The Kid Who Would be King

February 4, 2019

We were all intensely charmed by the trailers for this one — clever British school children, Arthurian legend, Patrick Stewart in PJ’s as Merlin, what’s not to love?

Well, this is one of those movies where pretty much all the best bits are in the trailers. It also runs long — four acts, and I knew it was going to be four acts because we got to the big confrontation in the third act and we still hadn’t seen some of the scenes covered in the trailers so I knew there was going to be another big battle. And this is the point where I realize I may possibly have become too jaded and cynical for this kind of movie.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s earnest. It’s full of all the expected tropes. The ideal audience is age 10, and my friends were able to access their inner ten-year olds enough to have a good time. I didn’t quite. I think it ran long, and I’m very worried about whether the riding instructor in Cornwall got her horses back. And SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER I think there’s some very weird gender politics going on with Morgana, but then there always are, aren’t there? Like, she turns into a really cool harpy monster. But then, she pretty much has to turn into a monster so we don’t feel weird about the 12 year old boy hacking her to pieces with a sword when, really, the woman has some legitimate beefs with the patriarchy so it kind of feels weird anyway.

I may be overthinking this.

 

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The Favourite

January 14, 2019

This is about the court of Queen Anne in the early 1700’s which is a period of English history I know relatively little about because so much of the literature is so very pedantic I skipped over it as much as I could in school. Anyway, the movie is about two women vying for royal favor, particularly Abigail and how much of her principles she’s willing to undermine to secure her own well-being.

It’s really good, and not just because of the absolutely luscious costumes and settings that these historical dramas always have. Well-drawn, in depth characters. At some point everyone is horrible, and everyone is also sympathetic — they have good reasons for doing what they’re doing. The film’s edgy and got some quirks, but it’s all well thought out. An amazing cast. Yes, that is Nicholas Hoult under that GIGANTIC wig.

We did that thing driving home where we immediately looked up Queen Anne to see how much of this actually happened, and I believe this may be one of those cases where the truth might have been even stranger. In some ways, court politics of a couple of hundred years ago might as well be an alien planet.

Queen Anne is a tragic figure, and Olivia Colman is already winning awards for her performance here. Good. She deserves them all.

 

2 movies

January 2, 2019

I’m making an effort to catch up on the huge number of movies I want to see this holiday season, a task made more challenging by being on vacation for two weeks and missing a bunch of release dates. But I’m getting there.

Mortal Engines

I wish this had come out in about 2011, when steampunk was huge and we were all wishing for a big, beautiful, epic, and truly steampunk movie. I think reviewers and audiences would have forgiven it some of its faults, which are mostly faults of being too ambitious and trying to cram too much story into too short a space, which means the plot and characters are all a bit stock and deserve better. Like maybe a 12-part mini-series. I’m glad I saw it. It looks amazing, and the things it does really well are the visuals and the worldbuilding. And I’m sad, since because this flopped we may not get another chance at a big, beautiful, epic, and truly steampunk movie.

Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse

I liked it, and it demonstrates yet again what an endearing, enduring character Spider-man can be when handled well. All the Spider-heroes are everything that is good and earnest and right about superheroes. The animation is great and pushes some boundaries. I love how meta it is, and that it plants itself in directly in the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-man timeline. The voice cast is amazing. Lily Tomlin’s Aunt May is maybe my favorite Aunt May ever. I’m happy that storytellers and filmmakers are still finding new and interesting ways of telling superhero stories. Just when I think we’ve reached peak saturation, it’s nice to see something like this come along.

I’m also grappling with the same thing I did in Star Wars: Rebels, where I’m at the age where I relate way more to the tired parent-aged characters than I do to the plucky young heroes. Kanan Jarrus in Rebels, and 38-year old screw-up Peter Parker here. I’ve kind of forgotten what those kinds of characters looked like when I was a teenager. I think they looked like warnings. Now, I want to hug them and bring them home with me.

 

Aquaman

December 28, 2018

Okay, where to start. Here, we’ll start here:

[Setting:  immediately after the movie, still in the theater.]

Friend:  “What were those seahorse things but with fins like for walking?”

Me: “Those were sea dragons.”

Friend:  “That’s not a real thing.”

Me:  “They totally are.” [Pulls up picture of a Leafy Sea Dragon on my phone.]

Friend:  “Holy shit they’re real!”

Me:  “THEY’RE REAL IT’S ALL REAL ALL OF IT IS REAL IT’S TOTALLY REAL.” [Jumping around, waving arms wildly.]

Friend:  “And…now we’re seeing what Carrie was like when she was nine.”

***

So that was basically me through the entire movie. I am Atlantean now. Shut up I am. I want to ride hammerhead sharks and wear a dress made out of jellyfish. I’m a little bit in love with Patrick Wilson’s villain King Orm because SEA ELF HE IS A SEA ELF. It took me eight years to figure out what to do with my hair while scuba diving so it wouldn’t get tangled up in my mask and stuff but I totally did it so I AM READY. (I have to pull it all back in a pony tail and then braid the pony tail and it actually looks pretty cool and I believe this style will make me fit right in in Atlantis. I do feel the movie underestimated how difficult managing long hair underwater really is.)

Is the movie any good?  Honestly, I don’t know. But I had so much gonzo cheesetastic ridiculous fun with the whole thing I don’t even care. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:  Aquaman rides an Elder God into the final battle. They are friends now because he is the first person to just talk to it in thousands of years. THIS IS SO AWESOME I CANNOT CONTAIN THE AWESOMENESS OF IT. Also, the Elder God, Karathen, is voiced by Julie Andrews. I KNOW RIGHT?!

DC finally figured out that sometimes making a good superhero movie means embracing the crazy and throwing all that glorious weirdness against the wall to see what happens. Sometimes, it all sticks.

***

So another thing:  structurally, this isn’t a superhero movie. It’s urban fantasy.  Superhero stories are about a person who gets amazing powers and what they do with those powers and what those powers mean and with great power comes great responsibility and so on and so forth.  Aquaman isn’t about that. It’s about Arthur Curry, who is caught between two worlds, who was raised in the mundane world but has this connection to a supernatural/otherworldly world that calls him to adventure and his unique perspective on both allows him to succeed where someone solely from either world would fail.

It’s urban fantasy, and that’s great.

 

Robin Hood (2018)

December 5, 2018

I love Robin Hood stories and I always will, and I don’t mind that it gets remade, like, all the time, because each time it does tells us something about the people and culture making it. (This is why all the 1980’s Robin Hoods have mullets.) About once a decade, we get at least one new portrayal of the legend. What does this new one say about the people and culture making it?

Welp. It is now clear to me we really are on the worst timeline.

I see a lot of bad movies. I’ve been trying to think of what’s the worst movie I’ve reviewed on this blog, and in terms of big-budget, theatrical releases that I actually paid money to see, this one may be it.

As a starting point, everyone involved in this thinks that Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the only version of Robin Hood in existence so they just went with that. From there, 50% of the production thought they were remaking A Knight’s Tale, 50% thought they were remaking Batman Begins (I want to point out that that makes Jamie Foxx’s John both Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Morgan Freeman’s Azeem from the aforementioned Robin Hood version. This is somehow both genius and terrible.), and 50% thought they were making a hard-hitting political allegory except that everything they know about political fiction they learned from the Cliff Notes of Les Miserables and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

You’ll notice this comes out to 150% of movie. This is because 30% of the time, everybody forgot what they were doing entirely and tried to remake Black Hawk Down but using small-unit assault rifle tactics with bows and arrows. Therefore, at any given moment there is 100% of movie, but which 100% it is is a total crapshoot. Someone check my math but I think I’m right.

There is a mine where all of Nottingham’s peasants work. Much like in that terrible Inhumans TV show from last year, they are mining oppression. Or gold coins, which the Sheriff (who is played by Ben Mendelsohn, who played Krennic in Rogue One, and the Sheriff is basically exactly the same character with exactly the same wardrobe. It’s weird.) sends to be “processed” (I don’t know what this means) by a roomful of monks in wife-beater t-shirts in a setting that looks like every drug manufacturing set in every 90’s drug gang movie. I don’t know why any of this is happening.

There is one named woman character, Marian, with her “I shop at Hot Topic” smoky eye to go with her “I shop at Hot Topic” costumes.

I think this was supposed to be Robin Hood for the video game generation. Now, I think that’s a pretty good idea. But I don’t think anyone making this movie actually understands what they mean by “video game generation.” So they did a car chase but with horses galloping on scaffolding and crashing into each other and falling into ravines, yes?

And that’s when I realized that the reason all the horses looked the same was to make it easier to CGI them when they started falling off scaffolding.

And…I’m out.

 

Well, gosh I wanted to like this one, being such a fan of the Nutcracker ballet as I am. But the word I keep coming up with to describe it is “facile.” There just isn’t a whole lot there past the spectacle.

I did like the spectacle. This is a beautiful movie. I really liked the idea of steampunk engineer Clara.

But I kept feeling like this really wasn’t about steampunk engineer Clara, she was mostly a cog inserted into this machine of tropes (sorry for the strained metaphor there). The idea of portal fantasy is built into the Nutcracker ballet, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. But did it have to look so much like Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland? A ticky-box story dutifully going through the motions.  Also, something based on the Nutcracker — the ballet, not any of the previous versions of the story — needed to have a lot more of Tchaikovsky’s music and a lot more dancing. This had one small ballet interlude with Misty Copeland which was really lovely but was clearly shoehorned in.

Why was this called the Nutcracker, even? The first character Clara meets in the Four Realms is a soldier on guard duty. She immediately calls him a nutcracker for no apparent reason — why is he a nutcracker and not just another toy soldier? Don’t know. He becomes her sidekick and does sidekick things through the whole movie. So…. why is this called the Nutcracker? I guess because we use some of the music?  All the previous versions center on the nutcracker doll who comes to life, who needs to be saved, who is actually a prince, etc. etc.  None of that is here. Which makes is all just weird, you know?  The big-name actors are all marvelous, but this is all mostly pantomime.  Less a story than an undisguised attempt to cash in on a holiday tradition.

Oh, and Clara’s mother is dead, because Disney still has trouble telling stories that don’t have dead mothers in them.

 

First Man

October 19, 2018

Just a quick review. Once again, I’m covering this one in Lightspeed and will have a deeper analysis of the movie and its place in the genre of “Historical Dramas about NASA.”  But I know a bunch of you probably interested in it so I wanted to say something.

I liked it, I’m glad I saw it, but I felt it lost focus. On the one hand it’s this intensely personal portrait of Neil Armstrong through the 1960’s, his run-up to the Apollo 11 mission, and his place in history as the first person to set foot on ground that isn’t Earth. When the movie really got into his point of view, right there in the Gemini 8 capsule and the X-15 cockpit, it was great, and some of these set pieces are spectacular. It showed me things I hadn’t seen before. The lunar landing is presented as a work of art, and it’s gorgeous, and I really loved the idea of showing us this one man coming to grips with the enormity of it all beyond the historical context.

On the other hand, when the movie was trying to do the big epic sweep, I thought it got derivative, showing us what every other movie and documentary of the type has always shown. The Right Stuff lite, if you will. It also made the movie feel long.

I think I might have liked it a little better if it wasn’t trying to have it both ways.  Still, if you’re a super space nerd, you gotta see if for those mission sequences.