Tuesday, April 30, 2019

All About Abigail

Film: The Favourite
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Based only on my prior knowledge, I was surprised at the nomination of Olivia Colman for The Favourite. This is nothing against Colman, who I have loved in television roles for several years. I know her primarily from her work on sketch comedy shows with David Mitchell and Robert Webb, as well as from Hot Fuzz. And thus my surprise; Oscar seems to not so much dislike comedy as not really care that it exists. While I love Colman’s work, she seems like a terrible fit for Oscar’s typical Best Actress category. It was even more surprising to me that she won, and for the same reason.

Well, I’ve seen The Favourite now, and I have to say that there’s a part of me that is still surprised that she won. Again, this is nothing against Olivia Colman. It has everything to do with what feels like category fraud. The Favourite notched three acting nominations—Colman for Best Actress and both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for Best Supporting Actress. The problem is that Stone is clearly the main character of the film and gets the most screen time. While it’s true that Colman’s Queen Anne is the emotional and narrative center of the film, she’s not the main character nor does she have the main character arc.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Hannibal

Film: Hannibal
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

So let’s talk about sequels for a moment. Typically, sequels are a disappointment, although I have to admit that they’ve gotten a bit better in recent years. But they still don’t have the best of reputations when it comes to movies. I hadn’t heard a great deal good about Hannibal going in. It’s ten years removed from The Silence of the Lambs, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but can be. It also replaced Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling with Julianne Moore. Far be it from me to complain about Julianne Moore, but Clarice will always be Jodie Foster to me, especially since Moore spends a good chunk of the film attempting to recreate Foster’s patois.

Hannibal kind of picks up where the previous film left off. Lector (still played by Anthony Hopkins) has escaped and is somewhere in the wider world. Clarice is continuing to work at her job with the FBI, and is in charge of a drug bust that goes badly. She’s saddled with the responsibility and blame for this despite it clearly being the fault of another person. As it happens, a considerable amount of Hannibal concerns her relationship with the bureau, being particularly antagonistic. I honestly don’t remember this from the first film; here, all of her interactions with others at the FBI are hostile, particularly with Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta).

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Was Scarlett Johansson Cast?

Film: Crazy Rich Asians
Format: Various media on rockin’ flatscreen.

My viewing of Crazy Rich Asians took a week. It’s not the fault of the movie itself. Sue and I watched about half of it a week ago, but she started to fall asleep, and it took us a week to both have the opportunity to finish it up. This is a movie I’d heard a great deal about, so I was interested to see it. Now that I have, I’m a bit torn. I get that it’s a good movie, and I certainly understand the wealth porn aspects of it. What I don’t understand is that no one else seems to see that this is really a very standard rom-com in a lot of ways.

On to the plot—Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and is successful by all standards of American society. Her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), needs to return home to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend, and naturally Rachel is going to come along as his plus-one. Nick has kept a great deal of his family history a secret from Rachel, telling her only that the family is comfortable. Rachel is excited to go, for the wedding itself, to meet Nick’s family, and because her college roommate Peik Lin (Nora Lum using her stage name Awkwafina) lives in Singapore.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Off Script: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

Film: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Long-time readers will know that both of my daughters are heavily involved in ballet. Kid #1 has her degree in dance performance and is a couple of months away from auditioning for full-time positions at companies around the country. Kid #2 also dances, commuting into Chicago a couple of days a week. Why is this relevant? Because Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary is a version of Bram Stoker’s story performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and directed by Guy Maddin.

Maddin is an artistic director, which in this context mostly means that a lot of his work is dense and hard to understand. Maddin frequently manipulates the film itself, or changes film stock to achieve particular visual effects, and much of what he does is heavily symbolic and doesn’t seem to have any easily discernible meaning. I have to admit that I found this interesting when it came to this film. After all, I know the story. I’ve seen umpteen versions of Dracula in cinematic form, have seen it performed on stage, and have read the book once or twice. It’s also worth noting that Dracula has been performed as a ballet before. Maddin didn’t create the idea and had nothing to do with the choreography.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Let Me In

Film: Let Me In
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

A movie like Let Me In puts me in a very difficult position as a reviewer/critic and as a movie fan. The original version of this movie, Lat den Ratte Komma in has been regularly (and rightfully) hailed as one of the great horror movies of the current century and one of the better takes on the vampire myth in general. The problem with it in the eyes of American film companies is that it wasn’t an American movie. Watching it meant dubbing or reading subtitles while listening to the original Swedish, and what sort of American wants to do that? And so, a mere two years later, Let Me In, a version of the movie that appears to change only the names of the characters and the location of the story, was produced.

Here’s the quandary: Let Me In is a good movie. It genuinely is. It’s well cast and acted throughout. The story is a good one that has seemed to survive its translation from the Swedish into English without much loss. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a great choice for the bullied young boy (he looks like a professional victim), and this also features Chloe Grace Moretz early in her career. There’s also a good role for Richard Jenkins, who is a damn fine actor. And yet I still feel like this has the scent of reheated leftovers in a large way.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bridge of Sighs

Film: A Little Romance
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Every week I get a little bit nearer completing the massive list of Oscar movies, or completing the list as much as I ever will. Today is noteworthy in one important respect: A Little Romance is the final movie I needed to watch from the 1970s. I’m officially done with every movie from 1970 through 1986. It’s strange to be done with a decade, but it also feels like a long, slow exhale. I could have only wished for a movie I ended up liking a little more than this one. In truth, I liked this ultimately in spite of itself.

It is at the very least aptly named. Our romance here is between 13-year-olds, and while it is something reads very much like an idealized romance between kids, it’s also pretty chaste (as it should be, honestly). It’s also going to take us a long time (roughly half the movie) to get where we’re going. The quick and dirty is that Lauren (Diane Lane in her first role), an American living in France and Daniel (the awesomely-named Thelonious Bernard) meet cute and fall for each other. In their outings, they run into Julius (Laurence Olivier), who takes a shine to them both and tells them stories, including a legend that a couple who kiss in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice while the bells are ringing will be forever in love. When Lauren’s mother (Sally Kellerman) decides that Daniel is a bad influence, Lauren and Daniel decide to run away to Venice with Julius’s help, which naturally leads to the authorities believing Julius has kidnapped the kids. And all of this happens because Lauren’s step-father has decided to move back to the States.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Second Verse, Not the Same as the First

Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library at Cortland Public Library.

A lot of the movies I’ve been reviewing lately have come from the Cortland Public Library. This is a tiny little library one town over from where I live. Despite its size (it’s considerably smaller than my house), it has a great movie collection. But, any collection can always be improved. I’ve teamed up with one of the librarians to create a movie club. Once a month, we host a movie showing, ask for a $1 donation, and, eventually, will use those donations to buy additional movies for the library. We premiered the group last night with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

And holy shit. I’d heard it was good, even groundbreaking, but I was not prepared.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Dead Silence

Film: Dead Silence
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There’s something unsettling about dolls. I think it’s the eyes. Because of this, dolls are a natural choice for horror movies. Dead Silence plays off that idea, upping the ante slightly by using not simply dolls but ventriloquist dummies. Since these are a step further into the uncanny valley—articulated jaws, movable eyes, etc.—they’re just that one more step creepier. Make them capable of moving on their own or being possessed and you’ve got a premise for a pretty standard horror movie with potential for some good scares.

We’re going to start with a scare, of course. Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa Ashen (Laura Regan) receive an anonymous package one day. It turns out to be a ventriloquist dummy named Billy. Jamie goes out for take-out Chinese and Lisa plans a joke on her husband. But, of course, she’s attacked, and when Jamie returns home, he finds his wife dead with her tongue missing. Jamie, of course, is the main suspect, but police detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) doesn’t have enough evidence to hold him.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Daniel Striped Tiger

Film: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of my reviews on this site run between 750 and 1000 words. I have a feeling that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is going to be a lot shorter than that. This is not because I don’t have something to say about the movie or because it isn’t worth talking about. Instead, it’s because this is the sort of movie that you’re either going to be drawn to or you are not, and there’s not going to be a great deal of middle ground. You’re either going to be enamored of Fred Rogers and the philosophy he seemed to live with every fiber of his being, or you’re not.

On the surface, Fred Rogers would seem to be anathema to me. I am open about my lack of religious belief and falling away from the church; Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Where I can have a temper that does me no credit, Rogers was a man of calm and peace. He appears by all accounts and by everyone who knew him to be a genuinely good man as well as someone overflowing with true kindness. I recently told someone that, while I strive to be a good person as much as I can, I find that I am frequently not a nice one. I don’t always “person” very well, and Fred Rogers may well have been the best at personing in the last century.