Sunday, April 23, 2017

Barely Lethal

Fan of teen comedies from the 90's and early 2000's? Wish you could go back and watch your favorites all over again for the first time? Well, you're in luck! Does have the movie for you!

This one also has guns!

Hailee is Agent 83; an orphan who was raised her whole life by a league of assassins for girls, run by . 83 is the best of the best, but one lesson never stuck: that she shouldn't form attachments. She discovers movies -- teen rom-coms to be exact -- and falls in love with the idea of living that normal high school life. So when the opportunity rises, she fakes her death and becomes Megan, a Canadian exchange student, finds herself an all-American family, and an all-American high school. One problem: her idea of a "normal high school life?" Not even close to reality.

The really funny part is that this movie's version of reality, which has none of the cliches she imagined she'd experience, has all the cliches from the movies where she got all her wrong ideas! It's quite the fun circle of cliches. I think almost everything that happens in this flick is borrowing from some classic (or at least popular) teen flick. Clueless is blatantly (and also subtly) copied. Mean Girls has its moments; Pretty in Pink; the 10 Things I Hate About You one is pretty obvious. Also I want to say, Paper Towns? Although did the cliche of two drunk people suddenly understanding each other whilst hanging out in a bathtub at a party originate there? Anyway, this movie handled the scene way better than the film version of Paper Towns, so... that might be awkward.

It's an eternal circle of cliches, where you can have your fun and laugh at it too!

Besides Hailee and Mr. Jackson, we have the villainess, , and 83's co-worker (rival assassin) is . Megan's all-American family includes the typical loner girl who just needs a good friend -- . At the school there's the hot guy who's in a band (), the foul-mouthed dude bro (), the mean girl (), and even the teacher who tries too hard to be cool (). But most importantly there's the unassuming guy who has a heart of gold -- . Once the film introduced all the characters, I hoped out loud that the movie would be as predictable as I was thinking it'd be, and I'm happy to report that it was.

You might think that a movie that relies completely of the cliches of other films would be trite and irritating, but honestly its connection to those films is where it shines; freshened up by the extra layer of pointing out the cliches, then twisting and having fun with them. There's an original side with the assassin aspect, but the film stumbles most noticeably when it focuses on that. It's a neat idea and understandably you'd want to put time into it; it was just too separated from the rest of the fun. The writing all-around is much smarter than your average teen comedy, and truly funny in plenty of places. They use puns. And I appreciated them! It works because attention is given to character, then characters make jokes that fit them but aren't necessarily funny on their own -- making them funny with personality and circumstances.

*Holding a stalk of corn* "I think you're a-MAIZE-ing." "That's pretty corny..."

The brunt of the film's weight falls on Steinfeld, and it shows. Megan is a classic teen heroine and certainly entertaining, but is also on screen all the time, and for some reason doesn't bring the comedy like some of her cast-mates can. She brings it more naturally on the realistic, straight-forward drama side; in the "awkwardly funny" and some of the fish-out-of-water bits, she's more awkward than I think she was meant to. Thomas Mann is ideal for his part (as he commonly seems to be) with his goofy charm and natural sincerity. He was one of few who had scenes without Steinfeld, and he could've had more. Dove Cameron started out boringly and ending up great, which was fitting, and Gabriel Basso continues to impress with his diverse role choices and consistent charm. Sophie Turner is also a fun character.

Cute homecoming pic gets a bit awkward when both your boyfriends are there...

So you can't exactly say its original, and it's not like teen rom-coms are typically a high standard for movie excellence... or even romance excellence... or comedic excellence... or much of any kind of excellence, really. The mere fact that Barely Lethal makes itself memorable by being funny, having characters that are a smidge more interesting that you'd expect, and half-way riding the coattails of other flicks that have risen above expectations is more than enough to earn a recommendation, a passing grade, and a license to kill -- but just barely on that last one.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Me Before You

Major Spoilers!

Before I begin, I want to make two things very clear. 1: I did not pay to watch this movie. I would never do that. And 2: My motivation for watching it was so that I could confirm its status as a miserable, wilting pile of BS. Well -- BS confirmed.

Thanks JoJo moyes for inspiring me to write something better -- like this sentance. It has spelling and grammatical errors, but I'm not going to fix it to make a point about the height of the bar you set.

I knew it was, because I read the book (I was super, naively, embarrassingly unwitting to what it was), and since the movie is exactly like the book, I now have a nice opportunity to go on a ranting rampage and get a few things off my chest. So in case you're ignorant to this story, here it is in a nutshell. Girl () is hired by rich parents ( and ) to be a sort of care-giving companion to their previously wild playboy son () who was hit by a motorbike and now is a quadriplegic (basically he can move his head, and his fingers enough to drive his wheelchair). Girl and boy develop friendship, improve each other's lives, fall in love. Boy commits assisted suicide with the support of girl and parents. Isn't that so sweet? You're probably bawling already from the tragic romantic beauty of it all.

So the movie spends most of its time and more than most of its effort in trying to justify the suicide (still never sticking to one argument long enough to see it through, but more on that later) but in the beginning, before Clark learns of Will's intentions, there are a few events to keep one entertained. The growing friendship and the mutually improved lives were by comparison, well done, and bolstered by the movie's visual aspect which featured a lot of good-looking people wearing pretty clothes and surrounded by pretty, well filtered locations.

That's in the center. And is Clark's sister -- a pointless role outside of the book.

But the movie is torn between improving Will's life and making it tragic so that the end "works." He gets to spend all day being waited on, watching movies, listening to music, and rolling through beautiful English countryside, and his loving parents are rich and doting -- but no, his life is miserable. Examples? Well, he used to be a daredevil, and has explored places and done things that most would only dream of. Sounds like he was lucky to be able to do those things before the accident. He also had a girlfriend () who is now engaged to his old best friend and it's super awkward. But he attends their wedding and she makes a point of thanking him for coming. She also implies to Clark that the reason they broke up was because he pushed her away. I dunno y'all; it's an unfortunate situation, but she sounds like a decent girl.

On the flip side, Clark has her own boyfriend (), a fitness-obsessed, bit-of-a-doofus kind of guy you know is gonna be gone by then end. But again, there's really nothing wrong with him. He's just ignorant to Clark's wishes, like, he plans a holiday that he wants to do, which she pretends to be excited about! And then we're supposed to hate him for not understanding her? She won't tell him what she thinks about anything, so of course he thinks everything is fine. Then he starts getting jealous of Will, which, considering the romance that blooms later is totally justified. They finally break up and I feel more relieved for him, poor fellow.

At the wedding, Clark sits on Will's lap and they "dance" to shock the snobby crowd, but we are never given any reason to think they are snobby except that they're rich. And Will's rich too. And Clark...

Clark all by herself is just as confusing, and is also, I think, the movie's one casting flaw. Everyone else has pathetic or underused characters but is still a bunch of talented, well put-together and probably highly paid actors who got to phone in decent performances. Emilia Clarke acts by wiggling around her very flexible eyebrows, and misses the mark on a pretty cliched lead character. Bubbly, optimistic, fashion-brave, care-free Clark comes across as a self-righteous snob who will insult employees for doing their job. She plays everything like a comedy bit, and couldn't capture any semblance of genuineness. Oddly, most off was her singing. She sings like a mouse. Bad singers who don't care just let it out -- especially with a silly song like that.

On to the main event. So Clark discovers that Will has made an agreement with his parents to stick around for six months and then they'll let him kill himself. Will's mom still hopes he'll change his mind and she and Clark plan adventures and trips to try and make him see that life isn't so bad, the final trip being a vacation to some expensive resort on a tropical island. On these trips Will pushes Clark out of her comfort zone in ways she never could have dreamed, let alone had access to without him. On their last night in the tropics, he tells her that he was never happier than in those past six months, and then he casually invites her to come to the suicide resort with him.

And then they have a nice giggle about it and smile way too much to mask the fact that this movie is sick and disturbing.

First of all, WHAT?? If he doesn't want to die because he's unhappy then why does he want to die? Clark and others offer feeble arguments to all his reasoning, but none of the arguments are seen all the way through, because their natural conclusion is that he shouldn't kill himself. DUH. Unhappy? No, admittedly he is happy now. Quality of life? Granted, it's not at the extreme heights it was before, but he's still wealthy and surrounded by people who love him. Killing yourself because you can't skydive or windsurf anymore sounds more than a little petty and selfish. Very few fully able people have that kind of quality of life. Also he admits that the playboy him was a jerk and never would have given Clark a second look; seems like the accident made him a better person in the end. Then he says he wouldn't be able to stand being in a relationship with her without being able to have sex, which is also pretty petty, but I'll give him that one -- he should break up with her if that's how he feels. Suicide is maybe overkill in that scenario.

It seems to me that the only reason he has to kill himself is because he's disabled, not because the disability affects his life in any kind of significantly negative way. But the movie can't say that because it's evil and untrue. So they make up excuses.

So she's devastated because she thought she had changed his mind, and oh yeah, she's in love with him now, so she goes home and mopes... but then comes around before it's too late and they make up, with him on what will be his death bed. The argument the movie settles on -- for the sake of the romance -- is that he loves Clark so much he wants her to go live her life without him holding her back. So before he kills himself he creates an itinerary of adventure for her to complete after he's gone and gives her some money to "buy her freedom." The end of the film shows her sitting at a cafe in France, reading his final letter. Alone.


BS, honest and simple. There's no angle to look at this pile of crap that makes it even faintly resemble a beautiful, inspiring butterfly, but that's what we're constantly told it is. Are we really supposed to believe that her newfound capacity for travel is supposed to replace a relationship with a human being? It what world is her life better because she got to go to Paris alone? (And by the way, what exactly was it that stopped his going to France? Oh yeah, he wanted to be there as his old self... the playboy jerk who loved no one.) No -- her life was better because of him; it can't also be made better because he's gone. This story painted itself into a corner and stubbornly stuck to its ill-advised propaganda. A literal death grip.

What kind of message is this movie trying to send, anyway? Well obviously it's trying to push the "right to die" agenda and normalize assisted suicide. (I'm on Clark's cross-wearing mum on this point -- it's no better than murder. And also a fundamentally extremely deceitful idea.) But besides that, what does it accidentally imply at the same time? If you're unhappy you should be able to kill yourself. If your quality of life is in any way diminished from what it used to be or what you want it to be, you should be able to kill yourself. If someone loves you and wants to spend their life taking care of you, you're holding them back -- you should kill yourself. And most broadly: Selfish aspirations are more important than personal relationships. Essentially, the title -- you, before anything or anyone else.

Talented actors Charles Dance and Janet McTeer as: Everyone as they realize what they just watched. Also probably: Them regretting their involvement in the project.

I sincerely hope I'm not the only one who noticed all these terrible ideas ingrained in this terrible, miserable movie. Briefly on the technical side: Of course I wasn't watching to enjoy myself or be involved in the story, but I never had to bother with any effort to keep myself from being pulled in. I was never tempted -- never even nudged to be emotionally moved. The movie was stale, unromantic, whitewashed moral excrement. Pooped out by a male cow, and smeared over pages of a book and a screenplay by an ignorant, misguided person armed with an agenda and absolutely no ability in or inclination toward critical thought.

I wish this story would kill itself. We would all definitely be better off without it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Iron Fist

Well Marvel, I asked you nicely, but you let me down. Iron Fist is the last piece needed before the team-up The Defenders can happen -- Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all working together. Daredevil is pretty much unarguably the best of the four in TV show excellence, but I admit -- and by that I mean I can't deny it because there is evidence out there -- I was very excited for this latest Netflix Marvel superhero, and had high hopes for Danny Rand's turn in the spotlight.

On the surface it looked so promising.

It turns out that Danny's spot in the line-up was a good indicator of how good his show would be; he's the last, they're in a hurry to get the TV show version of The Avengers out there, and didn't need to put all that much effort into his show; it's understandable. And it's also extremely unfortunate. People were guaranteed to watch it because of what has preceded it and no one will skip out on The Defenders because at least one out of four characters has draw. There was no motivation to put any kind of effort or risk into this show... except, of course, that was exactly what it needed in order to be good.

It's so common to find entertainment that feeds off the success of other entertainment these days -- especially in the superhero genre -- but it still irritates me to no end. Spend a little more money on some decent writers and it could mean the difference between this, and a show that makes people want to come back for more. Instead the hype vanished like a puff of smoke from a meditation candle in the very first episode; and from there the energy steadily drained away until the final episode was watched out of begrudging duty. "There's only one left, we might as well." This is not what I want to expect out of Netflix's superheroes.

It's really, really not...

The acting was bad, but it probably would have been better if the directing was better. The directing was bad but it may have been better if the writing had been there. Some of the stunts looked cheesy but could have been good with better filming. Filming could have been improved with more interesting things to film. Fight scene choreography might have been improved by better plotting. Dialogue scenes definitely could have used a writing pick-me-up. It all boils down to writing. It was ill-informed, completely aloof from what we wanted to see, how to construct a complex, meaty plot, how to effectively develop characters, and perhaps most obviously, how to write a sentence that has any sort of significant impact on a viewer's ears.

Danny needed backstory. And his talking about his time training in K'un Lun doesn't count; we needed to see some part of his trails and struggles there so that he doesn't come across as a spoiled selfish kid. On the flip side, we didn't need five or six flashbacks to his parents dying, playing the same shots over and over again -- if you want to keep reminding us, add more information every time -- and not via dialogue. Then the overall plot was a stretched-out mess that barely gains any air before crashing down again at the end. These 13 episodes could have been trimmed to 5 without any significant loss.

I am Iron Man-- I mean Fist.

But the plot was hindered by a set ending point -- the point at which The Defenders will begin undoubtedly. They had 13 episodes to fill, and no budget to fill it with training in another dimension's magical Kung-Fu land with super-powered ninja-monks, so what is to be done? Fill it with pointless drama instead (obviously) and drawn-out sessions of chi recharging -- AKA, slow-mo stationary Kung-Fu -- shirtless a couple times just to make things interesting (it's important to show off your tats). And to unconventional (read: nerve-setting) music, because that translates to character, right?

I really meant what I said about the acting. It's not like no one was trying, but I've never seen acting look so directionless. That paired with the dull script made for many scenes that were an actual chore to follow. as Danny went minimalist, which was probably the safest and therefore best choice, but he still came across as childish, and sadly lacked pathos. as Joy tries too hard and comes across as terribly fake. as Ward relies on a gimmick to propel the character. is involved in most of the show's great moments, and is the most consistently interesting character. as Colleen ebbs and wavers, and eventually succumbs to the lazy writing. Claire () and Madam Gao () lose some of their coolness and mystery, respectively, for their presence.

Are we just gonna sit here, or are we gonna superhero?

The best the show has to offer is very consistently in its action side. Every so often Danny will do something cool -- a bit of parkour, or a particular fighting move that impresses. For the most part the fight scenes are sub-par in choreography and execution, but at least are entertaining to watch. Other kinds of violence (if you've seen the show you know what I mean) are fleeting moments of dark intensity so jarring that they feel like a completely different show altogether. These are the times when the show's distant potential shows through.

The tone isn't nearly dark enough to warrant a MA rating. Occasional extreme violence and an obligatory sex scene earn it, but it feels completely unjustified with such a light, naive, cheesy tone going on around it. (On that note the obligatory "morning after" scene is no exaggeration the most awkward thing I've ever seen play out on my TV screen.) I am a firm believer in content in entertainment being justified, and if the content had fit the justification here, the show would have been rated PG. The Mature moments (and the mature moments) were ill-fitting exceptions only; faintly teasing of what might have been.

Perhaps it's unfair to expect this show to be as daring and unique as Daredevil. But it's playing in the same league, so I did.

Every episode had one or two worthwhile moments, some of them being quite good -- perhaps only by comparison but it's hard to tell with such an extreme difference -- but even those were all too often insignificant to the plot, and, more importantly, to the characters. It's not unreasonable, expecting and wanting another mildly tragic, solidly cool dude to grace a story with some edgy character development and some entertaining ways of fighting bad guys. They couldn't get even the most basic things right. With a lower standard, forgiveness and excuses can easily sneak in, but if the Iron Fist is going to be hanging out with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, low standards are undeserved. Please grow up, Danny; you're playing with the big boys now.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Upcoming Movie Roundup - April

March's highlight was %100 Kong: Skull Island for me with a visual feast of epic fun, buffet-style. (Read my very pleased review here!) I also saw Beauty and the Beast which was only just as good as it needed to be. (Read my review here to see where it went wrong and what it got right.) I still want to see Life, but a theater trip for it is currently up in the air.

Iron Fist was released on Netflix, and we watched it slowly and just finished it, more than a little disappointed. But there was a great superhero show after all -- in February's Legion. It recently wrapped up every bit as well as it began: appropriately crazy, beautiful, and terrifying.

This month I'm feeling a little cynical towards all the new releases, with no must-sees -- but at the same time, plenty of potential. So time will tell if my cynicism is warranted or not! What looks good to you this month, and what was your highlight from March? Let me know in the comments!

Apr 7th; R
It's definitely an original idea that I would think would have to potential to be funny, but it's hard to tell whether the potential is fulfilled or not -- the trailer itself isn't funny at all, and the gimmick may cause more problems than it does provide humor. The trailer gives away a lot, but I still have questions about the mechanics of the premise. I don't care for Anne Hathaway at all, but she's balanced out by Dan Stevens who I'd watch in anything. Plus, however much like a rom-com it appears to be, it's still technically a sci-fi too, and that helps a lot. Mild interest here.

Apr 7th; PG-13
This movie is full-on drama which is probably the least appealing genre out there to me, and yet it still looks interesting -- and not even because it starts Chris Evans. In fact, the thing that really grabbed my attention when I saw first saw the trailer was Jenny Slate playing a serious, apparently likeable character! I really want to see her do that. The story is just about as interesting as a drama can get, but I can foresee cliches and sappiness as well; it all depends on how it's told.

The Fate of the Furious
Apr 14th; PG-13
I caught up on the Fast and the Furious franchise before the 7th one came out and still didn't bother to see it in theaters, so that's probably a good indicator of where I'm at with this one, too. I also understand continuing on without Paul Walker, but a lot of the film's appeal is gone without him at the center of everything. Otherwise this looks to be a solid entry in a solid and long-running franchise. They're not getting lazy and sticking to the same fourmula by switching Vin Diesel to villain side (not that he's REALLY a villain of course) and the stunts are appropriately larger than those in the last movie. I expect this will keep the fun, popcorn-action series rolling along.

The Lost City of Z
Apr 14th; PG-13
I heard about this one because Tom Holland is in it, and was under the impression for a while that it was a fantasy movie of some kind. Then I found out it's based on a true story which is a big change. I'm not often a fan of true stories, and I'm not a fan of Charlie Hunnam either, who plays the lead. However, for people who are fans or those who don't care, the film does look good -- artistically filmed and artistically told -- and may very well be a worthwhile watch.

Apr 14th; R
Another that has Dan Stevens in a supporting role. Richard Gere is in the lead and apparently branching out from how we know him with an indie character piece. The characters seem complex and the plot doesn't feel overly familiar, and it has that dark but quirky indie style to it... but honestly if I ever happen to watch it it'll probably only be because of Dan Stevens... and probably also because it was free and I had nothing more interesting to watch.

Free Fire
Apr 21st; R
Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, non-stop R-rated action-comedy. They had me at Sharlto Copley. Definitely the most wacky movie to come out this month, and also the sort of movie that doesn't need a good critic score to be enjoyable for those inclined. It's obviously meant to be ridiculous. It's R-rating is a little more than I'd prefer to have to deal with, but with this cast and the craziness of the trailer, it's gonna keep nagging me whether I see it or not.

Language warning for this trailer! I tried very hard to find a green band one, but I think in order for one to exist it would have to have no dialogue...

The Circle
Apr 28th; PG-13
Creepy. And this one's based on a book -- has anyone read it? After being disappointed with Emma Watson's Belle I'm not stoked at the idea of seeing her again, but maybe this will be a chance for her to redeem herself. I am eager to see John Boyega in something else though, and Tom Hanks and Karen Gillan are also in the cast. Being based on a book gives me a lot more confidence in the plot's quality than I might normally have. So far all signs point to this being the highlight of the month, though I'll need to be convinced a bit more before I shell out for a ticket. Maybe I should read the book...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Everyone's here, everything's the same, and the nostalgia is strong. There's Belle with her simple blue dress and her swishy yellow one, Gaston with his poof-in-the-front hair, the Beast's unnaturally blue eyes, Lumiere and Cogsworth and their constant bantering. All the songs are sung, all the magic displayed, and that same happy ending is more life-like than it has ever been. But is this remake truly worthy?

Because, as with all great tales that are old as time, it should be.

With the original being only 25 years old, it's already a relatively up-to-date kind of fairytale. Are the advancements in GCI technology since 1991 enough to refresh the story? Does making it live-action and filling the beloved roles with appealing actors create new worth? Perhaps not -- but that didn't stop the production, so I figured it wouldn't have to stop our enjoyment either. I plunged in opening night with no inhibitions, but also not much confidence in the quality.

The worst thing was the visual effects. The idea was that today we are perfectly capable of making humanoid beasts and talking inanimate objects seem real so they can play believably next to live actors. Now, I have seen Guardians of the Galaxy, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so I know this to be true; the technology has advanced to the point where its use is practical and able to hold up over time. So, why does the animation of the Beast look so bad? They used mo-cap technology, it's Disney so they should have plenty of money -- yet looking at his face, my mind could never accept it as real.

Sorry dude but you're just too human.

It's a mystery because I know the capabilities are there, but besides speculating about laziness, the only thing I can point out is that the facial design was poorly done. Perhaps in an effort to keep the movie PG but seriously the Beast's face was too human and too... pretty. Pointy nose, flat face, and his tiny protruding fangs got in the way and disappeared from scene to scene. So much else was adapted to look exactly the same, and I wish he had been too. At least his face should have had more structure. The one thing the Beast had going for him was and the moments when you could tell he was somewhere behind all that badly designed CGI, actually giving a performance.

The animate inanimate objects were more successful in that they were not distracting or completely unbelievable, but they still were less expressive than they have been, either as cartoon characters or as portrayed by dramatic stage performers in funny costumes. Overall the special effects wound up giving off a distinct odor of careless minimal effort. Practical effects, sets, props, and costumes were happily not subject to that, and in their splendor, the spectacle thrives.

And guess who brings the spectacle?

So I've hit on the worst the movie gives us -- now the best. That, of course is as Gaston. Full disclosure, I may have swooned when he first started singing. He has a fantastic voice with a clear, loud Broadway sound that is perfect for Gaston, and he matched it in his over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance. He was obviously having a blast in the role, and wound up making Gaston as great and as interesting as he's ever been. The downside of this was that he made everyone else look bad. Not his fault of course, and some people managed to look bad without his comparison.

for instance. And I want to be clear that going in I had some hopes for her Belle. I thought she looked the part, and could easily imagine her doing the role justice. However, her characterization of Belle was given very little energy -- Belle's friendly optimism turned to prim politeness and her determined passion to bouts of anger and irritated sarcasm. Her singing was also problematic, requiring auto-tuning, and simply not being as strong as a character like Belle requires. I can only suppose she was cast for her star power and pretty face.

Poor girl. But my, what a guy that Luke Evans!

New songs were added (similar to those exclusive to Broadway) and one was a ballad for the Beast. I did not expect that from Dan Stevens and was impressed. His speaking voice was digitally altered to be low and gravelly, but I couldn't tell if the same effect was applied to his singing. Either way, since I couldn't tell, it was well done. As a human he was much more easily enjoyed. He gets a cool opening scene (the movie's most creative expansion) which I was immensely glad to see, but his live-action screen time was still much too short for my preference. His eyes probably won him the role, but hopefully a more widespread appreciation of his talent will be the end result.

I had not heard sing before, but he delivered with expected aplomb in "Be Our Guest" and everywhere else. was also excellently solid as Mrs. Potts, lovely and reliable to the very end. 's Maurice got to sing a little too which was nice. 's LeFou was amusing in spite of sharing scenes with the distractingly good Gaston. surprised me with her presence. (Period drama fans will recognize her from the 2008 Sense & Sensibility where she played opposite Dan Stevens!) as Plumette, as Cogsworth, , ; the cast overall was a plethora of talent, though some were underused.

Still they had a LOT to do with the movie being as enjoyable as it was.

Whether or not this remake is worthy must depend on the individual. For some it may be, and for some it may not. I thought it was worth the ticket for Luke Evans alone, but I can't help but notice that practically everything that was good about this movie came directly from the original. It borrowed everything, slapped on CGI paint and considered it enough of a re-brand. When new things were added, they didn't make sense, like the book that can transport you anywhere -- what was that? Expanding with backstory and side plots isn't a bad idea in principle, but it was done only to stretch out the run time, and none of the additions mattered to the plot in the end.

It has its magical moments of singing, dancing, visual splendor, and of course romance, but don't suppose that credit belongs solely to this film; where this new Beauty and the Beast succeeds it succeeds because it tells a good story, not because it tells a good story well.

Monday, March 13, 2017



Based on the novella The Story of Your Life, Arrival asks the question, "if aliens made contact with Earth, how would we respond, really, and how might it change us?" is Louise, an exceptionally talented linguist who lives a sad and lonely life. When mysterious alien ships appear around the globe, she is hired by the US military to figure out how to communicate with them, in order to learn their intentions.

Directed by the subtly stylish .

is Ian, a scientist hired to work with her, and their handler is , but the story belongs to Louise. The story is two-fold: a realistic and politically influenced speculation into how an extraterrestrial crisis would be handled, and a character drama, exploring Louise's personal makeup, her relationship with the aliens, and how they affect her journey as she struggles to understand them. Both sides have their points of appeal, and elements that stand on shaky ground.

On the technical side, the appeal lies in the obstacles to overcome in order to understand a species with which humans have almost nothing in common. Where would you even begin that kind of endeavor? Arrival presents a lot of realistic and impressive solutions that fans of real-science science fiction would appreciate. The promise of this was what interested me in the film in the first place. The downside comes from the politics embedded within. It would have been impossible to go completely without politics with the direction the story took; only, in a handful of moments, the film itself offered opinions, instead of simply relaying those of the characters who inhabit it. I was taken out of the immersion of the film a handful of times as a result.

There's a subtle difference between a movie having an opinion and a movie portraying an opinion. I always prefer the latter.

On the side of personal drama came a lot of unexpected enjoyment since the trailers never gave anything away on the subject. But the film itself starts with it -- full force. Amy Adams does a good job in the dramatic role, keeping her downtrodden and anxious character engaging in spite of depressing attributes. My sympathy towards Louise, however, was much stronger in the scenes that lean toward science, as she solves problems using smarts in the style of Mark Watney. Each new discovery and well-earned step forward sparked significantly more satisfaction in me than watching her in the emotional moments in between.

Her emotional journey is, however, equally as important to the film as the more apparent obstacle. The two eventually tie together significantly, as we know it will from the beginning, and the film is completed. The mysteries are twisty but not too complex, revealed in gradual stages; the three in my group all "figured it out" at different points in the film. The slow reveal of the truth worked well with the film's tone which constantly loomed depressed and sluggish. The mystery, the muted suspense, and the steady supply of mind-bending half-twists kept the film from becoming boring, although I did wish it would hurry up once or twice.

Watching this film is like having your mind blown in slow motion.

Jeremy Renner's natural energy also did a lot to help boost the film, and was constantly glad he was there. Ian also gets his due moments of impressive intellect, and the most involving pure-character aspect of the film was the slowly developing dynamic between him and Louise. The extraterrestrials themselves, their culture, and the human's learning of it were by far the most creative and compelling aspects the film had to offer. When they connect, this is the side of the story that informs the emotional, human journey, and in the places where they intersect the film hits a sweet spot of cerebral sci-fi that is thoroughly mesmerizing.

Then things get complicated, but at the same time, very simple; the story informed itself, essentially building a prison around itself with its own story. There were aspects I thought changes would have improved, but those were things that were impossible to change because their existence allowed for the story's existence, which in turn dictated their existence. It created a loop impossible to escape from. I don't see it as flaw, since the self-constrained story does work and make sense within the space it allows itself to occupy; only it didn't satisfy me as much as it was meant to. Its theme, its message, as finished and complete as they could possibly be, was still limited.

I think this movie is an actual paradox...

Arrival asks big questions, and thinks up creative answers for them. It's a thinking man's science fiction, but still understandable for novices to the genre. Its premise is wholly new, and the direction taken with it is certainly down a path less worn. The story is complete and well-rounded, filmed with dull, gritty beauty, acted with feeling, written with intelligence; simply, it is proficiently and artistically built. What exists within those well-built walls is more open for interpretation.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Kong is back, and literally bigger than ever. It's the 1970's, so you know the music is good, and the group of explorers, scientists, and soldiers that go to Skull Island is extra, extra large -- full of red shirts, and people who don't need to survive to the end of the movie. Mayhem is in the air. And it smells delicious.

And a bit like monkey breath?

The movie is directed by , a name I didn't recognize at first, but his style I did. He directed The Kings of Summer, a movie that most are less likely to have seen than Kong, but a great movie with a love for nature and an eye for stylish macro shots. That style translates magnificently to this film, and is enhanced to epic proportions. As the steadily dwindling group explores the island we get to explore it too, through the camera's wondering eye. The beauty and the creativity is not what you conventionally see in a monster flick, but with how well it works you'd think it would be. 

Vogt-Roberts did not hold back on any visual aspect of the movie -- any. The location shooting and the attention to detail for the era made it almost impossible for me to shake the feeling that I was actually watching a movie from the 70's -- an unexpected but welcome feeling. Of course the special effects were miles better than anything 40 years old could give us, and in fact were a good distance better than what most CGI-heavy flicks crank out these days too. This movie was made to be a visual feast of epic entertainment, and there was no skimping on achieving that goal. 

Every sequence was a new array of colors and shapes and textures and immaculate focusing and sweet music...

I only have one question: how did they manage to collect this cast? A bunch of them hail from (or will soon join) Marvel movies -- is the cool-and-collected tracker-for-hire, is the spirited war photographer, is the squad leader, is oddball scene-stealing highlight of the whole movie, and , and (yes I'm counting Fant4stic) are soldiers. (Kebbell also provided some facial mo-cap for Kong, though the vast majority of Kong was .) Otherwise, there's as the expedition instigator, and his scientist colleges and . and round out the soldiers with memorable roles. I said it was a big cast! And that's just the people who, if they die, you feel sad for.

The deaths are pretty sad too, in spite of the overwhelmingly fun tone of the film; or maybe because of it, with dramatic contrast. The characters were defined well by all having their little niche or quirk which made them memorable, but they were also underdeveloped in the classic action flick way. It seemed particularly as though Hiddleston and Larson's characters were purposefully being held back -- saving the development for sequels perhaps. Still, they were effortlessly charming together. I was on board with this film since Tom was announced to star, and he didn't let me down.

Even though he was a little pointless. I think the movie got a few conflicting rewrites. You can almost see the plot that was removed.

John C. Reilly stole the whole movie of course, was hilarious and simultaneously the backbone of the film's heart, which yes, it did have plenty of for its genre. Another who unexpectedly left a big impression was Toby Kebbell's human role. I've always been interested in his work but was so far unable to properly appreciate it due to disappointing role choices and lots of motion capture parts. Because of how expressive he is, he's great at mo-cap, but that means that without the CGI translation he's even better -- and here he is finally a live-action, well-written, sympathetic character, and thus he has finally turned my head. And he was the only character whose name I learned!

In my favorite scene he comes across Kong at a lake and watches the giant ape take a drink -- the excess water sounding like a waterfall as it pours back into the lake -- and then battle a giant lake-squid and eat it in a humorous manner. And that pretty much sums up the whole movie for me. It's odd, ridiculous, epic and funny, with realistic attention to detail, and there's a bunch of faces in the background who look really good under a macro lens. 

Pretty location, pretty filming, pretty people.

There were a few aspects that could have been improved without creating an imbalance. The ending was a bit sudden and messy, character's names are nice to know, and whenever the plot strayed from the basic goal it couldn't spend enough time away to satisfy and threads were cut short. But, mostly, the things you'd instinctively think are flaws were really conscious decisions for the sake of the tone and style of the movie. Focusing on character, or going deep into a moral themes or a complex plot is all well and good, but Kong included those things only as far as they didn't detracted from the beautiful, gleeful spectacle -- its priority. And considering that this is a movie about a fantastical island full of jumbo-sized monsters and wacky fantasy creatures that do battle with each other, I feel like the priorities were in the exact right place.