardless of her ultra-intelligence and Olympic skiing background. Aaron Sorkin did a great job writing and a good job directing this movie, but including Chastain as its key acting collaborator was possibly the best moves he made.
       The writing is exactly what you'd thing from a Sorkin movie (if you've never seen a movie written by Aaron Sorkin and are still reading this review, you are the greatest person I have ever met and you don't deserve this shitty of a review), so then what about the directing? Considering his movies and shows are so often written like plays, with long monologue following long monologue, I was a little surprised at how he chose to shoot the film: Everything is shot so tight and close, almost always framing everything as near to the actor's faces as the cameras would allow. With so much dialogue so rapidly shooting back and forth it seemed strange to isolate the characters in their own wide frames so often, but there are plenty of times during the film it works (during poker scenes where characters are clearly at odds with each other, or when her and Idris Elba's lawyer character first meet to establish his distrust of her), but there are other parts where it comes off a bit shaky and overly dramatic. There is one scene in particular, a scary scene of violence that I don't want to discuss in detail, but suffice it to say the close-ups come off as hacky and blurry in a very silly kind of way that robs the scene of some of its agency.
I am so fucking attractive.
        There are also some parts that get, as I mentioned before, So Sorkined out that it's almost dumb. A silly, last-minute reconnection with her father (played admirably by Kevin Costner), who pushed Molly to the extremes her whole childhood, and is supposedly a brilliant therapist, tells her he's going to "give her three years of therapy in three minutes." It's the most blatant piece of screenwriting in the whole movie, and it's utterly ridiculous. But even that scene ends on such a sincere, moving moment of utter parenting that I can't even knock the whole thing. In the end it all basically works.
        Sorkin's dialogue always makes for great, scene-chewing performances, and Molly's Game doesn't disappoint (Idris Elba and Michael Cera give great, quick performances that hold their own with Chastain's Molly). Regardless of the schmaltzy ending, or the too-sweet moments between characters that could never quite exist in real life, Aaron Sorkin makes such a strong and valiant case for why this type of story should come from someone like him. The film simultaneously has the excitement and quickness of a good poker movie, but still stays close enough to the protagonist's POV that it remains a dramatically successful film. And let's face it: Jessica Chastain kicks fucking ass.

Grade: 8 out of 10 Michael-Cera-Tobey-Maguires.

(PS. It's totally Tobey Maguire. That guy's a dick.)

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Review: All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World (2017) - Ridley Scott

       All the Money in the World tells the true-ish story of J. Paul Getty, oil tycoon and the world's first billionaire, whose grandson, Paul Getty III, was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. He was held captive for almost half a year before...there was a conclusion of sorts (my reviews are like pick-up trucks, spoiler freeeeeeeee). What follows, however, is not a kidnapping thriller. It's barely a family drama, and it's certainly not an exploration into the nature of greed in our American culture. What could have, on paper, seemed like an interesting movie, is instead just a frustrating two plus hours of stupid people being assholes. The basic plot points were set in stone, and instead of actually trying to understand any of these characters choices, Ridley Scott is much interested in having everyone speak in aggrandizing speeches, almost like they knew everything they were going to say was going to appear in a movie trailer.
         OH YEAH. And then there was the whole, "The star of my movie turned out to be a predatory monster so instead of canceling it or pushing it back I will just reshoot every scene with a new actor," issue (you know, that old shtick). I don't want to spend a lot of this review talking about the horrifying behavior of Kevin Spacey and the production difficulties that faced the film crew once it was discovered, but suffice it to say when I spend most of the movie reflecting on how crazy it was that they had to reshoot so much of the movie so quickly instead of actually thinking about what was happening on the screen, that's not a great sign for your movie. (And to be totally parenthesis honest, it was the main reason I even wanted to see this movie. Ugh, fuck you Kevin Spacey, you fucking piece of shit.)
       Paul Getty (played very well by non-pedophile Christopher Plummer) was as famous for being rich as he was for being a miser. He installed a phone booth in his mansion that he made people pay to use. So when his teenage grandson (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped in Rome, it's unsurprising that he's hesitant to pay the 17 million dollar ransom. Getty says it's because he doesn't want to put his other grandchildren at risk, but it's very evidently clear it's because paying that much wouldn't be tax deductible. This is kind of a fascinating concept, especially now in 2017 with a certain tax-cut poised to change the face of how the rich can save their money, but its never explored more than, "He's a rich asshole!" Which, honestly, we already know that about rich people, from movies and in real life. The movie kind of shoots itself in the foot from the gate: It's either going to just say the same things we already know, or it's going to try and find meaning in places that don't exist. Unluckily for us, the movie basically does both.
       What follows is Getty's former daughter-in-law, Abigail Harris (Michelle Williams) trying her best to get her son back with the help of Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), who is Getty' associate? Lawyer? Beer pong bro? They might mention his actual title in the movie but I sure can't remember it. He's basically a fixer, but he's not any fucking good at it. In fact, no one in this movie is good at anything except making big important speeches. It's seriously the stupidest kidnapping case I have ever seen perpetrated. Every kidnapper is an idiot. The first third of the movie is basically about how the Calabrian criminals who kidnap the unlucky teen keep forgetting to put their masks on, allowing the hostage to see their faces. I'm not kidding, it happens three different times with three different kidnappers. Pick another profession, idiots, one that lets you have your face out in open air.
       But the cops are stupid too. Michelle Williams is pretty idiotic, and Mark Wahlberg (which I gotta admit, I love it when they cast him as an intellectual type who wears glasses. It's like watching a 'roided up tyrannosaurus rex interpretive dance a Ted Talk about the subjective nature of memory) doesn't really do anything other than deliver exposition and incessantly say the title of the movie. Did you know Getty has...ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD?!
        When the script isn't so far up its own ass with speeches no real human would ever give (when you become super rich you only speak in cryptic monologues, I guess), there are some good performances to be had, especially by Plummer and Williams. Plummer is appropriately terrifying, instilling more fear than any of the kidnappers can ever muster. And while I never quite like her character, Williams is very good. She has a great vocal affectation, kind of Jackie O-like, that makes her heavy moments of emotional dread subtle and exciting. But other than that, the movie is just kind of flat. Especially visually: It's an ugly movie. It's all washed out in muted sepia and tints of blue. Everything looks dull and boring. And, like, shit guys, you're filming in Italy, an objectively beautiful (if not terrifyingly aggressive) country that's vibrant with life and color. I don't know why Ridley Scott decided to not shoot any of that. Maybe it's supposed to mirror the ugliness of Getty's greed? Sounds nice, but I'm sure that's not it. Instead the movie's just ugly.
         The movie is simultaneously boring and tries too hard to drum up excitement and drama in scenes that are so obviously manufactured and unreal. In one of the movie's last scenes there's a chase between four different groups of people in a town that is for some reason completely abandoned except for the aforementioned people involved in the chase. It does not make any sense. It's more ridiculous and fake than the escape scene in Argo where a bunch of Iranian soldiers are chasing a commercial flight down a runway in military trucks.
        The character resolutions are all surface level and unsatisfying. And after a non-exhaustive Wikipedia check, turns out to be chronologically bullshit. And hey, I don't care if a movie doesn't stick to its real-life counterpoint beat for beat, but if you're going to change things, it should be for a reason. Not so you can have people say grand and exquisite things in unrealistic situations. In the end its a competently made movie about incompetent people. But hey, at least there were no pedophiles in it!

Grade: 3.3 out of 17 million dollars in ransom. Plus one Christopher Plummer!
See, what this poster PRESUPPOSES is...What if Kevin Spacey weren't a piece of trash?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Review: Downsizing

Downsizing (2017) - Alexander Payne

       What happens throughout a person's life to make them feel unfulfilled? Is it because of the choices they make, or is it due to circumstances outside their control? What can a person even do in this day and age to try and get themselves out of these existential pitfalls? Is it money? Is it personal happiness and growth? Is it making a difference in the world? Also, what about the world? Isn't it our duty to try our best to preserve the ultimate gift of our planet for future generations? And let's say we do somehow make the scientific advancements necessary to save the environment and the entire Earth, is it our duties as human citizens to work together to try and improve the world? But what about improving the world on a micro level as well as a macro level? Also, wait...What if the entire world is ending?! What should we do then?! Or, or, what about the illegal smuggling of products to foreign nations? Huh?! IF THIS PARAGRAPH IS STRESSING YOU OUT THAT IS COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE. All of these ideas (and more!) are at least, on some level, brought up (I definitely won't go as far as to say 'explored') in Alexander Payne's new sci-fi drama marketed as a quirky comedy, Downsizing. The movie has A LOT of ideas, and while it kinda mucks its way through most of it, parts (one part, really) of this movie were done so well and so honestly that the movie almost kind of works. Almost. Kind of.
       Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, the absolute epitome of "life didn't turn out the way I thought it would." He had to drop out of med school to take care of his mom with fibromyalgia, he still lives in his too-small childhood home, works as an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks (the closest he could get to being a surgeon), and constantly feels like he's not giving his wife (Kristen Wiig) all she deserves. Well wouldn't ya know it, there just might be a cure! It turns out that in Norway a doctor (Jorgen Januss Jorgensun--I'm kidding that's not a real name but it practically is because Norway) has discovered a way to shrink all organic matter to roughly 5% of its original size, including humans. Matt Damon's high school classmate (a particularly smarmy Jason Sudeikis) has undergone the process, known as, you guessed, small-makering--I'm joking it's called Downsizing, and helps convince Damon to take the leap to a being small, where his money is worth hundreds more and everyone gets to live a life of miniature luxury.
       This is all novel enough, I guess. It's not an awful idea (and one I would have been much more excited about if I hadn't seen the same fucking trailer with the same fucking Talking Heads song over and over and over and over and over). The movie certainly seems pretty pleased with itself for the first forty-five minutes or so as well. Could you change your life by shrinking down to 5 inches tall and living in luxury? There are some really great visuals as Matt Damon undergoes the shrinking process, and there is an emotional turn or two (once again, that were just fucked to death by the trailers), but the movie really fucking drags to get started. I was fairly bored, mostly finding solace in watching Damon looking slightly fatter than he usually does. Of course you can't change your life by simply moving, even if it is to a miniature paradise where you're roughly the size of a flaccid penis. We already knew this.
        The movie legitimately doesn't matter until Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) arrives. She's a semi-famous Vietnamese protester who was arrested for her demonstrations and wrongly imprisoned for years before being wounded in a bombing attack, losing her leg, and being downsized against her will as punishment. She is rescued and sent to Leisure Land for rehabilitation, and there she works tirelessly as a cleaning lady to help the more impoverished small people living in large, dirty apartment projects outside the comfortable paradise of actual Leisure Land. Damon meets her as she's cleaning his slimy European neighbor's (played by Christoph Waltz, the human epitome of slimy European), and while helping her with her prosthetic leg (because he's an occupational therapist, you see), but instead ends up helping her literally feed the hungry and help heal the sick, due to her brash, almost rude tenacity.
       If this movie works at all, and a lot of it doesn't, it's 100% because of Hong Chau, who creates such a three-dimensional character out of what could so easily have been an offensive fucking caricature. Ngoc Lan is Vietnamese, and she is from Vietnam (the actress who plays her is from Vietnam's neighbor in SE Asia, Thailand). Therefore, she has broken English. She is also hardworking and dedicated to the point of myopia, ignoring her own health problems stemming from her missing leg and poor prosthetic. Now I am certainly not a female from Southeast Asia and don't pretend to know their plight, but the character of Ngoc Lan is not a simplified hero for our white protagonist to save. She also in no way needs Damon's Safranek to accomplish what she wants, and she sure as fuck doesn't need him to tell her what to do. It's actually the exact opposite: Matt Damon is basically a fucking mess without her. She is a strong person, a woman who understands how important it is to see the world around you and try your best to make it better, no matter what. She isn't concerned with existential crises or trying your hardest to be happy. But she's not a savior either, and she's not here to teach us lessons. She has emotions and desires and needs just like every other human, big or small. I honestly cannot believe that this movie was able to create such an interesting, complex character.
       She's so great in it, in fact, she makes you realize just how quickly the rest of the movie is bullshit. Downsizing, just like Matt Damon's publicist, has a Matt Damon problem. It's not that he's bad, per se, it's just that his character is meaningless when compared to Ngoc Lan, who has actual agency and wants to change things. Considering he's the main character of the whole movie, Matt Damon's character doesn't actually make many choices. Things just happen around him. And yes, I understand that is part of the point of the character, but it does not make for the most compelling character.
       The movie brings up so many possible philosophical debates but doesn't really have answers for any of them. Part of that is refreshing, because I definitely don't want to try and watch Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor try and tell us what to think about environmentalism, classism, poverty, political protest, the literal end of humanity (this movie really bites off more than it can chew), and part of it is noodle-scratchy because they didn't have to try and tackle that much. Especially considering it's a "comedy" that isn't really very "funny." (Ngoc Lan gets the most laughs, and not because of her accent, but because she is a real character with pathos and doesn't dig bullshit). The movie basically should have started and ended with her (with maybe just a little bit of Christohp Waltz in there for slimy European measure). Downsizing was not a great film, but Hong Chau's Ngoc Lan Tran was fantastic in it.

Grade: 2.5 Tiny Matt Damons

Friday, 22 December 2017

Review: Pitch Perfect 3

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) - Trish Sie

       The first Pitch Perfect movie came out over five years ago, and it was a modestly charming little comedy about finding your voice (I'm vomiting typing that, it was an intentional barf-comment) and sharing your passion with the people who are important to you. Somehow, the fact that it was about acapella singing didn't make it the most annoying thing in the world (unlike actual acapella singing, which is objectively the worst thing ever invented after racism and PT Cruisers), and I was super surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then three years later they made a sequel that no one really asked for, but was still...kinda good! It had a few too many racist stereotype jokes and certainly wasn't necessary, but it kept these same (mostly) likable characters and had a enough of a handle on the music/singing sequences that it still worked, even if there was a diminishing return beginning.
       And now here we are, capping out the trilogy that DEFINITELY nobody asked for! And all the characters you kind of remember are back! There's Becca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), um...the one who loves singing a lot (Brittany Snow), the really uptight one who barfed in the first one (Anna Camp? I wanna say? I don't feel like IMDBing it right now, sorry), and all the rest that filled out the rest of the Barden Bellas, the premier female acapella singing group in the country (hahaha, that's not a thing). Only this time they're all graduated and living in the real world, having a rougher time of it than they anticipated, so they get back together for one more job! One last score!! For some reason!
        Let me be very clear from the start (if you consider third paragraphs the start): Pitch Perfect 3 is an incredibly stupid movie. The plot is nonsensical, but it doesn't matter in the slightest because the movie is only barely interested in creating an actual narrative. It's much more interested in showing us Becca magically sampling music beats together to make good (?) songs and Fat Amy's murdering/drug dealer father who kidnaps the Bellas to get control of the 180 million dollars Amy has in an off-shore bank account in the Caymen Islands. Also the father is John Lithgow and he has an Australian accent. I promise I know how stupid these previous sentences sound. And yet, goddamn-it-all to hell if I didn't find this stupid little movie about acapella singing that isn't actually about acapella singing at all anymore pretty fun and charming.
        Sometimes movies can get by on ineffable charm and sweet interactions from its lead. That doesn't mean all movies SHOULD do that, but if it can then I say go with it. Anna Kendrick is always likable, giving a wry deadpan that helps make the ridiculous excitement of all the other characters more relatable. Rebel Wilson is doing the one thing she keeps doing, but for some weird reason it hasn't worn off on me (it probably should, I get it, she's fat, I think they've mentioned it before). This time the Bellas are traveling around Europe (I'm pretty sure they did that in the last one too? Once again, however, I am not going to IMDB this to find out) touring with a USO show for the troops, and at the end of the tour one of the three groups opening for DJ Khaled (Is that a real person? I've already made it clear I will not unearth any of this information myself) will be offered a music deal. Will it be the Bellas? Will Becca get her big break?!
       Who cares!? Like I said, this isn't really a movie about singing anymore. Instead, let's have John Lithgow show up and kidnap the Bellas while Fat Amy has to go on a rescue mission to save them from Lithgow's yacht and essentially kill half a dozen unnamed henchmen in the process, fighting kung fu and doing back flips and shit. It is SO stupid. They DO however, sing Toxic by Britney Spears to help distract the evil guys long enough to let Amy save the day! (This movie is SO idiotic, I almost kind of revere it). But even though it's ridiculousness never ends, the movie still does a decent job with all the songs and musical sequences (these movies have always done these well), and most importantly, actually cares about its characters while at the same time making fun of them for loving acapella so much. (In fact, part of the reason these movies have worked at all from the beginning is it does NOT take instrumentless singing very seriously at all. Its ability to poke fun at itself has always been one the series' best traits. Self-awareness is what made me fall in love with C-Tates, after all).
        If you haven't seen and enjoyed the previous two installments, don't bother with this one. Even if you DID, you can probably still skip this flick. It's been advertised as "The Final Chapter" in this truly magnanimous trilogy, and even while I enjoyed it for what it was, I truly hope it is the last. If they make a fourth (which I know I would still see because I am incorrigible) I think it would actively make me a stupider person during the run-time. Like, I'd leave the theatre and forget what gerunds are. But for now, I'll take fun and dumb.
Movie Grade: Six Australian John Lithgows.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) - Jake Kasdan

     Whoooooo! Sequel tiiiiiime! Let's do itttttttttttt! Jumanji, you guys! Remember that kind of weird, not great showcase of CGI that came out something like 20 years ago, that was about a board game?! Robin Williams was in it, cuz he was a guy who was alive?! Everyone! Remember?! THERE WERE MONKEYS AND SHIT! THEY STOLE A COP CAR!
       Is this what cocaine-fueled movie executives at Sony thought the average movie-goer was thinking? Why did this movie get the blatant sequel grab (Oh yeah, money) even get made (MONEY)? Because, and trust me on this, the original idea of Jumanji was indeed properly mined before 2017. It was mined, emptied, turned upside down and patted to get all the nooks and crannies out. But hoo boy! That won't stop snow-nosed movie fucks from cramming Dwayne Johnson in it and hoping that alone will be enough to make a decent flick!
        It wasn't! It was a bad movie!
        The new Jumanji flick, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, is not a well-made or decent movie, its biggest issue being that it never quite justifies its reasons for existing. It's banal to the point of eye-rolling. Firstly, they just figured that making it a video game and constantly referencing Instagram would make it 2017 saavy, but it only succeeds in a weird, "this is what movie execs seem to think" kind of way. It's like watching your parents write a high school script. Which, yuck.
       Jumanji (in the funniest/stupidest scene in the movie), which is a board game that makes crazy jungle shit go down (in case you needed a refresher, and trust me, you don't), is tired of being JUST a board game, so it hornily stares down a video game system (which even by 1996 standards is totally unrealistic and chronologically erroneous) and...eats it? Becomes it? Morphs into it using only the power of green lights? Who the fuck knows, it becomes a video game to entrap four new high schoolers into its zany hijink world instead of morphing the real world into a jungle-scape like the first one. That's the plot. There. You fuckers just made me reiterate the plot of Jumanji 2. Are you happy? I'm not. I've never been happy. 
      The nerd is nerdy! The girl nerd is girl nerdy! The bitchy girl is bitchy and the jock is jocky! Have you ever gone to high school for approximately four minutes? Congrats, you are emotionally equipped to write this film! But the personalities of these students isn't paramount, as after they quickly establish who is cool and who isn't (Selfies! Because 2017!) the kids are kicked the fuck out the scene to make way for the big name actors involved. Sooooo, okay. I will be kind for a second and state that Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan actually do a halfway decent job of imbuing their performances with the anxieties that plague their teenage, uncool selves. They are by far the best part of the movie, and let's face it, the Rock is always, 100% a welcome addition to any major motion experience. But the rest of this flick?
       Fridge, the jocky football player and tall black high schooler, sure didn't seem like he was just a bigger Kevin Hart before he was zapped into the game, but goddamnit all to fuck if that's not exactly how Kevin Hart plays it. It could be goddamn Dame Judi Dench morphing into Kevin Hart's body and that shitty comedian would have no recourse other than screaming loudly and shrilly at everything that happens. He's not a high schooler, he's a goddamn stunt. (Legit, I hate Kevin Hart, he is so annoying and takes every possible funny thing he has to say and kills it by SAYING IT SO LOUDLY). And then there's Jack Black, who is the hot Instagram girl transformed into his schlubby body. Jack Black does what he can, but it's tough to make a positive lasting impression when everything you say boils down to a quasi-creepy-teenage-gay joke and dick jokes. So many dicks jokes. A glut of dick jokes, you guys. Guys. Guys? There are so many dick jokes. Also, not that this REALLY matters, but the second the popular girl zaps into the video game she essentially changes her entire personality to better fit the Jack Black character. Oh wait, character growth IS really important? Well fuck, this movie must be pretty dumb, then.
        Also, there are so many dumb dick jokes. So. Many. Dumb. Dick Jokes.
       I get the overall message the movie has to say: Be the person you want to be. Sure, that's a nice thought, but it doesn't matter much when every problem is solved in a thirty second heart-to-heart about believing in yourself. "I can't do it." "Yes you can." "Okay." There, I just saved you sixteen dollars.  
       But honestly, none of these critiques would matter much if they had made an exciting or funny movie. Spoiler alert, they didn't! The comedy ins't funny and the action isn't exciting. What the fuck am I doing there? It looks like a CGI shit fest, the 8th best reviewed movie from the summer of 2002. The computer graphics for every animal looks just about as good as it did in 1996, but back then it was exciting, or quaint, or both, I'm not sure. The movie is ugly and its green screen chic robs all the action of any agency. If I can clearly imagine the dudes making the movie just drawing our characters out of danger, then why should I give a shit? The movie is a video game without any video game excitement. It just leaves a faint fart smell in the theatre. 
       I didn't like this movie. I wasn't expecting The goddamn Shape of Water (Ho my god I love that movie so much you guys I can't stop listening to the soundtrack by Alexander Desplat, that movie is so great and exciting and whimsical and lovely and Jesus can I just review that movie again?), but I promise it's not too much to expect a family holiday-timed action/comedy to be so devoid of joy. But nope. Just throw some CGI hippos and some Jack Black dick jokes and that's whatcha got: Jumanji: Welcome to the Shitty Jungle. 

Grade: 2 out of 5 shitty movies.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water (2017) - Guillermo Del Toro

       Sometimes movies are great because they surprise you, and not just narrative surprises where the filmmakers make you think the story is going in one direction and then they twist it at the last moment (Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person?!). Sometimes a movie can be a great surprise because it's such a batshit crazy concept (Single people are turned into animals in a dystopian future). But sometimes a movie can be surprising in just how clear its vision is, and how well they are able to execute it from the very beginning. The Shape of Water is that kind of movie. Guillermo Del Toro could certainly never be accused of lacking vision, but rarely have I found his movies so clear in voice and purpose. The Shape of Water is at times as traditional a love story as any movie so clearly based in the nostalgic era of the 1950s Golden Age of Cinema could be, and at the same time is about a grown woman falling in love with a mythical merman, a quasi-sexy creature from the Pan's Labyrinth Lagoon. And it's great.
       The first five minutes of the movie so perfectly set up the whole film that's coming, so succinctly show us what kind of movie we are going to see that I want to watch it over and over. The movie is so emotionally rich and dreamlike and ethereal. Its characters are crafted with so much love and attention the fact that the movie is about fish-man fucking barely even phases you. This movie executes exactly the story it wants to tell, and it does it pretty wonderfully.
       In what I'm guessing is the 1950s, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning lady at a government science facility lives a life of routine. She works nights. She hard boils eggs before work and shares some with her bald, failing ad-illustrator neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). She goes to work, usually late, where her friend and coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) holds her place in line at the clock-in station. I need to take this moment to clearly define how incredible Sally Hawkins is in this movie. Without saying a word, with carefully blocked scenes that show such insight into her life, and her warm smile and expressive eyes that say more than words usually can, she makes Eliza is a fully-formed character before the story even starts. She has so much warmth, but at the same time displays  a quiet sadness, an isolation that being mute never lets her forget.
        The movie wastes no time after that getting right into it. Michael Shannon shows up in the lab that Eliza and Zelda are cleaning as a menacing government agent with a certain asset contained in a metal water tank. What's inside, in case you haven't seen the commercials but are reading this review anyway, is the Amphibian Man, a possible God-like creature that the US government found off the coasts of South America. Michael Shannon sure does hate this abomination, as he is the most ultimate epitome of white, male, dominant, cruel-hearted motherfuckerness. Admission: I love Michael Shannon more than basically any other actor. He is my favorite, and I want to see him in everything. (Have you seen Take Shelter? Christ Almighty do yourself a favor and see Take Shelter) He takes a possibly two-dimensional, evil character and infuses him with so much squeamish  nuance, fright, and fascinating mental-instability wrapped in a Christian Family man. You hate him, but you want to watch him.
       Eliza has an instant connection to the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), a beautiful but misunderstood creature. He's clearly intelligent but can't communicate it with the humans who have captured him. This obviously rings true for Eliza, who shares her hard-boiled eggs and teaches him  about music. It's so goddamn sweet and Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones really make this pairing work. However, as Michael Shannon gets more unhinged (and less-limbed and more necrotic) it becomes clear to Eliza that she needs to help her new friend escape, and Eliza can't do it alone.
       Every relationship in this movie is treated with so much consideration and care. While the relationship between Amphibian Man and Eliza takes the stage, there's also her friendship with her neighbor Richard Jenkins' Giles, a lonely recovering alcoholic who tries and tries to make good, either professionally or romantically, but just can't. The mute and the amphibious creature from another world aren't the only people in the world who are seen as outcasts. This movie lets the importance of connection permeate through all its characters, even taking Octavia Spencer's constant (funny) griping about her husband into a small moment of emotional catharsis towards the end.
        This movie is a confident retelling of the kind of story that has been around for a long time. At this point it kind of needs a retelling to stay relevant. However, I don't want you to think that just having merman-woman sex is all Del Toro offers in the way of re-imagining (it doesn't hurt), but what he really does is  create a distinct style and tone that permeates throughout every scene and makes us truly understand our characters' places in this world. Del Toro truly cares about everyone who shows up in it. The characters are always the emotional center of the film. It works. Even when it gets possibly silly or too strange, it works so well. I mean, damn, he somehow makes a black-and-white tap dancing musical sequence in the vein of a Fred Astaire movie between a woman and Fish Creature not only totally track, but actually be a beautiful character moment born out of Eliza's deepest desires. This movie is great.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Review: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) - Rian Johnson

       Did you guys know there was a new Star Wars coming out? Folks, I had absolutely no idea. To be honest, I wasn't sure they were gonna keep making them, seeing as how they reached perfection with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Okay, ha ha I'm an asshole let's get serious. Here we are with the 2nd movie of the third trilogy of the illustrious Star Wars saga, a movie franchise that started long before I was born and will continue long after I'm dead. In the trailer of the movie (which I will outright give credit to for not giving away too many major plot points), Luke Skywalker, who is allowed to speak in this one, says something along the lines of "It's time for the Jedi to end." Well he says some variation of that about nine times more in the actual movie. In fact he kind of fucking belabors it. He does so, in fact, to the point where I actually absolutely agree with him. In a Star Wars movie that is well-made, exciting, fun, and definitely a step up from it's most recent predecessor, it really does make a fine point for the Force, the light side fighting the dark, being the worst parts of these movies.
       As we all know from the trailers (I swear I'm doing my best to give absolutely no concrete details about anything) and from the end of the last movie, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally found the elusive and long-missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who peaced the fuck out real hard after his nephew Ben Solo (Adam Driver) went all Anakin and started hanging out with a disgraced nuclear physicist (Snoke) he somehow met. As all evidence and logic suggests, Rey begins her Jedi training on his island with Luke as her reluctant (because of course) teacher. While it's fun to see Old Luke again, doing his daily routine and drinking alien nip-cum, we're pretty quickly just right back into the same old shtick that the first trilogy explored pretty well and that the second trilogy drove into the ground and made exhausting: Oh there's a light side? Oh there's a dark side, too? Oh and they're in constant struggle with each other? But maybe someone can be turned from the dark to the light? Or vice versa? Or vice-vice versa? No shit, we get it. We've gotten it for over eight movies now.
       Spare a pretty great opening battle scene, one that had actual stakes and character moments that were powerful even though they were from people we'd just met, the movie seems to take forever to get going, and it's because of the stuff on the Best Jedi Marigold Hotel Resort. Han Solo's crotchety grousing and mugging was one of my least favorite parts of The Force Awakens, and here we're subject to a lot of the same with crappy pants Luke, who even though we haven't seen in four movies, we have to catch up with by him saying "Go away," six times in two minutes. The first third of the movie feels simultaneously rushed and stalled at the same time.
       Elsewhere, the Rebellion--sorry--Resistance--sorry, who cares, are still doing Resistance-y things, namely trying to stay alive. This actually leads to an insterstellar kind of Mad Max: Fury Road speed through space with a few other worlds thrown in their for cool sci-fi measure, and it works. That is in no small part due to Po (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Star Wars new-comer and MVP Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who get to have most of the movie's fun being glib, blowing shit up, and exploring the movie's most interesting worlds. They are the new blood to this trilogy and their importance to the overall success of the movie should not be understated.
       Carrie Fisher (RIP) gives another great turn as General Leia Organa, who is tough and possibly a little too old for this shit, but also never lets her compassion and hope come off as too schmaltzy or like lazy writing. Goddamn, she is the Sir Alec Guinness of this movie, and I sure do miss her. The movie has lots of other really great things going for it, including some pretty good turns from Laura Dern (swoon) and Benicio Del Toro (different kind of swoon, but still). The Last Jedi also offers a fairly diverse cast, giving men and women of color chances to actually say and do some things. Which, like, considering there are fucking space lizards and wookies all over the place should be a given, but hey, 2017 has been a fucked up time.
       Yes, the cinematography and direction are both pretty great. Rian Johnson definitely followed JJ Abrams' smart move of keeping the movie as grounded in practical effects as was possible. It has a grime that the original 70's trilogy basically had to have and that the 2000's trilogy completely erased with 100% green screen garbage. The past two films in this third trilogy have found a way to marry the two and this film in particular has some extremely striking sets and visual effects. The entire last act of The Last Jedi is actually all pretty incredible, which if you think about it, is surprising: This is one of the rare movies to actually stick the landing better than it did its first act. Which is not common, trust me.
Hiiiiiii Honey
       I think Rian Johnson did a good job taking the trilogy to a (at least slightly) new direction and freed itself from the exact narrative shackles of the original trilogy, something The Force Awakens seems to have almost vehemently refused to do, but it still feels far too similarly like every other Star Wars movie we've ever seen. And fuck, everyone, I love Star Wars. I really do. But if they're gonna keep pumping these out every other year (and that's just trilogy movies, lord knows we're gonna be getting a fucking Admiral Akbar origin story by 2025), they're going to have to find a new way to frame these stories. There's a part in the movie where a character literally says "Out with the old and in with the new," and Rian Johnson seems like he almost really wanted to do that. But then just kind of didn't. Those damn midichlorians, man, they're here to stay.

Grade: Probably a 200+ million opening weekend, because, in the end, that's all that truly matters. Oh yeah, that and porgs.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist (2017) - James Franco

       If you are at all familiar with The Room (and you should be, especially if you saw The Disaster Artist, and especially if you're reading this review) we've all heard the one-two sentence pitch about why we all need to see the, arguably, worst and most fun movie to watch ever: "It's the Citizen Kane of bad movies!" And yeah, it is, I guess. The Room is the mutilated and terrifying lovechild of enigmatic weirdo/vampire Tommy Wisseau, written (sort of), directed (sort of), and starring (sort of) himself as the all-American (read: very Eastern European) hero of his own Tennessee Williams dramatic makings. As someone who used to love watching MST3K and still actively watches new episodes of The Walking Dead, I definitely know the value of watching shitty movies for the sake of having a good time. And The Room is an amazing example of truly awful, terrible, hilarious filmmaking. It's so stilted, strange, odd, and unlike anything that exists within real life, that it actually becomes endlessly fascinating. In fact, The Room itself is so much more interesting than the movie James Franco made about its production. And that's not a great thing.
       The Disaster Artist, directed by and starring Franco as Tommy, with his younger brother Davey as Tommy's real life best friend and Room co-star, Greg Sestero, is based on the book "The Disaster Artist," written by real-life Greg Sestero (kind of) and Tom Bissell (mostly). It chronicles the two's friendship, beginning in acting class and then moving to LA, where they finally decided to take getting famous into their own hands, which led to Tommy writing "The Room." Unfortunately (or, as history would have it, fortunately for us), the movie shoot was a complete nightmare (a...disaster?...if you will? Smug chuckling!), littered with insane directorial choices, complete days wasted to Tommy not remembering lines or being late to set, and lots of crew turnover. The book which the movie was based on is both fascinating and illuminating, helping make sense of the aborted shrimpfest that is happening on screen.
       Before I go any further, I think it's necessary to clarify that I thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was watching this movie. As a devout Room fan and Tommy Wisseau conspiracy theorist (related to Rasputin and is actually hundreds of years old but is ALSO just an idiot), I couldn't help but be amused, hell, downright tickled, at seeing some of my favorite current actors and comedians re-enacting lines from the worst/funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. Josh Hutcherson as Denny? Yes, please. Nathan Fielder as Peter the therapist? Duh, yes. Zac Efron as CHRIS-R? THANKYOUYESPLEASE. And James Franco is pitch perfect as Tommy, clearly having spent months embodying the weirdo's accents and mannerisms down to an art form. And hey, Davey Franco is there too! He's sweet and earnest (cuz he's Davey Franco, you see). The movie is funny, well-acted, and definitely isn't cynical. It has a sweet approach to the naivete that Tommy brings to everything he tries to do professionally. At it's core the movie is about following your dream, even if your dreams are kind of dumb. And I can dig that.
       So then, what? The movie's biggest problem is essentially also its greatest strength: It's a great impression of The Room. It's a great impression of Tommy Wisseau, and the movie does such a good job at doing both of those things that while it was playing I didn't even realize it, but shortly after it crept up on me: The movie barely exists outside of impressions. Yes, it is entertaining as fuck to watch James Franco ham it up as the strange shit-auteur, but what about all the other crazy shit he did? Like walking around naked, screaming at actresses, refusing to bring the cast and crew water? Sure that's all brought up in the film (like it was in the book) but only so we can go, "oh boy, Tommy sure is crazy!" Certain crew members are fired and replaced (which also really happened) but there's not more than a shrug given to it. It's an extremely consequence free movie, untethered from so many aspects of what it actually means to make a movie.
       The thing that the book, The Disaster Artist, had going for it was the co-writing (which I strongly believe Bissell wrote basically the entire book by himself because you can quickly tell the real life Greg Sestero is almost as questionable a human as Tommy) of Tom Bissell. He adds so much pathos and understanding in the text of the book that Franco is either unable or uninterested in showing in film. The book, almost despite Sestero's attempts to make himself seem cool and relatable, does so much more work at explaining why the two ended up staying together as friends/partners for so long. It makes both their strange idiosyncrasies make more sense. In the movie we're kind of just left with, well, Greg was a nice guy who felt bad for Tommy.
       But the movie alone doesn't often give us a lot of reason to actually like Tommy other than James Franco does such a great job playing him. They just make him endlessly petty to continue serving the story. And hell, that is really what happened, but the movie doesn't give us much insight past, "Tommy is insecure." Well so are all of us.
       So, look, if you love The Room, and you have thrown your fair share of spoons at the movie screen, there is a great chance you will absolutely love this movie. If you just want to see James Franco act batshit crazy for two hours, you will 100% LOVE this movie. If you are truly interested in understanding these people as more than just pitch-perfect impressions of a super funny, awful cult movie, it might not be the most successful form of this story.
Grade: 9 out of 10 unbelievably entertaining impressions.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Review: Coco

Coco (2017) - Lee Unkrich, Adrien Molina

       Coco is the newest Pixar/Disney about a young boy in Mexico (who yes, basically only speaks English, and yes I know this is an American-made kids movie and yes they do a good job of presenting Mexican culture, I think, I have no idea personally, don't listen to me #i'mwhitepleasedon'tlistentome, but still, listening to everyone speak so little Spanish kinda irritated me) who loves music but is forsaken to play it because of his great-great-grandfather who was not only a musician, but left his family in order to pursue his dreams of music and stardom. Soooo, I don't often see kids movies unless they have something to offer me in the way of nostalgia (I am straight-up irritated that they are making a fourth Toy Story and I'm even  more irritated that I know I'll see it opening weekend in theatres). And this isn't because I think kids movies are bad, or below me, it's just they weren't made for me. I am not the target demographic for this, or really any other kids movies. Got a dark comedy about serial killers or yet another Before Sunrise movie? I am ABSOLUTELY your audience for that, 100%. But kids movies...especially MUSICALS...ugh. Stab with me an Olaf shaped shiv (which is precisely what the short before Coco did). But Coco is a great example of why I love movies. It's not that it necessarily proved me wrong, I didn't go into it thinking I would hate it, but movies like Coco can prove that any movie, as long as it's well-made, cares about its characters, and stands for something, can be enjoyed by absolutely anybody. You go (Glen) Coco!
       The movie stars Miguel, a positively charming if not slightly rambunctious child who, secretly from his parents and grandmother and great-grandmother, is actually a massive music fan and dreams of becoming as famous as his idol, Ernesto de La Cruz, the most amazing musician to ever pick up a guitar. But his family is all like nu-uh to his uh-huh about music, because of his garbage great-great-grandfather who abandoned his great-great-grandmother, and his still living great-grandmother, the adorably old and totally relatable from everyone's childhood decrepit relative, the titular Coco.
       The story takes place on the Mexican holiday, El Dia de Los Muertos, which, according to folklore, is the one day of the year that deceased loved ones can come back from the other side to see and spend time with their family. Determined to follow his dreams, regardless of his family's wishes, Miguel attempts to steal Ernesto de La Cruz's guitar from his mausoleum (all rambunctious children desecrate the graves of their dead idols, right?) to play a the big Dia de Los Muertos festival in town, and in doing so is transported to the land of the dead. He only has a short amount of time to find the ghost of his famous idol, Ernesto, to get back to the land of the living, before he, you know, fucking dies.
       It's a goddamn dark idea for a children's movie, amirite? He basically spends the whole movie with dead peope who all look like skeletons, and within moments of getting there, Miguel literally starts dying by way of his flesh disappearing revealing his own skeleton underneath. TRIPPY SHIT, EH KIDS? Well that's actually okay because the movie has two really great things going for it: One, it is visually fucking gorgeous (spare one thing which I will get to later). It is one of the most (ugh, I don't like that I'm about to use this word) dazzling looking films I've seen since Up. The colors and the designs of the Land of the Dead, a never-ending multitude of beautiful shimmers and twinkling lights  twist and tower into the midnight sky in a way that is slightly macabre but never unsettling. They use as much authentic Mexican culture and art to design the city and its inhabitants. The character design of the skeleton-bodied dead people is playful and exciting, everyone painted colorfully in different sugar skull adornments, their easily detachable limbs used for comedic effect (I mean, I'm pretty sure the kids found it comedic) and never creepy. Seriously, this movie is beautiful. I didn't see it in 3D, but if a Wizard fucking promised me that the picture wouldn't get at least 30% darker I would actually consider it. It's a great looking movie.
       The second thing the movie has going for it is that its dark subject matter (dead people, forgetting about dead people, dead people dying a second death once people stop remembering them, children dying) is treated with a lot of love and consideration. Yes, of course the movie has to gloss over some of the grittier details involved (like do all people, regardless of how good or shitty they are, get accepted into the Land of the Dead? Cuz that would seem fucked up if there was Mexican Skeleton Hitler walking around eating churros) to sell this story to children, but it actually has a really sweet of message of accepting that death is a part of life that is made much easier to handle when you make an important point of remembering the loved ones you lost (it doesn't hurt that almost all the dead people in the movie are very old, so it's less sad that they died, you see?)
       The movie has a few missteps here and there. Sorry, the dog wasn't funny, or cute. I wouldn't care about the funny thing if it had been cute, but it wasn't cute. And there was a third act that doesn't quite go off the rails (because they stick the landing) but still takes two or three unnecessary twists to get there. Why do all kids movies have these twists? Pixar in particular. Are children that unamused by a linear narrative plot? Like, would kids have left Toy Story 3 saying "But I think they should have added a scene where they really almost died, ya know, to suspend the societal belief that everything has to turn out okay for beloved protagonists" if they had left that incinerator scene out? I don't think kids give a shit about twists. And to be honest, adults shouldn't give a shit about twists either. They're often just lazy storytelling. Want twists? Go down a water slide (High-fived myself pretty hard just now). It's not that I hate narrative surprises, but when the movie has to go fifteen minutes out of it's fucking way to add one where there was enough emotional material to get you through to the ending then who gives a shit?
       My only other complaint, and it might be a small one, is those neon flying cat creatures that have appeared on some, but (smartly) not all of the advertisements. They look like this:
It's just in a movie so gorgeous and thoughtfully designed, why did they make these things look like a fucking blacklight poster you bought from a Spencer's Gift Shop in 1999, along with a lighter that doesn't work that says "Beer: Making Ugly Girls Attractive Since 1839" (Ugh, on an unrelated note, I sincerely apologize for the things I spent money on when I was thirteen). Since everything else looks so great, this definitely sticks out as cheesy.
       Coco is a funny, heartfelt movie that I am glad to say I really enjoyed. It's about music, it's about family, and it's just a good flick. Also, it had a lot of music, but it was NOT A MUSICAL. THANK YOU (GLEN) COCO. YOU GO GLEN COCO.

Grade: 3 Desecrated Mausoleums and a very old Mexican Woman

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) - Martin McDonough

       Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Or: 3BbOEMs as the tech crowd is calling it) is a black comedy about a woman seeking justice for the rape and murder of her daughter. If the words "comedy" and "rape" strike you as polarizing, or hell, just plain "very uncomfortable," don't feel bad, that is what write and director Martin McDonough wants you to feel (I'm guessing, or rather, hoping). 3BbOEMs (which I promise I'll never type again) is a movie about horrible things perpretrated on other not good people, in a large, swirling attempt to answer the question "Who's right?" While I greatly appreciate the movie's understanding that no such answer is the right one, let alone one we can even, possibly ever, reach, Three Billboards (isn't that nicer?) spends an inordinate amount of time on terrible people doing terrible things, almost to the point of tiresomeness. It's a truthful, interesting, and oft-funny-as-hell movie that just missed the mark from something ambitiously good to legitimately great.
       Frances McDormand, who is objectively fantastic in this movie, and who I love deeply for having given modern Hollywood its best character ever committed to film (#margegunderson4lyfe#fargo#coenbrothers#noijustthinkimgonnabarf) has the difficult yet badass role of Mildred Hayes, a devastated mother who is still dealing with the assault/murder/lack-of-arrestable-convictions of her teenage daughter not even a year ago. In an attempt to get the police focused on the task at hand, she puts up ads on three adjacent and abandoned billboards, challenging the police and police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) specifically. With those billboards sparks weeks worth of comedic and desperately tragic shenanginans, some hilarious and others misguided, even difficult to watch. The cast of characters involves an Ebbing cop with a violent and racist past (if it were possible to bottle Sam Rockwell performances I'd slather myself up in them bi-weekly and just rub it into my body. I'd probably have to take off from work), her still grieving son (Lucas Hedges), her absolute cunt of an ex (John Hawkes) and a town local who's soft on Mildred (Peter Dinklage. In case you were clueless by this point, yes, this paragraph is supposed to make you say "holy fucking shit" it's so talented. It is). The result is a really good movie that flirts with greatness, but is stymied by its own strange belief of what is funny versus what is dramatic.
       I really liked this movie, but there were times during my viewing that I questioned what I was watching. While the movie is, at times, extremely effective as both a comedy and a drama, there are other times where the two don't mesh as well as writer/director McDonough clearly wants them to. Honestly, if it weren't for his film "In Bruges" I would be skeptical something so dark as the the material in this movie could ever be successfully funny as well. But because he kicked so much ass with the comedic/tragic tone of that film, he may have set the bar a bit too high for all his following work. There are parts of the movie that seem less concerned with reality and actual human behavior in service of Mildred doing something defiant (read: extremely violent) or Sam Rockwell's character doing something crazy (read: extremely violent) to the point where I'm not sure who I can possibly be rooting for. Movies and tv shows with unlikable characters is nothing new, but their actions and behaviors have to track realistically within the world that is created. Having characters commit deplorable violence with no legal rammifications, and even being forgiven by their victims (with a really cheesy scene involving the hospital and some shared orange juice) seems too easy, like a quick resolution instead of actual character development.
       And the thing is, is basically everyone character is likable to some degree. Same with Woody Harrleson's Chief Willoughby, who says "goddamn" to his young daughters every other word but still has to be dying of cancer. There is tragedy piled on tragedy piled on tragedy, with some screwball humour in there to unbalance it all. And for the most part, it really does work. It just also occasionally gets tiresome watching people we want to like do terrible things, and even more tiresome when we watch people we hate doing things we abhor.
       In the end, there are a lot of different ways you could go if you want to try and say what this movie "is about," but most of them are unsatisfying answers. Is it about the police state of America? Where hundreds and thousands of sexual abuse cases go unsolved or unreported each year? Or about the state of violence against minorities perpetrated by white officers, especially in the South? Is it about redemeption? That the acts of the past don't have to dictate your future? I mean, kind of, sure. It is about those things. But I just think that the movie functions best when it's about a mother's grief. Frances McDormand is so strong, and such a goddamn force in this movie that it almost seemed unnecessary to do much more than that.
       This is an extremely good movie. One that is funny and smart and often-times poignant. Leave it to Martin McDonnough to take tragedy and make you want to, or possibly need to, laugh at it. Maybe it's unfair of me to want even more, considering most movies made these days aren't even a sliver as good as this one. And there are things in this movie to absolutely love. A great ensemble cast and performances that make the entire film exciting to witness, there were just a few small tonal issues that kept the movie from acheiving greatness as opposed to just flirting with it.

Grade: 3 Duplicate Sets of Billboard Art Brought to you by Lakeith Stanfield