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.

 

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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.

 

Colette

October 1, 2018

Colette is a biopic of the early 20th century French writer, starring Keira Knightley. It’s long and leisurely and visually lush in the way of a lot of biopics, especially ones of artistic people. And like a lot of biopics of writers it says some true things about writing while also making the writing life look impossibly romantic.  I mean, writing is just a really slow process, so you gotta take cinematic short cuts. But mostly what the movie is interested in is Colette’s unconventional life and career, and that’s where it shines, in its positive portrayal of genderqueer and genderfluid characters.

I also learned that Colette was born exactly a hundred years before I was.

For all that I enjoyed the film, I left angry because that thing where a brilliant woman creator had an egotistical and overbearing husband who constrained, damaged, or took advantage of her apparently happened enough that there’s a whole genre about it. Big Eyes about Margaret and Walter Keane, Sylvia about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.  Colette’s early novels were published under her husband’s name. He would lock her in a room until she produced more. When she suggested maybe putting her names on the books too, he did not react well. Eventually she left him, and wrote plenty under her own name.

During the movie I thought about the Impressionist artist Marie Bracquemond, whose husband was also a painter, resentful of her talent to the point where she stopped painting at all.

It just… it’s infuriating. Once is a sad story. Two, three, four. . . that’s a pattern. And it sucks.

 

so that Captain Marvel trailer

September 21, 2018

So the trailer for Captain Marvel, the next film in the MCU, has dropped.

Of course I love it. Was there even a question? I can’t get through it without crying out of sheer, emotional resonance.

As you all likely know by now, one of my favorite pet topics is women aviators. Carol is a pilot before she’s a superhero. And the fact that the trailer highlights that just. . . I’m so happy. It’s like they did all this just for me.

And there’s even more:  this shows her falling, and falling, and falling… and getting back up. Like, what is the primary trait we want people to know about this character?  She gets back up and goes back to the fight.

Here I go crying again.

One more thing. So, Wonder Woman was all about Diana being a woman hero, from an island of women, a woman in No Man’s Land, and so on. Her gender is a huge part of that movie and her identity and that’s great, we needed that.

Carol is a hero who is a woman. It’s a subtle difference. One of the many things I love about this trailer — her gender isn’t brought up at all. It’s just another thing, like the color of her hair or what hat she’s wearing. A hero who is a woman.  We’ve needed that, too.

It’s great. Just…. somebody hand me box of kleenex, gah.

 

The Spy Who Dumped Me

August 13, 2018

So my friends and I went out for drinks and The Spy Who Dumped Me, thinking we’d get some dumb fun.

Guys, it was really good. Crass, hilarious, very aware of itself, good.  I really want the director, Susanna Fogel, on a Marvel movie now. Also, pretty dang subversive. Like this:

1.   It bought into its own premise really hard. Like, this isn’t a slapstick comedy vehicle. This is a spy movie, that just happens to have a couple of really crass thirty year old underachiever women as main characters.  Like they asked, What would happen if we put these characters in a spy movie? and then they played it straight from there. It’s ridiculous and it works.

2.  The friendship between Audrey and Morgan is the most important thing in the movie. It’s the reason they survive, it’s the reason they’re able to do the crazy things they do. The male spy characters keep telling them, “Don’t trust anyone, you can’t trust anyone.” But they always, always trust each other and it’s why they win.

And the reason this is subversive is that many stories about two women friends have a point where they fight, argue (often over a man) and “break up” and then reconcile.  This never happens here. They may be crazy and obnoxious, but these two are just always there for each other and it’s wonderful.

Also, I kept thinking about The Bourne Identity, a movie I love, and I suddenly realize that Marie (Franke Potente’s character) is basically a prop. Like, who is she? What was she doing when Jason meets her? What were her plans at that point? Where was she going? We never find out! What about her family? When he tells her to flee to Goa she’s just like, okay? WTF man? And I started thinking about Bond Girls, and so on, and how often women are just props in these movies.

And The Spy Who Dumped Me, everyone tries to treat Audrey and Morgan like they’re just props and they’re like OH HELL NO WE ARE NOT PROPS WE ARE MIGHTY and clumsy and confused and totally ill-equipped for this adventure but also MIGHTY.

It’s fantastic.

Also, there is zero female nudity in the entire movie but one big really obnoxious in-your-face scene of male nudity.

Subversive, I’m telling you.

 

weird movie categories

August 6, 2018

So yesterday I discovered my friends and I have yet another weird metric for rating films. You know, like:

“Is this spaceship crew dumber than the crew of Prometheus, yes or no?”

“Would this have made a better Dungeons and Dragons movie than the actual Dungeons and Dragons movie?”

Categories like this are surprisingly useful for ranking and comparing films. Well, yesterday I realized I have this habit of dragging my friends to science fiction movies they’ve never heard of, sometimes with less-than-stellar results. “Why did you make us watch this, Carrie, whhyyyyyyyyyyy?????????”

Which gives us the category:

“Was this unpublicized SF film Carrie dragged us to better or worse than Snowpiercer?”

You see, they still haven’t forgiven me for making them watch Snowpiercer. Sigh.

(The film we saw was The Darkest Minds, which turned out to be a very trope-y YA dystopia story clearly heavily influenced by The X-Men. Wait for cable.)