Monday, November 30, 2020

A Rainy Day in New York

Spoiler-free!

Timothée Chalamet plays the Woody Allen archetype and Elle Fanning plays the most annoyingly hyper and ditzy girl imaginable in this laid-back amble through NYC—and they do pretty good job at it. 

It's kinda like if an AI copied Woody Allen. And that's kinda part of the charm.

They go to New York from their upstate college; Elle for business (she landed an interview with a semi-popular artsy filmmaker) and Timothée for pleasure (he loves New York, naturally). They part ways, planning to meet up later. Typical Woody Allen hijinks ensue. Quirky, ponderous monologues are made. The two characters meander from place to place, finding and losing other odd characters played by other famous actors as they get into and out of niche situations. Liev Schreiber, Jude Law, Selena Gomez, Diego Luna, Cherry Jones... It rains. Then an ending place is reached and the credits roll.

It's par for the course on Woody Allen movies. If you always like his style, your mind is made up. If you always dislike his style, likewise. I'm in the middle somewhere. Watching this thing breeze by, it felt meandering and pointless, though not unpleasant. The cast was nice. Even Elle being annoying was intentional and had amusingness in it. Timothée was a little more relaxed into his role than he sometimes is. (It's not a try-hard acting part.) He comes across a little pretentious at first then warms as we follow him through the day. I was lukewarm on it overall. But then the ending shone a different light on preceding events.

This movie is all about the journey, but my taste in entertainment relies (perhaps too much) on destination.

I guess that's the thing about Woody Allen. You know to expect the meandering, the monologues, the old music. What you don't know is whether the plot is going to work for you or not. With a plot as meandering and distracted as this one felt, it seemed capable of going anywhere—until it got to where it was always going. And I have to say, I liked the destination. I liked it so much that my lukewarm feelings have turned into something more substantial. Something more distinctly positive. Something I wouldn't mind wandering through again someday.

I think that's all this minor jaunt was intended to be; I won't bother it for anything more.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The New Mutants

This review contains some mild spoilers.

The New Mutants is exactly what you'd expect a big superhero studio to dole out for the upcoming generation. A politically correct, agenda-pushing cast of characters set against a backdrop of plot that is appealing in trailer form, but once seen up-close is too flimsy to hold up to repeat viewings. A cutting-edge technique to sell theater tickets... by 2017's standards.

I heard somewhere they released the original cut. But where were the faces in the wall from the original trailer?

I doubt it would have gone over well on it's original, April 2018 release date either, but I admit, there was a certain disappointment for me in realizing it really was just another half-baked entry into the superhero base. I was misled, perhaps by my own wishful thinking, or naiveté, or that Pink Floyd song they played in the trailer. "Disappointed but not surprised" will be my mantra for this review. Why, after all, put effort into the whole movie when you can just throw some big names together in a fun premise, and then cut corners until it's releasable? 

The premise really is a winner. The kids are in this old mental hospital and treated like rehab patients as they learn how to control their powers and stop being a danger to themselves and society. After that, it falls apart. The lead is Dani (Blu Hunt), an American Indian who accidentally wiped out her reservation in her sleep by manifesting a giant bear composed of fear. (She doesn't know it was her until later but it's no surprise to anyone who's seen an X-Men movie.) Charlie Heaton is dirty southern boy who accidentally killed his dad when he panicked in the coal mines. Maisie Williams is a devout catholic who accidentally mauled her priest to death when he tried to burn her for shapeshifting. Henry Zaga is a rich kid who accidentally burned his girlfriend alive...

Noticing a pattern? WELL.

...and Anya Taylor Joy is a cold-hearted Russian girl who created an alternate plane of existence in her mind that she can disappear into at will, which she used it to hide from creepy faceless smilers who'd come to abuse here until she got fed up with hiding and methodically murdered them all with her magical sword, invulnerable armored arm, glowing eyes, and tiny pet dragon. Yeah. There's a clear pattern until we come to her. Honestly, I'm baffled as to why the movie wasn't about her. There's a lot of implication mental questions that go into her story that would've been more interesting to unravel than a literal fear bear.

But anyway, the kids are in mutant rehab, and they fight, and bond, and tell each other their backstories one by one; but of course there's something else more sinister going on. It takes too long to get to the sinister things though, since there isn't much of it to fill the runtime. And the build-up is dry and empty. It wants to be a gothic horror—creepy, slow, and subtle—but it also wants to be a teenage drama—relatable, deep, and moral. The two don't mesh. I love the gothic horror idea but neither make it past the foundational stage, which leads me to bemoan the lack of realized potential. A typical reaction for me, I know, but it's a typical problem for a movie like this to have. 

I'll just revert to what I imagined it'd be like now...

If only if only if only. I knew I'd be disappointed; after three years of waiting and imagining what I wanted, I could hardly be otherwise. But that doesn't mean I would've liked it sans those pent-up expectations. Without the excitement and straight-up DETERMINATION I had to see this movie, I barely would've noticed it. I wouldn't have seen it yet, and probably wouldn't bother for a long time, if ever. Then I would've forgotten it instantly and moved on to the next thing—which is what I did. Except I got to enjoy anticipating. There's worthy joy to be had in anticipation. It's just too bad when—after all that effort and delay—that's all the film could conjure.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Life Isn't Fair: Why The Princess Bride's Framing Device Matters

Today's post is over at my friend Tyler's site, culturalrevue.com! And it case the title didn't clue you in, it's an opinion piece on two of my favorite topics: The Princess Bride, and storytelling.

Click through to read!