Category Archives: Films

On Lady Bird

I’m officially old. I know because I spent most of Lady Bird identifying with the mom instead of the teenager, even when she wasn’t such a great mom.

Lady Bird Poster

Image from IMDb

Continue reading

Advertisements

Happy Halloweekend 2017

Disney has re-released The Nightmare Before Christmas for a limited engagement at Regal Cinemas just for this weekend through Halloween. Even though I consider it really more of a Christmas movie, I still decided to make this my primary Halloween celebration this year. Below are some random thoughts:

Jack Skellington in repose in a cemetery

Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie

  • There are much more memorable tunes and visuals throughout the film, but what I love about “Poor Jack” is that you almost think that Jack will actually learn something from putting everyone through this massive ordeal, but NOPE! As the lyrics continue, you realize he’s learned NOTHING, and it’s amazing.
  • I’ve watched it on television a thousand times, but it took re-visiting it on the big screen to realize that Zero’s glowing nose is actually a light-up jack-o-lantern. Huh. Neat.
  • The whole Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo and just all of that recent business really casts a new light on Sally’s relationship with Dr. Finkelstein.
Dr. Finkelstein holds Sally's arm in front of her

Yikes.

  • A few years ago I went to Disneyland in October, and I felt chagrined to discover that the Haunted Mansion ride had been given a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. Make no mistake:  If this movie had its own ride, I’d be the first in line. But the whole point of the trip was to get drenched in nostalgia, so I felt bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t experience the Haunted Mansion of my childhood.
  • Only one sobbing, terrified child at my screening. I had estimated there would be about three.

Aside

Over the weekend, I walked up to the Georgetown theater to see Denial. I sat near an old married couple, near enough to hear him quietly give her his one-word opinion on each trailer. Skip or see. He’s apparently a tough critic because everything got a skip, but she contradicted him on Loving and Collateral Beauty. And the way she said “see” made me think that he is definitely going to have to sit through those two movies.

Despite the highly emotional nature of the controversy at its heart, Denial is a cerebral pleasure. To watch it is to view an inflammatory topic as an invisible member of a highly skilled legal team, dispassionately and strategically. I enjoyed it, but probably will not revisit.

Quick Comparison

Jurassic World Poster

Franchise: Jurassic Park
Years since previous installment: 14
My opinion of previous installment: Utter bullshit.
Reaction to new sequel: Mind-blowingly excited. Can! Not! Wait!

Terminator Genisys Poster

Franchise: Terminator
Years since previous installment: 6
My opinion of previous installment: Solidly entertaining.
Reaction to new sequel: Exhausted. Bored.

I  make zero sense.

The Movies of 2014

Whoops. Totally forgot about this back in January. Also, totally forgot about updating this blog for, like, six months or so.

The System (only for theatrical viewings):
* Good enough to justify the ticket price
** I genuinely liked it
X I hated it
+ Number of repeat viewings at the theater

Theatrical List:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Midnight Revival Show: Legend **
The LEGO Movie **
About Last Night *
2014 Oscar Shorts: Animated **
Frozen **
Divergent *
Captain America: The Winter Soldier **
Only Lovers Left Alive *
Screening Event: The Room *
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Godzilla *
X-Men: Days of Future Past *
Maleficent * + 1
Edge of Tommorrow **
Mel Brooks Film Festival: Blazing Saddles *
Lucy
Guardians of the Galaxy **
The Giver *
Chef **
This is Where I Leave You *
The Boxtrolls *
The Book of Life **
John Wick **
Nightcrawler *
Interstellar *
Big Hero 6 **

Home Viewing List:

Elysium
MST3K: Future War
Prince of Darkness
MST3K: Horrors of Spider Island
MST3K: Warrior of the Lost World
MST3K: The Phantom Planet
MST3K: Night of the Blood Beast
Pacific Rim
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Europa Report
The Way, Way Back
Justice League: War
Rapture-palooza
Hell Baby
MST3K: Werewolf
MST3K: Beginning of the End
MST3K: The Starfighters
Arthur (2011)
The Conjuring
Dune
Scarface (1932)
Let’s Go to Prison
MST3K: Final Justice
Goon
Tales of the Night
Batman: Assault on Arkham
MST3K: Hercules and the Captive Women
BoJack Horseman (series)
MST3K: Gamera vs. Guiron
Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics
R.I.P.D
MST3K: Gamera vs. Barugon
Marvel’s Iron Man & Captain America: Heroes United
MST3K: NInja Master 1
Insidious
22 Jump Street
Oculus
Coherence
Jack Reacher
Insidious Chapter 2

On John Wick

John Wick surprised me. Not in its content. What you see in the commercials is what you get in the theater. Instead, it startled me with how much I enjoyed it.*

John Wick is what it is and nothing more, but it’s a masterful example of what it is: a straightforward action flick that would’ve starred Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal back in the day. If that interests you, then you’ve probably seen before everything John Wick has to offer. I know I’ve lost track of all those retired bad-asses drawn back into the game by the need for revenge. I’ve also seen mentor and mentee assassins, and I’ve known plenty other Russian mafiosos with callow sons. **

But despite the retro plot elements, the movie achieves its own unique, modern vibe. Had John Wick been filmed in the 80s, it would have been as loud and ugly as it was dumb and violent. Instead,  first-time director Chad Stahelski has created something a little bit dumb and entirely violent, but also smooth and stylish.

It’s frankly amazing how posh this genre has become. John Wick stops short of the Sin City-level of stylized, but it has a toe slightly over the line. So many sleek, powerful cars. So many natty suits. Keanu Reeves looks as much like a Prada model as ever. Such a civilized and urbane veneer disguising the underbelly of the beast.

A key to the movie’s success is that it’s as much about the shadowy criminal society Wick navigates as it is about Wick’s quest to kill the man who killed his dog. It’s a world where you trade one solid gold coin for each dead body you need professionally adios-ed. And that’s just one of many delightfully weird moments that transpire in a wholly matter-of-fact fashion.

Speaking of dead bodies, I admit I entered the theater with an attitude about the basic premise. To my mind, no dog – no matter how cuddly and lovable – is worth taking 60+ human lives (at least). They’re conveyed as meaningless henchmen deaths, but if we don’t care about them, why do we care about Wick exactly? He once was what they are currently, and if he can redeem himself, why can’t they? But I gradually came to understand that the puppy isn’t the point.

Yes, a puppy is clubbed to death (off-screen, with far more discretion than is afforded to several humans receiving bullets to the face). But that isn’t really why Wick goes on a killing spree. I don’t even really buy into the rationale that it’s the metaphorical meaning that Wick attaches to the puppy. I personally see this as a movie about widower working his way through the anger phase of his grief cycle in a hail of bullets. You either get on board with that or you don’t.

The well-staged fight choreography will help with that. The action looks and feels real and brutal. Elegant as it is, it also seems satisfyingly difficult. Action movies always seem to have at least one scene in which a bad-ass breaks someone’s neck with just a swift, little twist. This usually looks like it takes less effort than twisting off a bottle cap. Not here. Wick does overpower many of his enemies within seconds, but it always still manages to look like a job of work.

 

* Particularly because a convenient matinee time factored more heavily into my decision to buy a ticket than any real desire to see it.

** My first recorded sighting: 1997 in The Saint.

 

 

Hello, Mr. King

Tomorrow night I will attend a Q&A event with Stephen King. He will perform a reading from his latest novel, Revival, and, if I’m very lucky, I will go home with a signed copy.

I’m terribly excited. In anticipation, I’ve been re-reading King’s autobiography (which is also a brilliant guide for aspiring authors), On Writing. I’ve also been thinking about my favorite movies based on his works. I’ve collected the following list. Keep in mind these are simply the titles for which I feel the greatest amount of affection, not necessarily the best examples of high-quality cinema.

Continue reading

Deathmatch: Animation Domination

The Boxtrolls vs. The Book of Life!

Posters for The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life

Images from IMDB

There is no real competition here. I loved BoL. I loved it the same way everyone else in the known universe who is not me reacted to Frozen.*

In contrast, I appreciated Boxtrolls more than I really liked it per se. I respect how it expressed a uniquely weird vision. And make no mistake, it is seriously weird. That isn’t precisely a complaint considering I bought my ticket hoping for something as weird-and-wonderful as Coraline and ParaNorman.** The good folks at the Laika stop-motion animation studio aren’t afraid to go scary and unpleasant, and that’s exactly what I like about their product. But this maybe crossed a threshold for me.

While I mostly enjoyed the look and the feel of Boxtrolls, I found some parts almost unendurably ugly and repellent. The icky look of the villains undermines the story’s message of tolerance. I do firmly believe our culture needs more stories about learning to love things that aren’t cute, but this one features trolls that are far cuter than the humans. I spent more than half the running time terribly afraid the movie would go full Jungle Book, but it course-corrected in time to make a nice point about choosing your own path in life. However, that doesn’t completely make up for the fact that the plot jags off on a bizarre, cross-dressing-related tangent, which I wouldn’t mind except that they treat the subject so negatively.

Other than thematic concerns, I just didn’t get swept up in the tale, and I didn’t fall in love with the characters. Frankly, the bratty ginger “heroine” has few redeeming qualities.­ And it felt overly long even at a slim 96 minutes. It would’ve been an amazing short film, though.

As for BoL, I find I don’t have a lot to dissect with it, so I can mostly sum up my feeling with an enthusiastic recommendation. BoL is definitely more conventional, but it still feels like a breath of fresh air. I loved the colorful visual style that felt textured and almost touchable. The soundtrack is a brilliant mix of original songs and pop music arranged in a traditional mariachi style. And it manages to effectively convey a layered narrative without confusing children. It’s not just a love story, but also manages to have something meaningful to say about family ties, the nature of heroism, and how to draw inspiration from folklore to live a better modern life. All strands weave together magically into a lovely tapestry. If I had one small quibble, I do wish we could’ve spent more time with Maria to get to know her better, but perhaps then the movie would’ve overstayed its welcome with the youngest audience members.

* Note: I actually quite enjoyed Frozen. Please don’t send me hate mail.

 ** ParaNorman was once itself the subject of an October animation deathmatch, wherein it cleaned the floor with Disney’s shallow re-imagining of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Delicious

Last weekend I saw Chef on the recommendation of my best guy friend, a.k.a “BFF.” And as he predicted, I did indeed love it. I loved it as a searing metaphor for writer/director Jon Favreau’s relationship to the Hollywood machine, and I loved it for itself: a savory-sweet concoction of joyfulness. Such a happy-go-lucky little movie. And I really appreciated seeing a story about an adult taking the time to teach a child things that are worth knowing.

As I sat watching the credits and absorbing what I’d just watched, I realized during the credit cookie that Chef amounted to an easy slam-dunk for me not just because it’s good, but also because it’s way up my alley. There are certain types of movies that are hard to ruin for me. One is a twisty amnesia mystery. Another is any movie that involves lovingly filmed scenes of food preparation.

This is a Cuban sandwich. There's no avoiding eating one after you see Chef. Do yourself a favor and get one lined up in advance. This one comes from Paladar in Rockville, MD.

This is a Cuban sandwich. There’s no avoiding eating one after you see Chef. Do yourself a favor and get one lined up in advance. This one comes from Paladar.

I make no claims to “foodie” status. I enjoy squirt cheese too much for that. But, for better or worse, I am an emotional eater. Scenes that imbue food with that sensibility hit me where I live. It’s not just movies either. My favorite scene in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is where Pilate teaches her nephew how to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg. I still vividly remember reading that book in my twin bed in my college dorm. After I came to that passage, I got no farther on my reading assignment that night because I just kept re-reading that part over and over again. It triggered the sweet spot in my brain.

To hit the sweet spots in your brains, here are some other food-centric movie moments for your viewing pleasure:

Continue reading