PG-13. It has the same rating as Grumpy Old Men for a reason.
DIRECTOR: Hannes Holm
I stared with the Grumpy Old Men comparison, so I'm going to finish it before I get too off track. There are just too many comparisons to Grumpy Old Men and movies of that genre to ignore. I was discussing this movie with my film class the other day and they wondered if it was too sappy. I really had to pause. This genre is a sappy one. It's always with the dude who hates life and everyone and then learns to love while still maintaining a hint of the grump who has always been there. Yeah, this is that movie. What about it?
I liked this movie. I really liked it. I think that Kimmel nailed the point about how depressing the nominees were for Best Picture this year. Yeah, this movie is depressing in concept. It's about a guy failing to kill himself. But it's funny. I know that sounds super flippant, but the movie asks us to laugh at Ove's misfortune. Maybe this movie is more on the nature of comedy. I keep reading about how inappropriate humor should be banned and I don't want to stand on my soapbox and sound like the grumpy old man depicted above, but the movie isn't meant to be funny. Like most humor, someone is going to get upset. Depression and suicide are very serious topics. But we, as a culture, have either a choice to laugh or to sit sadly at a wall and only feed the depression. A Man Called Ove really rides the line between the humor that comes from the morbid and the sadness that comes with a man dealing with being alone. The weird part is that this is the kind of movie that can make me more angry than anything else. Emotionally manipulative garbage usually comes from directors trying to do something dramatic and something funny simultaneously. These are the movies that I have to be polite about when discussing among mixed company. "Oh, I'm glad you liked it. I wasn't the biggest fan, but that's exciting." People stare at me like I'm a monster and I have to apologize to my wife again. But Ove pulls it off. It reminds me of the first time I saw Life is Beautiful, addressing a real problem and giving it a humorous tone.
Holm pulls off the world of Ove not just with his lead character, but with the setting he creates. The world is both ultra-grounded and somewhat bizarre. Now, I've only been to Sweden once (AWARD WINNING SENTENCE!), but that subdivision seems just so typical of what I've seen. It is in the details that create the world of Ove. The movie covers this world pretty well, and the setting is almost as valuable as that of Gravity. (Okay, now I'm now full of garbage.) But Ove is in completely control of the things around him. Perhaps there is a sense of irony that Ove feels like he has lost control. But everything in this world exists because of his actions. I'd like to think that Holm has sculpted everything in a Rube Golberg-esque way. A guy falls off a ladder? Ove's ladder. Kids need to go to the hospital? Ove's car. A man needs to be identified as a villain? Ove's policy. Geez, the neighborhood is almost designed by an obsessive-compulsive H.H. Holmes who is trying to impress the HOA. The movie doesn't really work without the world around him.
Perhaps my favorite part of this movie is the love story. The movie flashes throughout Ove's life and that is all well and good. I don't know if I can acknowledge Ove's narration of his own relationship with his father, but the story plays out pretty well. It is when he encounters his wife that I fall in love. While I never feel what he does, I understand the relationship with his dead wife. She is genuinely worthy of love from Ove's perspective. Many film relationships have a group of pretty people forced into ridiculous scenarios and the chemistry is there because we are told they have chemistry. It works sometimes and sometimes it just falls flat. But Sonja saves Ove. She seems a good and simple man and challenges him. She loves him for him and that is absolutely perfect. It is through their relationship that I want to scream at the scream and tell him to do the right thing. When he gets off the train, I just sat there, agape, not knowing how it would have worked out. Perhaps the moments getting her back seemed a bit fictional, but it gives that moment validity. As Sonja fought for him while he sat silently, he fought for her by walking. I like that. Shut up. I have a soul.
Justice is a great thing. Ove is a man of justice who has lost his way. After seeing so many movies where people treat each other like dirt, Ove's story is about standing up to the man. He calls them the White Shirts, but these are the Mr. Potters all over again. It's Parvaneh who brings that social justice to the surface. There's an absolutely beautiful moment when Ove is teaching her how to drive that just makes my heart alight. I don't want to spoil it and I don't want to seem preachy, but that moment is the difference between being comfortable and white and determined and cultural. Yeah, I'm getting really preachy, but it's why I question who we are as a people. (Important note: it is really hard to write when you don't want to be outright spoilery.)
The movie is beautiful. In an era where stuff is depressing, sometimes addressing that depression is needed to move on. I like happiness. I like relationships. Sure, I will always flock to the depressing stuff. But the depressing stuff only gets the balance when it is contrasted with something wholesome like A Man Called Ove.
I've been writing in overdrive in an attempt to review nearly every film nominated. Let's see if I can do a solid prediction this year...
BEST ACTOR (I did not see Captain Fantastic)
Whom I Want: Casey Affleck
Who Will Win: Casey Affleck or Denzel Washington. I might give the lean to Denzel Washington.
BEST ACTRESS (I did not see Elle, Loving, or Jackie)
Whom I Want: Natalie Portman or Ruth Negga
Who Will Win: Emma Stone
Whom I Really Don't Want: Meryl Streep
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (I did not see Lion or Nocturnal Animals)
Whom I Want: Lucas Hedges
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (I did not see Lion or Hidden Figures)
Whom I Want: Viola Davis or Nicole Kidman
Who Will Win: Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer. I'm giving the win to Viola Davis
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE (I did not see My Life as a Zucchini or The Red Turtle)
What I Want: Zootopia or Moana
What Will Win: Zootopia
BEST FOREIGN FILM (I only saw A Man Called Ove)
What I Want: A Man Called Ove
What Will Win: This is my weakest category. Sorry.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (I didn't see 20th Century Women)
What I Want: La La Land or The Lobster
What Will Win: La La Land
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (I didn't see Hidden Figures or Lion)
What I Want: Lion
What Will Win: Lion or Moonlight. I'm going to give it to Moonlight.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN (I didn't see Allied, Jackie, or Fantastic Beasts...)
What I Want: Jackie
What Will Win: Fantastic Beasts
BEST ORIGINAL SONG (I didn't see Jim: The James Foley Story)
What I Want: "City of Stars" or "How Far I'll Go"
What Will Win: "City of Stars"
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (I didn't see Jackie)
What I Want: La La Land
What Will Win: La La Land
BEST DOCUMENTARY (I didn't see Fire at Sea or I Am Not Your Negro...unfortunately)
What I Want: The 13th or Life, Animated
What Will Win: I Am Not Your Negro or The 13th
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT (I didn't see "Watani: My Homeland")
What I Want: "The White Helmets", "4.1 Miles" or "Joe's Violin"
What Will Win: "The White Helmets"
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
What I Want: A Man Called Ove or Star Trek Beyond
What Will Win: A Man Called Ove
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN (I didn't see Fantastic Beasts...)
What I Want: Hail, Caesar!
What Will Win: Fantastic Beasts...
BEST FILM EDITING
What I Want: Moonlight
What Will Win: Moonlight
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY (I didn't see Silence)
What I Want: Moonlight
What Will Win: Moonlight
BEST SOUND EDITING
What I Want: Arrival or Sully
What Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge
BEST SOUND MIXING
What I Want: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
What Will Win: La La Land
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
What I Want: Doctor Strange
What Will Win: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
BEST SHORT FILM ANIMATED
What I Want: "Pearl"
What Will Win: "Piper"
BEST SHORT FILM LIVE ACTION
What I Want: "Ennemis Interieurs" or "Sing"
What Will Win: "Ennemis Interieurs"
Whom I Want: Damien Chazelle
Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle
BEST PICTURE (I didn't see Hidden Figures or Lion)
What I Want: La La Land or Manchester by the Sea
What Will Win: Moonlight (gutsy call!). Maybe Lion. I give the lean to Lion. Even though I didn't see it.
R. All the R. RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR...
DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins
[Note: This post has been edited since it won Best Picture. It was getting a decent amount of attention and I was ashamed about the haphazard way I handled writing it.]
Lauren asked me "What are you going to write about this one?" It's super touchy. There's a lot of uncomfortable content in this one. But it also is something that I probably need to talk about. But I see this movie in terms of something about the reflection on humanity. And I really didn't like what I saw. This has to be a true story, so I guess that only depresses me all the more.
There's a moment in this movie. Juan is sitting next to Chiron. It was the clip used for Best Supporting Actor. Chiron straight up asks Juan if his mother does drugs. He asks him if Juan deals drugs. He is aware that Juan has caused his life to fall apart. And that's fine. Apparently, that's fine. Mom is an addict. Addiction, while not eliminating culpability, is something that is taken into account when it comes to making choices. Mom is absolutely a horrible person, but Juan has done this to Chiron. He is a monster, yet his adoption of Chiron does not let him off the hook for the world he has thrust him into. It may take the edge off slightly, but I don't know why Juan is seen as heroic in this film. He's an awful human being who has set all of the events into motion. Then I'd like to continue this logic to Chiron as an adult. The movie focuses on the pain that he goes through time and again. Yet, he goes into the very profession that destroyed his life. He knows first hand the pain that drugs create. But he is thrusting that world on countless others all for the sake of money. Chiron is not noble. He is pitiable at best. But I have a real difficulty pitying him knowing that he has made dozens of other children like him; children that spend their evening taking care of their parents and living in fear and poverty. I know that his life was terrible. I witnessed it through film. But his sin might be greater than that of Juan's. He knows first hand the damage he is causing and he embraces it. That's messed up.
This has to be a true story. I know it's a Google search away, but this rings as a true story. I just don't love when sexuality is thrust upon kids. Chiron is too young to even think about his own sexuality. And that's my white suburban privilege talking. It's just such a strange message. Chiron was defined by others way before he had a chance. My heart bleeds because I want him to play with other kids and to go home and have a home. I want him to be a kid and I know first hand that there are way too many kids who lead Chiron's life. That's really the hardest part of this movie. Perhaps there is a message about nature v. nurture here. There probably is quite a bit to dispute. But I also know that the real tragedy comes from the environment that Chiron is exposed to on a constant basis. I couldn't help but take that into account when I heard the producer's speech about how they were waking people up to the challenges kids go through when it comes to their sexuality. Yes, that is a very real problem. But was the narrative itself part of the problem? The fact that I can have a blog about film means the problems in my life have to be fairly minimal. I just don't want to applaud the moments in the film that are considered liberating. This kid is thrown into the deep end of the ocean (Oh, I get the swimming metaphor now...) and expected to understand everything that's going on. I watched the uncomfortable scene (yup, that one) and I knew the next thing that was going to happen with Kev. None of that is healthy. The part that I can agree with the creators of the film on is that the world has a toxic relationship with how we process emotions as a culture. I just probably don't agree with the solution.
The real magic that comes from this movie is the movie making. This is a movie that stands tall based on cinematography, score, and performances. Barry Jenkins made a gorgeous looking movie. Each cel was a masterpiece. The use of color and music, golly. Mise en scene, right guys? There's a part in the movie that keeps haunting me. Naomie Harris is framed center, staring dead center at the camera and is illuminated in purple. It is slow-mo and it is painful. And this is where the movie sings. It is the attention to every single aspect of every shot that emotionally manipulates. I stand by my original assessment of Chiron and Juan, but I did relate to them. They are framed absolutely beautifully. The story can be told without performances, but those performances are still great. I am still weirded out that Mahershala Ali won for Best Supporting, but after Mark Rylance got it for Bridge of Spies, I can get behind it. I found it more bizarre for the three actors who played Chrion. That's where the heartbreak was. Ali had an excellent 2016 between this and Luke Cage. I can't help but think that the Oscars reflect that attitude of "This actor has a range of work we're celebrating" rather than individual performances. Ali is great, but the character isn't that much of a range. He shoehorns himself into the plot and is pivotal to the story, but what is really being asked of Ali? Hang out with a kid well? There's no real ups or downs, with the exception of the one scene with Naomie Harris, and Harris is really doing the heavy lifting.
I kept trying to think what other film Moonlight reminded me of. I kept seeing moments of Boyhood, only with a far more cohesive structure. Boyhood meanders a bit more, but we definitely explore the motif of "growing up" in an effective way. The three chapters of Chiron's life are all interlocking stories and the choices that are made between one and two are fascinating. I don't know about Part III, simply because that change is huge. The character is unusually quiet for a protagonist. Things happen to him rather than being a force of nature that drives the story. Even Black is more of a face that Chiron wears. Trevante Rhodes really should have gotten more attention because he is more of the dual nature of the character. Of course, I'm going to applaud the younger actors for their performance in such a difficult piece, but Rhodes manages to hide the two younger versions inside a very different performance. Black is a persona and Little and Chiron can take a back seat. But they are always there. Black's abandoning of that mask in the diner was haunting and I wonder if we all somewhat do that. Chiron has a reason for hiding his younger selves, but that moment really did ring true.
I want to close up on the character of Teresa. Teresa is the most likable in the story. She seems like a genuinely wonderful person. She takes care of Chiron out of the goodness of her heart. And there is something to be said about what love makes us choose. But I want to see the argument. I want to see her make the connection that I made earlier. I want to see the tears and the sacrifices that she makes to stay with Juan. She can't go through her life without thinking about it. I don't know. It is all so complicated and I applaud complication. Perhaps it is the focus of the piece that doesn't allow us to explore Teresa's journey in this whole thing. Harris often attacks Teresa as being the false mother, but does Teresa view herself as a mother. For such a central character, I don't get much about Teresa's motives or her guilt for her part in Chiron's life.
This is a beautifully made movie that hurts and kind of makes me think less of humanity. I like challenging movies, but usually ones that make me want to think the best of the world. There has to be a hint of a better place. This just left me broken and I don't know if that's what I want.
A well-deserved R. One thing Mel Gibson has always been good at is making cinematic violence. And, boy-oh-boy, is there a lot of that cinematic violence in this movie.
DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson
I have to destroy this movie before building it up. The first act is a hot mess. I mean, wow, there was some very audible eye rolling and gags between my wife and I while watching this. Apparently one thing Mel Gibson can't direct very well is dudes who enjoy nature and hit on pretty ladies. I mean, this was so ham-fisted I had to question whether this nomination was a pity nomination. It's not. Okay, it kinda is and kinda isn't. The movie as a whole is pretty solid. But the beginning? Wowee-zowee. Like, seriously.
But then Vince Vaughan shows up and the inciting incident happens and mostly everything is forgiven. The movie is a powerful one. Yes, it is a war movie and Mel Gibson definitely doesn't want us to forget that. Like I mentioned in the MPAA rating section, the dude loves to shoot violence and shoot violence in droves he does. But this movie is darned powerful. Perhaps it is a thing I'm going through with violence in reality. It was refreshing to see the war movie from the conscientious objector's point of view. Andrew Garfield fills the role of Desmond Doss with a certain respect that I absolutely love. Sure, he's ri-donk goofy in the first act, but believes his message once the gun is given to him. I like Garfield. Hearing stories about how Silence changed him gave such a rich context to his performance. Listen, I'm proudly Catholic and Gibson, for his many public flaws, doesn't seem to shy away from faith. Doss was a man of faith and that is first and foremost driven by a need to respect that faith. This is Old Man Mr. H grumbling about kids these days, but faith is starting to become an unpopular idea. Perhaps because faith has seemed to be diametrically opposed to science, which is it not. Perhaps it is from the quality of faith based movies coming up. The Shack, I'm looking at you. At least you aren't A Dog's Purpose. But this was a nice balance about the power of faith. There was nothing offensive or arguable about Doss's faith and that's awesome.
So can a movie hold its own with such a huge flaw? It has so much going for it. What Gibson pulls off is making us feel for characters who are inherently jerks. (I am now just realizing that I just figured out the theme of Gibson's personal life creeping into his film.) Everyone in this movie treats Garfield's Doss with a sense of disdain. Lauren genuinely hated him, not knowing how the movie ends up. She thought he was being selfish, so I guess the reactions in the movie are authentic. Gibson plays up the reality of such a situation. We should be mad at Doss. I don't think anyone would agree with Vaughn's sergeant actively encouraging his squad to accost Doss, but understanding the fear of the men is first and foremost. I'd love to crawl into my wife's brain while watching this film and watch it from the perspective of someone who is just risking the lives of his platoon. I knew how many people he saved ahead of time. That is a very different movie than the one I saw.
But that moment. Let me put a spoiler warning because there are other people like my wife who don't know the premise of the movie. Here we go. Doss going back. Over and over. Yeah, it's emotional, but it doesn't feel cheap. It did its job of showing the value of life. It didn't matter what life he saved. I actually got mad when I found out that the Japanese soldiers he sent down weren't taken care of. I think about him running across that battlefield and risking his own life time and again and each one of those lives really should matter. War breeds hate and I can't throw those soldiers under the bus, but I also weep for Doss. He only had love in a state where love shouldn't exist. That's something I wish I could do. I'd like to get through this life without taking a life and I'm trying my best to place myself in situations where that would never even be an option. But he went beyond with that love for life by joining the military and turning the war towards survival. That's crazy. Genuinely crazy.
Can we forgive a director? I'm watching the Academy Awards while writing this. I know, a poor decision. But I also feel like I'm serving...the people. (I can also plagiarize Bane.) Gibson is getting reemed and taking it with a smile. I hated what he did. He disgusted me. Maybe Hacksaw Ridge isn't the movie that earns his acceptance. But there needs to be a line in the sand where the art apologizes for the content. Art has such a value to society and an artist tends to be broken. Mel Gibson is a broken man with a broken foundation. But he seems to want speak through his films. I loved The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. I want to see him make movies again. Maybe he now has a sense of humility that he was never given previously. He was on top of the world and now he makes movies like Hacksaw Ridge. That's a good start. I know people are hurt and that's appropriate. But I want to see him make movies. Maybe one of those movies could be a genuine apology. I'm an idealist and I want to see him understand people through his own art.
PG. Look at that. I'm sure that someone saw a live action movie and fought desperately for PG-13, but the Disney logo at the beginning helps people keep their heads. That said, if I showed this movie to my two-year-old, I'm sure he'd forget his potty training really quick.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
Let's set one thing straight right now: We are never getting another Swingers. Jon Favreau is just another dude now. He made Chef a few years ago to keep his indie filmmaker cred, but that wasn't the same. I really hope that it is because he's just at a different place in his life. The idealist in me says that Chef is an example of growth as a person and as a director. But the tiny pessimist in me worries that Hollywood success has changed his voice. But I got Iron Man and the MCU out of it, so I can sacrifice the director of Made to that pyre.
Disney has been pushing the live action adaptation of their animated classics. I don't...get it? The movies are always solid and their a fun watch, but they really don't have the same staying power as their original creations. I weirdly read a bunch on the making of this movie a while ago, mostly because I wondered how Favreau would approach a full-on kids movie. Favreau played the card of saying that they were paying homage to the original movie while respecting the original Kipling story. I thought that was cool and, for the most part, I think he pulls it off. That statement was as true as I can imagine a live action Disney adaptation can do. If that was his goal, he did it with bells on. But my big questions is...
After seeing Cinderella and The Jungle Book, there is so little that is original. Not to tie Vince Vaughan into this whole mix being a Favreau joint and all, it reminds me of the Gus Van Sant versions of Psycho. There is a certain slavish attitude that accompanies such a fawning of its own work. It is more of a challenge in adaptation than it is in creating something new. Remake, for the most part, has been associated with "why?" We go to movies to at least pretend that cinema presents a new voice. Yeah, everything is a copy of something else, but I like to pretend to be surprised. But while watching The Jungle Book, I was thinking "They better sing 'The Bear Necessities' or I'm outie 5000." I'm sorry that my inner monologue will always be linked to late '90s lingo, but I'm an independent gentleman who writes on a blog for funsies. Your move. I acknowledge that remakes have to pay tribute to the original rather than establishing an independent spirit and voice. That seems cheap and yet there is something that we need to see. So maybe this isn't a Disney thing but a remake thing. Disney presents the best of the remake, but I guarantee in five years time that no one is going to be preaching The Jungle Book. We're on the verge of getting Beauty and the Beast and I think we're more excited to see Emma Watson sing rather than care about the movie itself.
I love the voice cast of this movie. I'm always hesitant to see Bill Murray attached to a children's movie. I love the story about why Murray made the Garfield movies. (He mistook the "Cohen Brothers" for the "Coen Brothers." The Coen Brothers making a Garfield movie warms my heart.) I know that he is infamous for phoning in performances rather than be vulnerable often. I kept wondering, "Is he making fun of me for liking his portrayal of Baloo?" which is not the best way to enjoy a movie. I liked him a lot for that part. And it wasn't because it was Bill Murray. Baloo was kind and gentile. I think the song was a bit of a concession on Murray's part, even though he does enjoy singing most of the time. I also super dig Idris Elba in everything. He makes a scary bad guy and I could almost see his choices in the tiger's face. Yes, that's on me and not on him. The weirdest choice was Scarlett Johansson as Kaa. I'm not saying a woman couldn't play Kaa because I think that's a cool choice. But Kaa plays such a minor part in this movie and I didn't see anything in particular that Johansson tried adding to the part besides one of the most straightforward deliveries I'd ever seen. Maybe she was going for scary as opposed to the playful Kaa of the original, but I was unimpressed. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera is awesome and I'll say why. It's the one voice where I forgot who was voicing him and just heard Bagheera. That's what it should have been all around. His was the most internalized and I thought that was great. And Walken is Walken.
Let's talk the kid. Neel Sethi as Mowgli has to hold the movie. He does. I also don't like crapping on kids in nearly impossible situations. I saw the pre-CG footage of this movie and it is straight up goofy. So there are moments --I can't deny it --that the kid comes across as absolutely silly. But I also then remove all the digital wizardry in my head and remember...oh yeah, he's talking to a green ninja on a green set with a laser to where he's supposed to look. Trained actors have a hard time with that. So he pulls it off...as best as he can.
Considering that this movie is up for the award for special effects, I feel like I need to comment on it. (Also, because this review is running a little short and I got my two cents out about it.) I want to moan about CG and how it is taking over Hollywood, but it is very impressive. But I also feel like CG is only as good as its weakest moment. 95% of this movie is golden. It is pretty immersive, but there are moments. And those are the moments where things start falling apart. It's where the string on the fabric is hanging loose. I'm thinking back to the special editions of Star Wars. (Don't break your computer! I'm allowed to pick the low hanging fruit.) I remember being in the theater and being awestruck by a lot of the special effects. But there were moments. And in those moments, everything lost its cohesion. I now can't unsee the weak moments. I griped about this with Rogue One and Jungle Book has a bit of that. That image above of Baloo is unfortunate for that very reason. The cats and the wolves look great. Baloo is a digital suit. I know it isn't bad, but coming back to this over time will prove unfortunate.
The movie is fun and scary. Jon Favreau has proven that he can hold the reigns of a big budget blockbuster. But the movie could be the best, but it will always be subject to its predecessor. I don't love that. I want something new and original and this is just a sacrifice to the altar of the past.
PG...for scaring the living crap out of my kids. This one is actually pretty scary. Nice job, whatever company it is that makes puppets that scare the crap out of kids. Nice job.
DIRECTOR: Travis Knight
Like, I can't stress this enough. My kids haven't talked about it afterwards because I showed them an episode of Furchester Hotel afterwards (a Sesame Street spin-off for the uninitiated), but these kids cuddled real hard. Henry was shaking and I had to audibly cheer for Kubo as he fought some absolutely terrifying monsters. I'm not saying it's bad, but I might glare at the fine folks at Laika for absolutely frightening my kids. What's that, you say? I'm the parent? Do you know what stopping a scary movie midway does to a kid. It's like The Ring. You need to finish the quest to survive. I never got over my fear of Judge Doom until I finished Who Framed Roger Rabbit? without covering my eyes. That's the way the world works. Besides, they seem good now. For some reason, they are now scared of Trolls. Go figure.
First and foremost, Laika knows how to make a pretty stop motion movie. Paranorman was one of my favorite animated movies of the past decade. While I could forget The Boxtrolls, the level of commitment that the artists put into their work is just stunning. It was a really smart move to use paper as a motif in the film. After seeing Disney's "Paperman" short from a few years ago, to gorgeousness of paper moving in the wind sells itself really. Laika and Travis Knight pushed the imagery further, giving the paper multiple personalities based on the surrounding content. I adored how the paper moved to match Kubo's personality. The only thing that was really constant about the movement of the paper was the fact that it was always magical and full of majesty. I kept shouting out, "He's gonna do something with paper guys" and the three of us just kept our eyes peeled to the screen, waiting to see how the next magic trick was going to play out. But the paper wouldn't have worked without the entire world created by the animators. I pity many animators today. While the use of computers and editing software has made some aspects of animation easier, the attention to detail in these movies is unforgiving. It seems like each movie is trying to outdo the other films' world-building efforts. The richness and texture of this movie really puts my general dislike of The Boxtrolls out of my head. The world is rich and soulful and paper should interact with this world of nature.
The movie is weird, though. I like complicated movies and I like when the story gets weird, but this might not exactly mesh with its audience. I know one of my students adores this movie, but she is also a high school student who loves complex sci-fi fantasy. I'm trying to discuss these moments with my two and five year old and they are just looking at the fun action scenes. The world is not alien and bizarre, but it also isn't easy. Again, I can't stress enough that a movie has to be easy, but I also know that my daughter might have been way more into had she been able to summarize the major plot points to me afterwards. I think the movie, through its own attempt to be more than simply a series of action sequences strung together, became exactly that. My kids fidgeted and grew restless for the periods of intense plot development, giggled at Matthew McConaughey's jokes, and then trembled at the scary scary fight sequences. I found myself stopping the movie, asking if they knew what was going on, and trying my best to adapt this dense plot into something far more accessible. I don't love that in kids's movies. My movies? Fine. Kids? Not so much.
George Takei said, "Oh my." That pulled me out for a sec.
The movie gets more right than it does wrong. Kubo and his team are all wildly relatable, even if their quest and plot seem foreign and bizarre. I thought it odd to start the movie with a kid with one eye. The one eye isn't the problem. It's how he lost it. Light spoilers: his grandfather pulled it out. But I liked Kubo. I liked his approach to the world. I also loved that his big weapon was a stringed instrument that controlled the world around him. Yes, Kubo does get quite violent, especially once he gets his hands on a sword. But the movie has the theme of art and passion as the greatest weapons of all. Again, I don't really get the relationship of the grandfather and his quest for Kubo's other eye, but there's something beautiful there if you can ignore the absolutely banana's storyline.
There was one thing that really bothered me and it goes into major spoiler territory. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I don't know if I morally approve of the ending of the movie. I'm talking about the lying to the grandfather and the strange reconditioning of the villain. That seemed a little bit evil. Yeah, part of my psyche acknowledged that ignorance was bliss and that it would serve far better than a jail that could not possibly hold him, but didn't that seem a little sketch. There were kids making up stories about how good this man was and he believed it. No one had any compunction about lying to this man. I know I killjoy everything, but I don't know if I like the idea that the truth wouldn't set him free. Wouldn't it have been more impressive had the villagers told him the truth, forgiven him, and taught him how to love again? It felt like they were stripping him of his free will and is personality. It all felt very A Clockwork Orange and with the violence already present in this questionably PG movie, I had to naturally make the connection.
I love Laika. I just wish that they had the staying power of a Disney film. I don't know if I'll ever return to Kubo and the Two Strings, even though I enjoyed it quite a bit. I don't think its the lack of songs, (besides the closing version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Regina Spektor), but there's something missing when it comes to rewatchabilty of these movies. The movie is fun, but the Disney charm just isn't there. I have to point out that, even though I won't shut up about Disney, I am worried that Disney has brainwashed me. I'm never going to be a superfan or even a fan, but I always feel like applauding them and using them as a pace car for ever kids movie that is released. I want to love this movie and part of me really does. I just don't want to ever revisit it gain.
PG-13. Perhaps another scathing example of how America is very cool with violence, scary things, and people getting hurt.
DIRECTOR: Peter Berg
I know someone's written it. It has to be somewhere on the Internet. Someone has to have written about how trailers completely miss the point of the movie to sell it to an audience that wouldn't see it while alienating an audience that would really get into it. I feel kind of dumb when it comes to my knowledge of current events because I had no idea that the title "Deepwater Horizon" referred to the BP oil spill. The movie is marketed as a boss, broey, survival film like Peter Berg's Lone Survivor. I've already mentioned how I tend to see these movies, but don't really preach them ultra hard. Had I known that this was a commentary about the greed of BP set against the backdrop of stuff blowing up and real people getting hurt, I might have fallen in line a little sooner. (i acknowledge the fact that the trailer probably said, "Based on a True Story", but so does Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So I roll my eyes pretty hard when I read that.)
The weird part about my reaction to it all is that the movie really hits two buttons simultaneously. The movie, for what defense I gave it, is very broey. Stuff explodes real good in this movie. When I get engulfed in this movie and shut off my soul (because all I can think of now are the real people involved in the accident), the movie is fantastically entertaining. But the social content really gets to me as well. BP execs were horrible scumbags and I can't believe that I'm so stilted that I still gas up there from time-to-time. I'm more of a hypocrite than I'm comfortable with. This is my own cross to bear. This isn't on you. But the movie really does a phenomenal job of painting the BP execs as rich jerks who shortcut basic safety protocols. Whether this is true or not, who knows? But I come from an era when "industrialist" was synonymous with "bad guy." So let's keep that train rolling and make our movie easily identifiable.
I always have a hard time determining whether Mark Wahlberg is the best actor or the worst actor. I can't reconcile his performance in The Happening. If you haven't seen it, don't. Man, that movie is something. But I do recommend you find a clip on YouTube of Mark Wahlberg from The Happening. That is something on a new level of terrible. But this is also the same guy who stole the show in The Departed. Perhaps it is the character actor role that lets him get good. Deepwater Horizon allows us to see the rare occasion when Mark Wahlberg plays a regular dude who is fairly convincing. He's loaded with oil rigging jargon and light ribbing constantly, which may cover up any real vulnerability. But his character is likable. Like, really likable. I want to be friends with that dude, if only for the fact that if my house blew up, he'd pick me up regardless of my level of concussion. For a drama that serves as a political and social reminder about the evils of BP and major corporations, it is weird that the protagonist is really just an action movie star. He has action movie star traits. I thank Peter Berg and the rest of the production team for avoiding any ridiculous puns regarding exploding oil rigs because the movie carries its seriousness on its shoulders. The movie is actiony, but don't you dare goof around with it.
This is a short little shout out and i haven't thought where I'm going with it, but I really liked Malkovich in this role. Yeah, he's an arch villain with levels of jerkery that I have rarely witnessed in reality, but the movie needed him to be that cocky. The crazy part is that he isn't stupid. He's the guy who is super educated, but you need to see get his come-uppins. In reality, it should be characters like Mister Jimmy who don't know what they are talking about. I guess the movie does crap on academics a bit, but that's cool. Again, I'm not cool with my own hypocrisy. I also want someone to start calling me "Mister Jimmy." Would it be "Mr. Timmy"? Nah, I don't like it anymore. "Mr. H" is fine.
The more I think about it, the goofier this movie really is. There are some really weird choices by some of the characters that felt really Hollywood-y to me. Not shutting down the derrick or the pipeline until an exec gave the go ahead? That seems like no one would be fighting that battle super hard. But this movie had that scene. I truly believe that my low expectations really made this movie a fun sell. Also, I watched this one on my own. Had I been worrying about what my wife thought of the movie, I might be raking it through the mud. Environment definitely affects my approach to cinema. This was a great Tuesday evening movie by myself and I enjoyed the living daylights out of it. Yeah, it bums me out that these were real people, but I also applaud that the story was more than popcorn action-ey nonsense. The movie touched on something important and I liked that. Also, I think we needed a reminder that what happened that day was awful. We have, as a culture, such a short memory to distaster nowadays that a reminder doesn't hurt. But I'm probably still going to fill up at BP. That's mostly because I'm a bad person the clerks at mine are really friendly.
PG-13. Hugh Grant is having an affair...kind of? I don't know. The confusion deserves the "13" attachment alone.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
Yup. The High Fidelity guy directed this one. I was shocked too. High Fidelity is great. It'll probably always be one of my favorite movies. I guess that they can't all be High Fidelity. I suppose that's a little unfair. It is Oscar nominated for Best Actress, but I think I need to expound on it first. There has to be a sense of irony behind this nomination. I can't unsee it and I might lose some friends over this one. If you aren't up on this movie, the basic premise that Meryl Streep's title character lives a life of ignorance as those around her continue to upkeep her delusion that she is the most amazing singer in all of New York. But not only is she not the best; she might be the worst singer to ever appear publicly. The irony that I'm talking about is that this movie isn't very good. Meryl Streep, whom I will acknowledge is a pretty solid actress, keeps getting nominated for the Oscar. This almost feels like it is a running gag that has been going on for far too long. Now, Streep is getting nominated for a movie that wasn't that good.
Before you refuse to read this review any more than I thought previously possible, I have to state that she does an adequate job. But the role isn't that meaty. I honestly could think that any rookie actor could take this role and give the same performance. Yes, Steep can cry on command. But what emotional connection do I have to that? Lots of people can cry. Streep may have gotten the most water out of a stone, but there are other performances that are authentically impressive. Why do we have to keep nominating Streep? Is it a marketing thing? Are the Academy Awards pulling Streepers? (Streepettes? Streepadelphians? I refuse to equate "Streep" with "Strip", so go peddle your filth elsewhere.) She is a very talented actress, but doesn't it diminish the objectively great stuff by nominating her for this one trick pony role? So I do find it ironic that we are convincing Meryl Streep that she is Oscar worthy with everything that she does when she can occasionally act in a pretty boring role.
The movie as a whole is a bit of a mess. I was discussing this movie with one of my friends who kind of liked it. His argument was that it was based on a true story, so the movie deserves to get made. The problem is that there is little journey for the characters to go on. The characters live in Foster Jenkins's world from the beginning. That "playing along" aspect permeates every moment of the film and the story only fights to keep the charade up as long as possible. Foster Jenkins speaks throughout about her love for art, but the movie is mostly about how participation awards should be celebrated and that we should lie to our loved ones. There is potential for making this a movie about complete devotion and how we want the best for those around us, but the constant lying and upkeep of this world makes the few moments of love seem somewhat shallow. I do believe that Hugh Grant's Bayfield did care for Foster Jenkins quite a bit, but in the same way a teenager has to be respectful in front of Grandma. He never wants to hurt her, but he's also not going to ever be honest with her if he can help it. I actually would love to have seen a movie about St. Clair Bayfield rather than Florence Foster Jenkins. That guy had things to to work through. That's the tale of man who is never happy with his limited success. He lives a life of conflict avoidance, partially because Foster Jenkins cannot handle the strain with her weak condition. What does that do to someone? I think back to my review of Fences and Denzel's speech about just deserving to be happy and stress free. They both see themselves as entitled to that happiness, but Fences at least does the common courtesy to show the dark side of such behavior. I feel like Florence Foster Jenkins asks us to applaud Bayfield, but he is just worthy of scorn.
If you have met me IRL (I'm hip for 2002!), you'd know my absolute disdain for The Big Bang Theory. The weird part is that I want to like the actors from that show in other media. Simon Helberg wins points for me in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but I haven't seen him in that many other things. This performance lacks nuance, but the movie never really calls for nuance. How can I gauge his choices when the tone of the film just throws caution to the wind? Honestly, the tone of the movie would have made a great TV movie for BBC America. We'd probably be having a very different conversation about his performance or my like of the movie as a whole had this been on TV. I mean, BBC Films made the movie and it kind of looks like they did. Even down to the very easy font from the beginning and the lackadaisical opening credits, it feels like the director is just saying "Let's get this movie over and done with."
There is a charm somewhere in this movie, but I don't think it stands as a piece of great cinema. Perhaps this review is more of a criticism on the Academy for responding so quickly to Oscar bait. This movie is the fish tale of pics. People swear it's "this big", but we're dealing with a guppy of a movie.
PG because the Joker, as a concept and in brick form, is a terrifying idea. He doesn't really do anything particularly scary in this movie, but I can't help but always remembering that he's a serial killer that poses as someone who is meant to entertain children.
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
If The LEGO Movie was the Guns 'n Roses of children's movies, The LEGO Batman Movie is the Gwar of children's movies. (Do you understand how happy I was to think of that Gene Shalit level blurb? I tried saying it out loud to my students and I had to spend a good deal of time explaining who Gwar were. They also didn't believe me that they existed. Adolescents with supercomputers at their fingertips didn't believe me that Gwar existed.) The movie is intense. Holy crow, I don't think I've ever seen a movie that never really let up. I'm not really surprised though. The Will Arnett fueled character established a pretty hardcore tone in The LEGO Movie, so it only makes sense that the movie is going to match the tone of the character. Add to the fact that Chris McKay's credits are almost exclusively [adult swim] cartoons and your frenetic feel is bound to drive the movie.
First and foremost, this movie is funny. Amazingly funny. From the studio bumps at the beginning through the last shot, I think I was cracking up so much. It's not surprising with the team involved. It was only until after I saw the movie that I realized that Gob had adopted George Michael and decided to fight crime. Funny people making funny things and it working? THAT'S MY FAVORITE! Maybe comedies are harder to remember the moment to moment, but I genuinely want to watch this movie again. I know the plot pretty well and I remember laughing throughout, but I only really remember one or two lines. As I'm writing this, I realize how damning this sounds, but I think it's because almost every joke hits on the same level. The jokes are great and, gee whiz!, there are some deep DC cuts. This movie maybe pulls off the impossible of making it completely accessible for non-nerds, but really pulls some of the most amazing references out of nowhere. Do you know how hard it was to not lean over and constantly explain references? That's every comic dork's curse! I got so much and I wanted to tell it to the world! But the movie never really got alienating for my family. They got it. The joke was accessible and weird simultaneously. That's a level of genius that I can't really explain.
I read a review on io9 for this movie that I originally wanted to poo-poo, but they kind of had a point. It was pretty negative and I refused to listen. The jist of the movie is that the movie is too funny. I thought, "Impossible!" How can that be a detriment to the movie. While I still think the movie is pretty great, I get where they get that criticism. The movie is a non-stop joke. There's a vulnerable movie underneath that. If I summarized the plot for you, it might actually be quite the touching movie. But like The Jerk, the emotion gets sacrificed upon the altar of having fun. It's like hanging out with your buddies and you have to be the punk who says, "Okay, guys, we've had enough fun. Let's get serious." Yeah, there are serious parts in the movie, but those moments are so sandwiched by joking that we really miss the personal connection to Batman. (Yup, I hear how goofy that sentence comes across now.) The weird thing is that there is a cool insight into how Batman as a character is somewhat flawed. The theme is a powerful one and the criticism has validity, but the movie kind of only uses that story as a foundation. I wonder if this movie had the most aggressive punch up team in the history of cinema because it felt like the first draft of the movie might have been really touching.
But all this is moot. The movie is a children's movie that is super entertaining for adults. Man, I'd hate to be from my parents' generation where kids' movies were only for kids and that adults had to drill a hole their heads just to tolerate another viewing of the movie. The movie is super fun, even though it is really intense. If I had to rank them, and I don't, I would say that The LEGO Movie is a better movie, but I might want to watch The LEGO Batman Movie on repeat. Because that's going to happen. I know my kids. They're going to want to watch this over and over and I'm kind of okay with that. (Okay, I'm not great with that because they should be minimizing their screen time. But when there IS screen time...)
I feel like a hypocrite gushing over this movie so much though. I don't like product placement. One of my loud-and-proud favorite movies is Superman: The Movie. I grew up with that movie and I still revisit it on a regular basis because I think it is great. One of the moments that always pulls me out of the film is what I refer to as the Cheerios shot. Martha Kent is looking out at Clark in the middle of a field before he leaves home and the light is only illuminating the box of Cheerios. The Cheerios box rotates to stay in profile as the camera changes angles. Other movies have gotten worse. I know that one of my students adores You've Got Mail. I always had a problem with that movie not because of how the film is made, but because the movie is one giant advertisement for America Online. (I have free hours if anyone needs any. You just need a floppy disc drive.) Cast Away is another offender. I couldn't get into the movie when the majority of boxes washed up on the shore with the FedEx logo blazing on top. But for some reason, I'm forgiving of the LEGO movies. Heck, I'm going as far as to capitalize all the letters in "LEGO." I actually went back and changed the title when the IMDB page showed that it was meant to be capitalized. The purpose of making these movies is to sell LEGOs. Why? Why do I approve of these movies? I live in a world where I'm lauding the exploits of a glorified toy commercial. I now feel such shame.
But not enough shame to rewrite this review nor hide my actual opinion. Bee-tee-dubs, is this my first 2017 film? Nice.
The "R" stands for "F-word". A lot of times. Also, shootin' folks. "R" stands for "F-word" and "Shootin' Folks."
DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
Remember that time I had to review a Michael Bay movie because it was up for an Academy Award for "Best Sound Mixing"? Okay, I didn't have to, but you don't know how much my brain craves order and structure. I watched this movie. I have to review it. If not, something very bad will happen. (I started this as a joke, but then realized that I would be hypercritical of my laziness and just get depressed that I never finish any projects that I start. Geez, that got dark quickly.)
Michael Bay has been criticized for being one of the most bro-ey directors of all time. (I realized I used the word "Bro-ey" to describe Ghost in the Shell. Them's the breaks.) For a while, I couldn't stand behind it. I liked some of his early stuff. I really dig The Rock. Gone in Sixty Seconds was produced by him, I think. There's some fun stuff in his oeuvre. But then I started watching them critically and I couldn't deny that this guy seemed to represent the worst of my gender. Blowing stuff up and pretty girls who don't advance the plot is his bread and butter and I drifted away. I forced myself to watch two of the Transformers movies and wanted to smack my head into a wall. I even tried watching the first Ninja Turtles movie, but even his producer credit managed to seep through and make me want to shy away from all light and sound. So going into 13 Hours, I had a pretty heavy task ahead of me. I'm going to give him some props throughout, but I am going to state it pretty clearly. This movie is only okay. It does its job and that job isn't my cup of tea. The patriotic action movie always leaves me a little jaded and I'm not trying to say that as a political statement. I just don't get into them.
I give Bay some credit in this film for a degree of respect that I haven't seen him hold before. This seems more of a passion project more than his other films, shy of Pearl Harbor. He does genuinely seem motivated to tell a story about the incident in Benghazi and does so in a less than preachy way. Considering that Benghazi affected much of the most recent presidential election, allowing a clear narrative to play out -regardless of how accurate it may be -might have been the best choice. I could have seen this movie as an extremely preachy piece in the hands of Oliver Stone or even James Cameron, but Bay's love for popcorn cinema actually seems to work in his favor this time. The movie acknowledges that this was a tragic event, especially in its epilogue, but doesn't do so ramming it down the audience's throats. Rather, he does a mildly good job of establishing the relationships between the contractors and establishing a fairly clear conflict. Yes, there is a solid amount of criticism of the CIA, but not so much so that it paints them as inhuman or completely cartoonish. It does slow-clap a bit much for the contractors, but that's not a bad thing. The only thing that the movie really faults on this front is how much like action heroes these guys are. But the movie is done in honor of them, so that's not necessarily a bad thing, right?
Bay's worst enemy is himself. Like J.J. Abrams, he uses his same techniques time-and-time-again. His use of magic hour and night vision does get a bit played out and I don't know if it's a stamp that he's necessarily proud of. But he keeps on doing it. He has to have heard the criticism before. I get the vibe that Michael Bay just sits on piles of money and Lamborghinis to really give a crap about cinematic criticism, but there has to be something that can be done. The Tim Burton movie, Big Fish, totally changed a lot of the Burtonesque things about it and really sits in my stomach as one of the better movies because it was so unique. Maybe he knows that's what his audience wants, but magic hour always feels cheap when I see it in his films. Do something new! Experiment! Think what the world would be like if every Kevin Smith movie looked like Clerks! (Okay, bad example, but you get what I mean.)
So I guess, yay, for trying. Yeah, Pearl Harbor wasn't great. This, also, isn't great. But it's not terrible and for a big naysayer when it comes to Michael Bay, that might be a victory in itself. The weird part is that I'm somewhat compelled to rewatch The Rock, but I probably won't do that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.