Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Panther

Spoilers!

After a stellar introduction in Civil War, gets his time in the spotlight as T'Challa, the king of the secretive country of Wakanda, and the legendary Black Panther. But his solo outing is a character downgrade from his brief but compelling turn in the Captain America movie.

Maybe I'm just tired of Marvel movies. I mean, I am tired of Marvel movies. But I don't think that's the only problem here.

I guess the Russo Brothers are to blame. They did too good a job giving T'Challa an outstanding arc, and developing him into a king worthy of his throne. And where do you go from there? Well the movie backtracks a bit, deciding that he's not officially king yet, and the way Wakanda works is basically any Wakandan can challenge his kingship. They do battle, and the winner gets to be king. (Yes, Wakanda is meant to be an advanced civilization hundreds of years ahead of the rest of the world, and yes, whoever is physically strongest gets to be king.)

So T'Challa is challenged, and he wins. Alright, he's king. Then suddenly it's a James Bond movie and T'Challa's upbeat and charming sister Shuri () is Q, the tech girl. She outfits the confirmed Black Panther, and he goes out with his love interest Nakia (the incredibly gorgeous ) and his bodyguard Okoye () to capture Klaue () who just popped up on their radar. But Agent Ross () is also there and also wants Klaue. After a pretty cool chase scene T'Challa gets him, but instead of blowing the joint with the prize, he hands Klaue over to Ross, and inevitably, he escapes.

Obviously this is from the 007 portion of the film.

Then the real bad guy Erik Killmonger () starts his play, and the movie transitions into the plot of The Lion King. Erik is a citizen of Wakanda, the son of T'Challa's uncle, who was killed by T'Challa's father when he turned bad and tried to kill . They left Erik behind to grow up American, so now he wants revenge and to be king to prevent other children from having to grow up as he did. He's also stronger than T'Challa. So he challenges, T'Challa accepts because that's what's done -- though he knows who he is and what his intentions are -- and he loses the fight, and gets thrown over a cliff to his apparent death.

Everyone's devastated but they can't do anything about it -- Killmonger is now king fair and square, and no one does anything about it because this is an advanced civilization, and the tradition of kingship revered and respected. Nah, forget that. The Queen Mother (), Nakia, Shuri, and Ross steal a magic flower that gives the Black Panther powers, and take it to the guy who challenged T'Challa at the beginning of the movie, hoping that he will use the power to overthrow their rightful king. But surprise! T'Challa is there! Some fishermen pulled him out of the river, and he's in a coma but alive. They give him the flower, he gets his power back, they go do battle, he defeats Erik, the end.

Thus Erik is decidedly more compelling than T'Challa. So good for him, but I kinda wanted the film's hero to be compelling too, or else why would we care if he wins?

Cool, so -- what's the problem with this? Look at all the choices T'Challa makes. He accepts all challenges to his throne; to save face he doesn't keep Klaue for himself; he's unconscious for the entire portion of his "exile," and then he's saved by other characters. His character isn't changed when he fights Killmonger the second time, but somehow he still beats him. Basically, he's a doormat, and spends the whole movie being upstaged by more interesting characters. He does skirt round the issue of whether Wakanda should share their technology with the rest of the world, and finally decides that they should, but I was never convinced of his belief in the argument against it. So that message comes across, but it doesn't do much for the character.

Now, I don't have anything against a movie plotting itself after The Lion King. I like The Lion King. The problem I have is that the plot plays out in a way that diminishes the lead character instead of highlighting him as it should. I keep thinking that only if we had followed him over that cliff and if he had been forced to survive, empower himself, and return, all on his own volition, then he would have been so much more compelling. Also, other characters blame him for mistakes that are debatably not his fault, but if he ever blames himself for anything, we never get to know. He never has an inner struggle with himself. This method of character development is extremely ineffective and lazy to me.

SIIIIMBAAA. REMEMBER WHO YOU AAARE.

Practically all the other characters are more compelling than T'Challa, which is as amazing as it is sad, but I'm just going to talk about Erik. See, we feel for him because he was abandoned to a hard life, but he did still murder... well, at least one person. And he wasn't a very nice king. But he's sympathetic, so when he's dying and T'Challa has the technology to save him, he declares that he wants to die, and T'Challa lets him. In order for T'Challa to show strength in that scene he would have saved him no matter what he wanted, but he made an understandable choice because it was compassionate and we feel for Erik. But as a result, the scene -- the movie's most powerfully effective -- serves Erik, not T'Challa. Scene by scene, throughout the film, T'Challa always comes out the least developed, least characterized character.

It seems like the worst criticism you can possibly give this movie is that it's an average Marvel movie, but unfortunately, that's what it is. Wakanda is a visually unusual place with a neat culture, and there are some great design elements, but that's just frosting; something with which every Marvel film differs. The cake underneath is still the same Marvel-flavored production-line vanilla. The CGI is passable if you don't look too close. Action sequences are typical with one or two memorable moments each. Black Panther lacks any distinct fighting style, and doesn't even run fast in the entire movie. Again, Civil War set the bar too high with action sequences that required an amount of effort this film wasn't willing to put in.

Fight scenes in water are automatically cool. Better choreography and filming could have made it amazing.

The dialogue is uninspired. Brought back from the dead, all T'Challa can think to say is "Can I have a blanket?" There are a few solid jokes and I especially liked Shuri's sharp, lighthearted bantering attitude. But, there are at least two dramatic/powerful moments that are ruined by inserting mood-killing dumb jokes. Worst was when a rhino licks Okoye's face. That isn't even funny, and it killed the coolness of that moment for her. Whoever decided that that these moments of bathos should be the Marvel standard of hilarious needs to wake up and smell the audience disengaging from the scene. It works as in-the-moment entertainment every time, but keeps any kind of emotion from having staying power beyond five seconds. 

Black Panther has its entertaining times as it strolls along in a predictable direction. It gets its themes across with admirable subtlety, and boasts a memorable and talented cast. It goes through the motions of ups and downs with fight scenes in the correct places, drama in the correct places, jokes in the "correct" places. It's got cool tech that's convenient to the plot, and world-building that does a fantastic job distracting from a surprisingly lackluster style. There's nothing really wrong with it, except that it's not at all exceptional, as it claims to be. It's average. This is exactly what Marvel is now; well-manufactured, generic entertainment.

I really don't hate this film at all. I'm just bored of Marvel's movie-by-committee shenanigans.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm crazy or heartless, when I don't love well-loved movies like this, but then I watch a film that does engage me, and the quality difference is clear. For whoever this movie does work for, I say good on you; relish it. As for me, I'm not disappointed, and I'm not impressed. I was hoping T'Challa's previously established character of quiet, powerful authority and sleek fighting techniques could be recreated for his solo rein, but the result falls short. Just another competently entertaining superhero blockbuster, Black Panther fits in perfectly with its Marvel peers, exploring another new corner of the broad universe; but has left me about as indifferent as a hunk of Vibranium.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Undertow

Spoiler-free!

I must have watched the requisite hundred crappy movies since the last gem I found, because this one is an absolute and well-hidden whopper.

One of 's early films. And despite no lack of interest, the first of his I've actually seen.

Restless teen Chris (), his sickly brother Tim () and their father John () live on a small pig farm in the rural backwoods of Georgia, where they lead lives of seclusion and hard work. Their estranged uncle Deel () shows up one day, apparently looking to mend bridges with his brother. But when Deel's true intentions are revealed, Chris takes his brother on the run to get away from him, and protect a cursed treasure.

This movie is every bit as earthy and natural as a slow-simmering southern drama should be, and at the exact same time, plays out like it belongs alongside Grimm's fairytales. Nothing happens that doesn't makes sense; that couldn't happen in real life without anyone thinking twice; and everything that happens carries with it the otherworldly air of a fable. The perfect amalgamation of these two seemingly unmixable elements is the root of this movie's greatness and subtle genius.

It's got action too, but if you watch for action only, you might miss the drama that gives it all meaning.

The buildup of suspense in the first third of the film is immaculate. It does well to take its time. Even though the premise reveals more or less of what will happen, the beginning is used for establishing why we should care about the impending violence. All four characters are developed for us organically, without time-saving inserts of unnatural exposition. We get to see the amnesty between Chris and John play out, and then Deel carefully drive the wedge even further between them, to our increasing worry.

And long before the worry is transferred to Chris, we get to worry about Tim, who has no stomach for eating unless it's something that should never be eaten. Grease, paint, dirt; no one seems to notice that his illness is something he's doing to himself. And the opening sequence tells us practically everything we need to know about Chris. It's like he acts out for the sheer excitement of it, because as soon as he's bailed out of jail, he returns to his chores with diligence. If anything, this story is about him discovering his own goodness.

Kid Jamie Bell is like a different person from Adult Jamie Bell.

I'm a fan of Jamie Bell, but I could have fooled myself watching this, because I completely forgot that he's British. He's so southern American here that he was reminding me of the kids in Mud who were born and bred there. He has that quiet charm that's displayed through physicality instead of being limited to dialogue and facial expressions. It's a quality he usually has, but seems especially on display with this role -- enhanced by contrast with a volatile edge that's ideal for this film. We rarely know exactly what Chris is thinking; and we rarely need to in order to understand.

After years of thinking of him as "The Sweet Home Alabama Guy," I was incredibly impressed with Josh Lucas, and how effortlessly he layered deviousness and malice underneath that rom-com charm to make a truly terrifying character -- but even he elicits sympathy every now and then. I didn't even recognize Dermot Mulroney at all. He and Devon Alan both do flawless jobs with their characters; they only aren't as prominent as the other two. A very young also shows up, and all the supporting actors feel full, real, and unique as they pass by.

The girl at the car shop who swallows her gum was my personal favorite.

At first I didn't like how some shots would freeze while the scene's dialogue continued. At first. And the look of the film was so grimy and run-down, the beauty of it is practically subconscious. But this visual style was intentional, and in the end, as important as anything else. Avoiding specifics, there was one particular moment when this movie rocketed up into that place where quality entertainment suddenly means something powerful and personal. The whole time I felt like I was on the same page as the director, but then he took it all one incredibly important step further, and it got me.

Undertow is a movie for people who are intrigued by story; who watch films to turn their brains on, not off; who don't need every moment and detail to be spelled out in order to understand the meaning it carries for plot and for character. When it came out in 2004 it got zero attention and lots of oblivious criticisms. It was ahead of its time; if released today it would be compared to Mud, and praised on the same level. Both these southern dramas have more at stake, and more hidden in them than immediately meets the eye.

Comedy and romance is all well and good, but there's nothing like coming-of-age stories with grown-up stakes.

On the surface, with the dirt and sweat and contention, there are the basics of a cohesive story, complex characters, and acting so simple and good, you forget they're acting. But this is no haphazard family drama that happens to be well-told; but a tale of myth, rich with meaning, crafted as inconspicuously as it was intentionally. A true treasure, waiting patiently to be discovered.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox

Spoilers!

First, let's get this out of the way: The Cloverfield Paradox is no 10 Cloverfield Lane. They're not even the in same league of films, but they still invite comparison because they are a part of a spiritual franchise of genre scifi films loosely connected by Easter eggs.

Calm down kids, it's not that bad.

But The Cloverfield Paradox is a Netflix film. It was surprised on us after the Super Bowl yesterday, when the last we heard of it, its February release date was getting pushed back. I guess the existence of a release date at all was a deception in order to juke us. Classic J.J. Abrams.

So it's a February release after all, but not a theater one. And that's a good thing; if I'd spent $10 and a few months anticipating this thing, it might've been a letdown. Instead it was a surprise freebee; a gift that I got to go into totally blind, with a short, energizing spurt of hype, that, I'll admit, helped me enjoy the movie more. In my case, the unorthodox marketing strategy worked. But from here on, I'll try to forget all that, and review this movie as a movie.

Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, and directed by Julius Onah.

Earth is dying, and a team of scientists go into space to try and save it. A classic space-survival horror thriller ensues. is Hamilton, the leading lady, a woman who is encouraged by her husband to go and save the world, though she doesn't want to leave him as their marriage has hit a rough patch. She is clearly the main character, as none of the other characters get much more than basic background. They are , , , , , , and . The Cloverfield formula is used for Hamilton, as her past is darker than is first apparent, and she must deal with it in order to survive and save the day.

Everyone else was made to die. This is a horror film after all. All they needed to be was memorable enough to give us effective deaths and that they did. Except for Brühl who wound up surviving along with Hamilton. From the second I understood what formula the movie was going to use, I knew I wanted those two to survive, so was I invested enough to be happy about it, but he could have used a bit more development considering the outcome. played Hamilton's husband on Earth, who gets his own plot line, but it was useless and could've easily been excluded.

Good job you're not dead!

The movie's greatest commodity was the freaky weirdness surrounding all the one-by-one elimination of the crew. The film doesn't carry a whole lot of weight, but inside those moments, it was thrilling. Maybe I'm a horror/thriller lightweight, but I found those elements to be sublimely freaky, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The subtle build up to Volkov's was great; when he rubs his eye in the scene before and you think nothing of it. And the arm thing turned out being so strange and weirdly humorous. And when they find Jensen in the wall is seriously disturbing. All the moments had the usual suspense buildup, but unusually, the suspense build was of eager anticipation rather than one of dread.

Once the deaths stop being so weird the movie loses a bit of energy. We are asked instead to recommence caring about Hamilton as she's further developed and pushed to the edge. Her arc is well-done, and I appreciated how she had to face her demons in order to win. It was classic. It wasn't super subtle, but neither was the rest of the movie. Say "clichéd" if you like; I love this kind of genre film, and the tropes don't feel tired to me yet. Hamilton's arc is concise and complete and ties into the story -- but it didn't move me probably as much as it was meant to.

Also plot points and twist were all obvious. I didn't care, but it's still true.

Same goes for the plot overall. It doesn't get distracted, but plows through everything like a kind of evenly destructive breeze. Some things "don't make sense" but everything is explained. And all those scifi elements feel exactly how scifi elements should; inspiring awe and terror alike, and stimulating the creative side of the mind to ask questions, and think beyond the realm of reality. Still, I was moved more in a shallow moment-by-moment kind of way rather than an overarching one. That may dampen rewatchability in the future, but in the moment it was all as effective as it needed to be.

This is one of those movies where I loved the direction they took, and only wished for more. If they had just let loose, not held back, and gone deeper and darker and stranger -- as far as I can tell it could have only gotten better. I don't mind the clichés, and wish they'd have committed to them even more. The production is excellent -- judged as it should be, as a Netflix film and not a theatrical release -- with a thoughtful and cool design of the ship and special effects that get the job done without a single misstep. There are some excellent visual moments, but with a lack of exceptional cinematography, it makes sense why this was never meant to be a big-screen experience.

I think it was what it was meant to be. And if it wasn't, and the Netflix release was because they knew it wouldn't be received well, then that was a wise move.

But that's just it -- it wasn't ever meant to be a big-screen experience. And as far as exclusively small-screen experiences go, this one stands out. It's only exceptional in small moments, but I'm a fan of the space-survival scifi-horror genre, and that is what this movie was through and through. I don't care if it's a Cloverfield movie and there are "expectations" to go with that. I don't care about the mythos, the fan-theories, the erroneous idea that every installment needs to be comparable to or compatible with the last one: Isn't this franchise about breaking expectation? The first one was a found footage film, for crying out loud. Then the second was a suspense thriller with such immaculate character-crafting that the only criticism people could think of was that it shouldn't have been a Cloverfield film at all.

Now they're saying the same thing about this one, just because it was released in a smaller medium, and embraced genre clichés. It's still a totally cohesive film; put together to make sense in its senselessness, to have arcs and themes -- and to feel like a Cloverfield film, which it undeniably does. So no, it's no 10 Cloverfield Lane; but it's only in comparison with that film (which apart from the titles couldn't be more different films) that it can be imagined to be significantly lacking.

It's getting a surprising amount of hate. I say it's undue and unjustified, but have I mentioned I'm a fan of the genre?

The Cloverfield Paradox not a perfect film, but its main flaw is that it didn't reach the heights of which it seemed to be capable. How much of that potential is mere projection? Does this movie really need to be any better than it is? Here are four things I know for sure: One: It's a crazy, out-there scifi plot that drives without finesse to its conclusion with thrills, freak-out moments, and thoughtful character drama. Two: It's got a talented cast who put in effort, and elevate a classically clichéd script. Three: It's a got visual style at least five times greater than what is acceptable for TV movies. And four: I really, freaking enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - February

In January I saw The Greatest Showman, and I've just realized that I never wrote a review for it! Oops. I have a perfect record of reviewing all movies I've seen in theaters since I started reviewing movies, so I definitely can't let that one fall through the cracks. Sadly, we didn't have time for The Death Cure, so that's been pushed into this month's agenda -- top priority.

February has lots to talk about -- good and bad -- so let's get to it! What looks good to you this month?


Peter Rabbit
Feb 9th; PG
Domhnall. Sweetie. What are you doing? Good grief this looks bad. At least all Daisy Ridley and Margot Robbie had to be convinced of was to lend their voices -- and I don't think James Corden needed convincing. But how in the world did they get Domhnall Gleeson to agree to do the live-action portion? They must have paid him a ton. He does look exactly like Mr. McGregor, so maybe they thought it was worth it. Even with this cast, I'll be steering clear. Far, far clear.




The 15:17 to Paris
Feb 9th: PG-13
Okay. First of all, this is an awesome true story. Second of all, it's a really neat idea to cast the real guys as themselves. But -- I still have that reservation on the artistic side that true stories rarely make good movies due to un-cinematic structure. Clint Eastwood is at the helm, and it's clear that a lot of effort was put into the movie, so who knows, maybe this will be the next Apollo 13, or, something close to it anyway. I'm definitely interested just because the attack on the train is supposed to play out exactly how it did in real life, so that would be cool to see. At any rate, reservations or no, this is one to keep an eye on.




The Female Brain
Feb 9th; NR
This movie doesn't look particularly good, but I can, occasionally, have simple tastes, and this has Toby Kebbell in it, so I'm on board.... for whenever its streaming on Amazon or what have you. The differences in the ways male and female brains work is great fodder for comedy, so we'll see if this movie mined the truth in that area, or if they just used tired old stereotypes and worked off the top of their head. That's sadly the more likely option.




Basmati Blues
Feb 9th; NR
All I'd heard about this movie was that it was a Brie Larson film and it was terrible. And I thought that was pretty strange because how could Brie Larson be in a movie and not make it at least decent by her presence? Then I watched the trailer, and it all made sense. Larson probably does enhance it, but it really looks THAT bad. It's American trying to feel Bollywood by making it a musical romance, but it all feels extremely cheap and weird. I may have to watch it streaming just to confirm. It really doesn't make sense.




Black Panther
Feb 16th; PG-13
This is the big one of the month I guess, but to me it could go either way. The trailer is bursting with style and energy, so if that translates to the actual movie it should be on those points alone a solid flick. And it's Marvel, so you know they have their winning formula for crowd-pleasing movies. But I'm personally getting tired of the formula, and if all the movie is, is cool and stylish action played over a fourmula plot, then I might not be disappointed, but I won't be impressed either. And I want to be impressed. Also, early reviews are doing a lot of praising of what the movie "has to say" and, as you may know from my opinion on Civil War, I hate it when movies preach at you. Preaching does not equal plot or character development. Still, there's a chance here, with a great cast and a lead character I already like, so let's go -- impress me if you can!




Early Man
Feb 16th; PG
I'm trying to figure out if I'm required to see this, because on one hand, I've fallen in love with stop-motion and have been trying to watch all stop-motion movies I can find. On the other hand this lumpy clay style of making the dolls is my least favorite. And Chicken Run practically traumatized me as a kid. But then, I like the comedy style, and it has a good cast (Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne!) and a neat plot. The great thing about stop-motion is that it's so hard to do, people don't actually bother to make the movie unless it's a story they care about. So... yeah. I guess I am pretty much required to watch it sometime... but not only that -- I think I want to!




The Party
Feb 16th: R
I see Cillian Murphy, and I'm sold. Simple. Beyond that, this one has more potential than the one I'll probably watch only because Toby Kebbell is in it -- this one looks genuinely funny and genuinely dramatic (though it may still prove not to be my cup of tea) and I really, really, like that it's in black and white. Like the appeal level for the B&W is just under Cillain Murphy. And besides him there's quite a few familiar and talented faces. Good praise among the critics, which is a good sign too. I would like to RSVP as "coming."




The Boy Downstairs
Feb 16th; PG-13
Classic -- and I mean CLASSIC indie rom-com-dram. It has all the earmarks. The lead is even a writer. I'd watch it. That's all.




Annihilation
Feb 23rd; R
Well, I don't care for Natalie Portman, but other than her being the lead, this movie has nothing in it that isn't interesting to me. It makes me think of Arrival, except with horror and fantasy-feeling scifi added in. Based on a book, so now I'm gonna have to check that out and see if it's worth a read. I'm always excited to see a big-budged, full-fledged scifi film coming round the bend, and this one looks so cool that the Natalie Portman thing isn't even leaving a dent. Plus there's Oscar Isaac, even if he is probably in a coma most of the film, so that helps a lot. But yeah, I am here for the scifi!




Game Night
Feb 23rd; R
This trailer is on the verge of being funny. On the verge. It's so close that I want to watch the movie to see if it actually succeeds there. I don't think Rachel McAdams is capable of doing pure comedy. Heck, I don't think Jason Bateman is capable of pure comedy, but he at least has loads more experience. If they put enough drama in the mix it might work, but people like Bill Murray are legends for a reason. I'm not sure about Kyle Chandler, either. Actually, the funniest person in this trailer is the dude from USS Callister and he didn't even say anything. (I'm sure he has a bigger part in the movie.) The premise is really good, and if they go where they seem to want to, making a Clue-type movie, it could be good. But, I don't think they're going to succeed. They don't appear to... have all the pieces.




Mute
Feb 23rd; NR
Duncan Jones' new original film is a Netflix release, and I just forgot about all of the above movies. I want to see this so much and I won't even have to leave my house to do it! The trailer is pretty vague and confusing, but I only watched it for this post anyway -- I would would watch anything by Duncan Jones without a trailer. Moon is one of my all-time favorite scifi movies, and Source Code is also great film. Warcraft was pretty bad, but hey, that one wasn't original, so... This one stars Alexander Skarsgård (of the Skarsgård acting family) as a mute guy. And Paul Rudd is in it. The scifi world looks awesome too, but even without all that I'd still be here. Because Duncan Jones.




Altered Carbon
Feb 2nd; Netflix
Don't get this and the above mixed up -- the trailer covers are laughably similar! If Mute doesn't count as scifi noir, then this one certainly does. Blade Runner vibes everywhere. This one's a Netflix TV series, which has it's own pros and cons. And if I base it solely on the trailer I might not like this one as much even with noir mystery element, but we'll see. Oh yes, we will see. I now officially declare February to be a Month of Science Fiction. I am a very happy camper right now. Even if all the scifi releases disappoint, right now, the anticipation is great.




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.