Monday, May 9, 2022

The King's Daughter

Some spoilers. 

I swear there's a good movie in here somewhere. The question is, does the lack of it even matter? 

It's about a French girl (Kaya Scodelario) in the 1600's who's taken from her monastery home to live in King Louis XIV's palace, unaware that she's his daughter. She loves music so when she hears a strange song at night, she follows it to an underground pool where a mermaid is being held captive, waiting on an eclipse so she can be sacrificed to give the King eternal life. The girl befriends the mermaid, as well as the handsome sailor (Benjamin Walker) who caught her, and a predictable series of romantic adventure ensues.

It certainly is... special.

Except the movie is quite a mess, and those appealing ideas of fairytale romance and adventure get a little buried in the jumble. The movie spends more time with the plotting King (Pierce Brosnan) his Priest (William Hurt) and the "scientist" who's going to kill the mermaid for him. They spend a lot of time bickering about God and science, or rambling about nothing much at all. Then there's the drama between the King and the girl as he doesn't tell her she's his daughter but hires her to play music for him outside his window every morning, and then once he tells her he immediately tries to merry her off to some simpering duke, which doesn't go over well of course but doesn't really go anywhere plot-wise either except to make her realize he's not so great a dad. 

It's like the movie understood what kind of tropes would be appealing, but had no idea how to actually use them. I loved the idea of her being engaged to a bad guy while falling in love with the sailor, but we never get to see the tension and conflict that situation should raise. I don't think she even sees the duke while knowing their marriage is arranged. And the sailor only finds out about it a minute before it's not an issue anymore. The movie touches on so many tropes that I enjoy that I wasn't disappointed, but it seems to have cinematic ADHD, hoping to and fro whatever topic pops into its head in real time. Scenes end abruptly, or cut in and out without apparent reason, and don't have the stamina to find the compelling content they're obviously searching for.

Fun fact, these two are married irl, and they met filming this movie, in... *checks notes* 2014?? It was released this year, so that's 8 years on the shelf. Wild.

If I were the actors involved, I'd probably wish it had stayed on the shelf. It's a bit embarrassing. But as a movie fan, I'm glad it was released, even with all the weirdness. Brosnan and Hurt phone in their stuff, but I'm not mad about it. There's nothing in the script that's worth getting worked up for and they're entertaining without trying. Scodelario tries, bless her, but her efforts only made me laugh when paired with the clunky lines she's trying to convey. Benjamin Walker's character is very much a K-Mart brand Will Turner but still somehow manages to be halfway dashing. The cheesy romance was probably the best aspect simply because cheesy romance increases in value the cheesier it gets. Still, I can't help but think there was a path here for something a step above—more real character development over empty platitudes to give the cheese a foundation on which to thrive.

The tropey appeal cannot overcome the mess. It's badly written, badly cobbled together with bad performances, laughably modern costumes, cheap CGI, and a smattering of sweeping wonder. I enjoyed it all, but only because swashbuckling fairytales like this barely exist at all—let alone in any better realm of quality.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022



The master of cinematic destruction is back with another epic world-in-peril film, and it may be my favorite of them all! 

Though no one would accuse Roland Emmerich of making high art, what he does do is put a lot of effort and money into making big, entertaining blockbusters in his specific style. And that's what I love about this movie. It doesn't do anything by half measure. The Earth is under attack again—this time by the moon itself! Once its orbit begins to degrade it's only a matter of weeks before collision. Most of the world goes into panic mode, leaving it up to disgraced astronaut Patrick Wilson, his estranged work partner Halle Berry, and a crazy internet conspiracy theorist John Bradley (who turns out to be not-so-crazy, of course) to figure out how to save the day. 

The Moon gets really close to the Earth and it looks cool. What more could you ask for???

Meanwhile they have family issues to keep the characters grounded in a sort of relatable reality, so the stakes aren't too big for us to bother to care about. Wilson has his delinquent son (Charlie Plummer), ex-wife, and her new husband (Michael Peña!), and Berry has her ex-husband and their daughter—all left behind on earth to witness the catastrophe as the leads go into space to confront the alien problem. We've seen it all before, but I've never seen it work better than under Emmerich's direction. He shows us what we want to see. Or, at least, me. The thing that tickled me the most was how he used real and strange facts about the Moon to build his plot around. Like how it "rang like a bell" when Apollo 12 launched their descent module into it. Though the movie finds fantastic and unlikely reasons for these things, there's a genuine sense of mystery and wonder there.

Visually it was good enough that I now wish I'd bothered to see it on a big screen. The Moon being so close to the Earth of course provides a stunning visual. Elsewhere green screens are incredibly obvious. But elsewhere again, the alien design and space scenes have an obvious budget and effort put in. The family drama is fairly scant and cliché, but that's not to say bad, and one or two scenes and some dedicated line delivery from solid actors is all it needs to stick. Patrick Wilson was great casting and really sells the whole story. Then there's the general destruction. My least favorite part of disaster movies, funnily enough. There are a few interesting situations for the characters to navigate, plus plenty of floods, crumbling buildings, and those scenes where someone's using a white board to illustrate what horrors will occur next. It's really classic stuff.

I'm trying and failing to think of a way this movie could have been more enjoyable for me. 

And I guess that's why I got such a big kick out of it. It's classic. Not highbrow, but doesn't talk down to its audience either. It doesn't even bother to preach on woke topics, it just gleefully focuses on all it's cool ideas, with a sweet if small family-oriented center, and in that vein, does its own thing, and does it well. I know a lot of people are down on it, but I for one am not ready for the fun to be sapped out of all our movies. Completely uncynical, involving space, and family, and sacrificial love, cool in concept and awesome to look at—MOONFALL hits the spot and checks all the boxes for what I've been craving. Maybe it was made for me alone, but either way I can't help but give it an enthusiastic recommendation!