Friday, January 19, 2018

I am Dragon

Also known as He's a Dragon or its original Russian title On - drakon, this little gem is a Russian fairytale about a princess named Mira who is kidnapped by a dragon on her wedding day. On the dragon's island, she meets a young man called Arman who tries to protect her from the dragon. But Mira soon discovers that Arman and the dragon are one and the same being.

And that certainly complicates the situation.

When the dragon takes over, Arman is trapped inside, and cannot control the dragon's murderous actions, but as a man he wants to help Mira escape. So while the two wait for Igor, Mira's fiancé, to be led to the island by Mira's love for him, Mira teaches Arman how to live like a human, in the hope that he can learn to control the beast inside him. It's not really a spoiler to say that the two grow close and begin to develop feelings for each other. This is a fairytale after all, and more or less follows the plot structure of Beauty and the Beast.

What makes this story different is... practically everything else. I hardly even know where to begin. Well, first, the movie is Russian, so there's an overall unusual, non-mainstream tone over the whole thing. It feels exotic. The script is poetic in a non-uppity way, and some of the lines actually took my breath way. Just simple lines of dialogue. At the beginning of the movie someone says, "They had tears where their eyes should have been, and fear where their hearts should have been..." and something about the simple beauty of that stunned me. The script also hits the romance in a similar straightforward fashion. And it gives plenty of wit, remembering to have fun too.

Also there's great music. Especially the song that is sung that summons the dragon.

The next thing to leave an impression on me was the visual. This movie is top to bottom one of the most consistently gorgeous films I've ever seen. It achieves this by starting out with striking visuals in sets, locations, costumes, and even casting. The snowy lake-town Mira is from is full of black white and red contrast. Then Arman's island is actually the massive skeleton of an ancient dragon. The jaw juts up into the air as a tower, full of rooms inside his head. I have never seen anything like it; yet, it's so simple, like the most natural thing ever. I could stare at it for hours even without a plot going on around it.

And then everything is shot with wonderful attention to detail. Lovely framing, tight focusing, immaculate use of color; everything in the movie is so beautiful, yet the cinematography puts effort into enhancing it all even further. Some of the shots they got in there knocked my socks off. Slow motion is used in excess, and that's usually something that bothers me, but here it did such a nice job elevating the mood of the scenes that used it, I hardly even noticed. And clearly, a ton of effort and care was put into the creation of the dragon and the fantasy world, because the effects are great throughout.

Doesn't this make you want to die of happiness because it's so impossibly beautiful??

Then comes character. At the beginning of the film, Mira comes across as a petty little child, bordering on a brat, and when she's first kidnapped she starts getting whiny in a way I thought was going to irritate me for the rest of the movie. But, she actually changes. Actually. Really. Changes. At one point she tells Arman that she can be very annoying, and the self awareness of that turned the tide. From then she quickly develops into a thoroughly likable heroine, and I was impressed at how she seems to physically mature as well. Arman is a pretty classic Romance love interest: handsome, grumpy, kind, dangerous, tragic past. He hits all the checkpoints. But he never becomes too cliché or boring. A classic trope done well.

The romance in this movie is so sweet. I've always been wary of the romance genre because it steers so easily into sentimental cheesiness, and even easier into inappropriateness. I went into it blind of its content level and was surprised at how family-friendly it was. It would get a PG-13, and that only due to an inconvenience where Arman's clothes burn off every time he turns into the dragon. Nothing we weren't subjected to in Wonder Woman. But back to the point: That this movie is really, really sweet. It sounds so weird to say that because if I'd heard that before watching this, it might have made me consider not watching. "Sweet" in a romance films equals "sappy and childish and cringe-worthy" right? Well, no.

It's just sweet like... romantic. Actually romantic.

Like with the rest of the film, its romance is done simply, and with honesty. It might not hit the nail square on the head with its message on love, but it means every word of it, and there's something rare and appealing to that kind of openness. And one last thing that might seem random, but I totally loved: You know how in movies girls will cut their hair with kitchen scissors and in the next scene it looks styled and fantastic? Well in this, Mira cuts her own hair and then spends the rest of the movie with a choppy, lopsided haircut. They made sure it was still stylish and pretty of course, but in a convincingly accidental way. I was so impressed.

I am Dragon is currently stream-able on Amazon, and I recommend it as an ideal fairytale in almost every way. Beautiful, fantastic locations, characters that you care for and want to see succeed, a familiar but unique plot full of bold and memorable imagery, sweeping romance, musings on true love, and, most importantly, princesses and dragons. A true gem indeed.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Colossal

Spoilers!

In spite of Dan Stevens and a very memorable fantasy premise, Colossal for me was nothing more than a colossal waste of time.

Sorry, but they walked into that one.

Although, I do get to write a review about it, so, waste of time maybe, but I can't say I regret watching it. It's about , who's a party girl, and a drunk, out-of control loser. The movie's fantasy element is a parable for what it's like to be out of control with an addiction. Because of some flimsy magical happenstance, whenever Anne -- Gloria -- walks through a specific playground at exactly 8:05 AM, a giant Godzilla-like monster appears in Seoul, South Korea, and mimics her movements.

From the moment I saw the trailer I wondered about the logistics of the premise. I was left unsatisfied.

When her boyfriend () can't stand her lazy drunken shenanigans any longer and kicks her out, she goes to her hometown, and starts working at her childhood friend's bar. Yes, wonderful place for an alcoholic to hang out. His name is Owen and he's played by . She chances to walk through this specific playground at the right time several times, is shocked along with the rest of the world at the appearance of the monster, and eventually discovers that the monster is her -- because of a tick where she scratches her head in an obvious and exaggerated manner. Then she gets drunk and shows off her odd party trick to her new buddies ( and ) and Owen, accidentally trips, falls, and kills lots of South Koreans.

But don't worry, it gets better. Owen, trying to catch her, goes into the playground too, and he also has something materialize in Seoul and copy his movements -- a giant robot. Awesome. Now he's kinda excited about his newfound power like Gloria was, but for her there's a bit of a damper because she realized for the first time that her boyfriend was right. She's out of control. She's literally killed people. The parallel between her heightened situation and real-life addiction is obvious. She vows never to let her monster materialize again, and seems to be on the road to recovery, but then things escalate beyond even her control.

*fantasy intensifies*

I suppose this part is meant to be the metaphor for how your addiction can begin to control you. Owen now gets drunk and starts goofing off in the playground. For some reason she feels responsible for this and is quick to break her vow in order to stand up to him. He apologizes, but later is drunk again and back at it, and before you know it, reaches full villain scale when he threatens innocent lives to make her stay working for him. When she doesn't take him seriously enough he makes good on the threat in one of the most weirdly dark and unpleasant scenes I've witnessed in a movie. As he stomps on the wood chips, she's laying on the ground inches from him reaching out and screaming, yet never moves to physically stop him. We're supposed to understand that she can't, but it simply doesn't make sense.

After that the allegory falls apart, because to solve the problem she goes to Seoul, making her monster appear at the playground, picks Owen up, and hurls him across the state, killing him. But it's okay, because he called her a b**** before she decided to do it. What's the takeaway from the ending? I have no clue. There's an obvious point of girl-power, because she never gets any help from her friends or the police, and she ends up alone but "happy." But after thinking about it for a few days, the only lesson I can see concerning addiction is that it seems to say that once you've solved you own problems, it's totally okay for you to kill people with the same problems if they don't figure it out like you did.

Nice Job. Let's hope no one takes that attitude to heart.

I am %1000 sure that that is not what the movie makers meant the point to be, but if there's a more reasonable one, I completely missed it. I think Owen is always meant to be an extension of a sort of Gloria's problem, since story-wise her problem isn't truly fixed until she's rid of him, but if that's the case I don't get what killing him is a metaphor for. (If you have any insights I'd welcome a discussion.)

One definite, but probably unintentional lesson is that you should never let, or go to others for help. Dan Stevens goes to her aid, but only comes across as needy and wishy-washy because he kicks her out and then gets jealous of her for moving on. Then there's Austin Stowell's character, who was present on the sidelines for many of her fights with Owen to get him out of the playground. This guy totally could have stepped in and helped her, but in the movie's eyes it isn't even a possibility. He's even on her side. But he just stands there. It doesn't make sense.

The head-scratching bit irked me to no end because of how played up it was.

I don't care for Anne Hathaway, and I don't think she did a particularly good job, but I don't blame her for my inability to sympathize with her character. Gloria comes across surprisingly unsympathetic in spite of what happens to and because of her. The culprit is, I believe, the movie's insincere tone. Jason Sudeikis did do an interesting job turning into a disturbing villain, but the transition was jarring in a way that doesn't sit right. The movie's tonal shifts are all jarring, though you can see attempts at dark comedy throughout. Instead it comes across as irreverently dark, milking the disturbing moments for shocking drama, then kicking back and flippantly expecting us to laugh at it all, which is the last thing I felt like doing.

It's a fantasy movie, but tries to ground itself in reality, drawing clear parallels to real-life problems, but the grounding doesn't take. The story slowly floats further and further away from reality until by then end it cops out with a falsely empowering ending, and never finishes it's thought on addiction, the reason the story existed in the first place. I think they simplified the issue far too much, and instead of letting the story drive through its natural path to a conclusion, it was forced to go the way they wanted. Each forced turn pushed the movie further and further into its own fantasy land.

"Moral of the story? Oh, idk.... addiction is... um, what were we talking about?"

I don't have much experience with this kind of thing in real-life, but I think they ignored the most overarching truth -- that if you need help you don't have to face your problems alone -- merely so they could scrounge up an inspiring and empowering ending for their amazingly dis-likable heroine. The way I see it, Colossal never moves past the stage she was at in the very beginning; in denial that it has a problem in the first place. It just stomps around in wild destruction, shouting its incoherent message into a fantastical, meaningless void.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - January

In December as I expected I only saw one movie -- though I did see it twice -- The Last Jedi. I have mixed feelings about it. It was half magnificent and half a waste of time and characters. But my overall impression is decidedly positive. Check out my review here!

This month has one absolute and long-anticipated must-see, and a small handful that I'll be keeping an eye on. Maybe the slow month will give me an opportunity to catch up on 2017 movies I missed!

Happy 2018 everyone! I hope you all had a great year, and will have an even better one this year! What are you looking forward to in this first movie month of 2018?



The Beyond
Jan 9th; NR
This month in Indie Scifi Films that I'll Most Likely Never Get Around to Watching if I'm Being Realistic: This. This one's a bit more cerebral than most indie scifis I see floating around, but it's certainly intriguing, and the trailer even makes it look visually impressive for a lower-budget production too. So I'm going to leave it here for my future self to find and remember to search for on streaming sites.




The Commuter
Jan 12th; PG-13
Non-Stop wasn't by any means a great movie, but it was an enjoyable one-time watch, so maybe this one will be too. Liam Neeson always gives movies a certain level of appeal. This one looks like a decent popcorn-muncher that probably has a fun twist and a handful of plot holes. If it doesn't get terrible reviews, I'll probably watch it sometime, but not in theaters.




12 Strong
Jan 19th; R
I'm not the biggest fan of either based-on-true-story movies, or war movies, but this may be able to overcome both those things. It definitely seems like the kind of true story that is worth telling, with the interesting and unusual element of the soldiers using horses, and it's not a tragedy which is fantastic. Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Pena are three significant pluses too. The only question is whether it's a well-made film, and that I can't exactly tell from the trailer, but I would certainly hope so!




The Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Jan 26th; NR (expect a PG-13)
FINALLY. Not to sound like I don't take reviewing movies seriously, but I don't care if this movie is good or not. I'm going to enjoy the heck out of it no matter what. I've waited too long to do anything else. Still, chances are it'll be an incredibly decent movie -- or at the very least not be a disaster in comparison to the previous movies of the series, unlike The Hunger Games and Divergent turned out to be. For one thing they didn't try to milk more money by making the end two parts. Also I really appreciate that Wes Ball has stuck around to direct all three films. It shows promising dedication. I'm a fan of the books, but not so much that I'll be mad at changes. I already know I like the characters, the cast, and the story. Very much looking forward to the finale!




Please Stand By
Jan 26th; PG-13
Alice Eve, who was in an actual Star Trek movie, is now in a movie about a Star Trek fan! Dakota Fanning leads, and Toni Collette is always a huge plus to movies. The trailer reminds me of The Way Way Back with its tone and light indie style that will probably have something deeper going on along with the unusual adventure. It's unlikely that it even close to as much as I love The Way Way Back, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on, I think.