Dark Waters

After taking a detour into the MCU, it’s time for Mark Ruffalo to turn his sights back towards Awards glory. His role in Dark Waters is absolutely as Oscar bait as you get. Real person who made a significant impact and had an emotional journey along the way. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the film that’s gonna win it for him (although at least as of writing I just checked and this film won this week’s Best Performer on Fantasy Movie League, subject to change tho since it’s only Sat).

Ruffalo is Rob Bilott. Bilott is a corporate lawyer who is approached by a family friend and owner of a small farm in West Virginia. His cattle have all died under mysterious circumstances, and he suspects the big name chemical company, Dupont, who has set up a landfill down the street is to blame. Billot spends the next 15+ years trying to prove Dupont’s guilt and defend the innocent people who have been hurt.

On paper it’s a truly fascinating story, and it absolutely deserves to be told. Not to give anything away, but Dupont is responsible for hurting a large population of the world as we know it, and they need to be taken to task for it. Likewise, Bilott did years of thankless work and is more than due his recognition. The bummer, though, is that it doesn’t make for a very cinematic film. Most of what he did was pore over a closet’s worth of documents, just a bunch of legal legwork. The breakthroughs in the case were often years apart. So put it together as a film and it’s not as riveting as you would hope.

Anne Hathaway had a few standout moments as Bilott’s wife, with bursts of emotion ranging from anger to empathy. And Ruffalo’s performance was really good, but the role was still rather muted. Despite the pieces being there, I just don’t think it made a very exciting movie.

Dark Waters – \m/ \m/

Waves

The stars were going to have to align for me to see this. I couldn’t get a read off it from the trailer. It looked gorgeous, but these art house films can be hit or miss for me. Some awards potential, but also potentially too small to be a contender. I was willing to see it if I didn’t hafta go out of my way and if it was free. I didn’t expect it to play at AMC, but I did have a couple Arclight passes I could use. It took a couple of weeks until there was an agreeable showtime, but it happened. The stars aligned. And I’m oh so very glad they did.

I don’t really know how I can explain what this film is about without spelling out every single plot point. The film follows an African American family in the Miami area, who on the surface appear to have everything, but the struggles run deep. The first half revolves around the teenage son building up to a catastrophic event the second follows the teenage daughter dealing with the aftermath. Sounds simple, but it is so complex and rich and absolutely gorgeous.

This film is an undeniable work of art. It’s shot beautifully, and so well put together. Story aside, it’s lovely to just look at and enjoy the images flashing by. I was hooked from the opening sequence that played like a music video while hinting at a deeper meaning. But if you know me, you know that a pretty picture isn’t enough to hold my attention. I need strong characters with a stronger story. That’s exactly what this film delivered.

I’d been hesitant to watch because I thought it’d be all slice of life vignettes, we’ve all seen those. They meander and maybe say a lot but don’t have much through line. This started like that, but before I realized it, it was building to a frenzy. I was holding my breath on the edge of my seat, waiting to burst.

Then the film shifted. It started playing out more in that meandering images way. And then I started crying. Spontaneously. It wasn’t that somebody said something or did something. I just cried. I think it was because I’d expected this particular scene to follow the pattern of the previous ones, and I was caught off guard when the camera panned and revealed a different character. I also think that I’d been holding in all the feelings that the first half of the film had given me, I just needed to emotionally clear the slate if I was gonna get thru the rest of the film. And oh man, that scene where I started crying ended up being one of the most emotional, so the tears kept coming thru it.

I often make the distinction between films that are art and films that are entertainment. This one is certainly the former, but it’s an argument for why artistic cinema is so important.

Waves – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Lord of the Rings Marathon

2019 is turning out to be the year of the marathon. About two weeks prior, I’d given up on spending the Sunday of my 4 day Turkey weekend doing a scavenger hunt at Disney. No one else on my team was available. I put up a sort of hail Mary post on the event, hoping that maybe someone would see it and add me to their team. About five minutes later, I get an email from American Cinemateque. The Egyptian Theater would be doing an all day marathon of LOTR–extended editions–over the holiday weekend. Well I was prolly gonna spend that particular day at the movies anyways, so this sounded perfect!

The day arrived. Marathon started at 1. With minimal traffic, it’d take 35 min to get to Hollywood. I knew I could park at a garage a couple blocks away for $17, but I thought I could maybe get somethign closer and/or cheaper. I didn’t like the idea of walking back at midnight to a dark underground garage. Long story short, I spend way too much time failing at parking and end up at that lot and RUNNING over to catch the movie. It’s a giant auditorium. Their website says it’s easy to get tix at the last minute, so surely there’ll be plenty of seats, yeah? As I’m walking in, I see a bunch of SOLD OUT signs. Crap. I run in and it’s packed. I def need an aisle seat cause these are 3.5+ hour movies. All I find is house left third row. Great. Really close and at an angle.

I drop my blanket and neck pillow in my seat, make a bathroom run, and a concession run. The line at concessions is long, and I hear them starting to make announcements. I wander to the back of the auditorium. They’d said there’d be breaks between, but I wanted to know how long. 15 min then 30. Awesome. Concessions takes forever because the card reader in my line goes down. Fellowship has already started. Well I’m late anyway, so I’ll take the super cute Insta picture I’d planned (although I woulda rather had it in a seat than the lobby). I sit down, and Gandalf has already made it to Bilbo’s house.

Now I’ve seen these movies a million times, including in theaters. 5, 8, and 13 respectively. And ever since the extended cuts were released, I never watched a theatrical cut again. But none of those big screen viewings had ever been extended cuts. It’d also been nearly over 15 years (Jesus.) since I had seen them in a theater. I could not have asked for a better way to spend the day.

The time just flew by. It was like I had simultaneously never been in Middle Earth and had never left. I still had the biggest smile on my face, key scenes made me emotional, I laughed, I nearly cried, it was glorious. I even spotted details and connections than I’d never seen before.

There’s something I realized that I love about watching rereleases in LA at tiny independent theaters: the crowds here LOVE those movies. There were So. Many. Cheers. Every time a new character is introduced (I first heard it for Samwise, and not again for a while later, to the point where I thought maybe I’d missed Sean Astin making an appearing or something), every time Aragorn does something badass, Legolas does something cool, or Gandalf does something powerful, every time there’s a famous (especially meme-d line), everytime there’s a BIG moment. We couldn’t go more than maybe 20 minutes without loud bursts of applause and I loved in. I joined in a few whoops and hollars as well.

The first movie ends, and I’ve been in heaven. It’s now about 4:30. 15 minutes plus credits they said, yeah? I run to the Mickey D’s two blocks away. My nuggets come right away (they forgot my hot mustard tho) and I shove them in my mouth while I wait for my hot chocolate. And I wait. And I wait. It eventually appears and sits on a counter behind the frazzled server and it’s longer until I get her attention and point her to it. I run into the theater. It’s now 4:55. Surely, I’ve missed the intro, right? I hear someone say “5 minutes” as I make a pit stop and then run into my seat, just in time to see it start. Awesome.

I start doing math in my head. Movie 2 is starting at 5. Does that mean movie 3 is starting at 9? Oh now we’re getting out after midnight, closer to 1. My parking garage is open until 2. I don’t like the idea of going alone, but surely a large number of the people in this theater will be heading the same way at the same time. We’re good.

I’m sitting there with my little Gollum doll in hand absolutely loving it. Towers really packs in the extras with the extended edition, so it’s almost a whole different movie, with much more depth between the layers. The neck pillow made these seats not just bearable, but great. I’m comfy and I’ve got a great up close view. Seriously, the best way I could have spent the day.

Movie gets out 8:30 maybe? I expect an either 9:00 or 9:15 start time. It’s still late, but it’ll be fine. I run to Starbucks across the street and bring back a tea and a cake pop. I walk back to my seat to get myself situated and I over hear two things. “9:40” and “4 and a half hours”. Um what?! Actually 3 things “People will have to leave early because they need to get their cars by 2”. WHAT?! A quick Google-ing confirms. LOTR: ROTK theatrical is 3 hours 20 min. Extended adds 50 minutes. So yeah, nearly 4 and a half hours. There’s no way I’m comfortable leaving alone that late, nevermind if I can even stay awake for the movie (good thing I got a green tea at Starbucks instead of my usual chamomile).

I’m standing in the aisle until around 9:15, hoping the film starts soon. I give up and sit down with my book. As overheard, it does start at 9:40. I make the heartbreaking decision to do something I’ve never done before: leave a movie early. I’ll stick it out until midnight, then I’ll bail. That’ll get me thru just over half. The film starts, and I’m lamenting the fact that some of my favorite moments in the film (and really the entire series) are in the second half. I can always watch it at home (even though I’ve already got my Black Friday movies incoming and my queue growing).

10:05. The movie stops. Dude comes up to the front. They realize that they were sent the theatrical cut, not extended. He asks the audience: continue theatrical in 35 mm or switch to extended digital? The crowd votes for digital. It’ll take some time to switch the equipment. He offers vouchers if people wanna leave since it won’t be what was promised. I give him an arbitrary deadline of 10:15. If it’s not running by then, I’m outta here. 10:13 I start packing up my blanket and neck pillow and sweater and Gollum doll.

10:14 dude comes back up. Because they’re using the BluRay, there will be a pause halfway thru to switch discs. Okay that’ll prolly be sometime after midnight, so prolly a good point to bail. Cool. Oh crap, wait a second. Are we… He immediately confirms my fear “Because we missed one of the extra scenes, we’ll be backing it up a little bit”. So now I’m watching less than 2 hours of this film, part of it twice? The lights go down, the screen comes up, and it’s the title credits again. Nope. I’m out. Gimme that voucher.

So I bailed, completely heartbroken. Seriously, couldn’t they have started the marathon at 11 instead of 1? Did no one see a problem with the uber late run time? I guess I didn’t break my “never left a movie early” streak, but now it’s “didn’t see every movie in a marathon” unless falling asleep at previous ones already broke that. I’ll prolly end up watching ROTK at home after my chores are done today. For the ones I did see, does that up my count of how many times I’ve seen them in theaters? Or is it a separate count cause they’re extended? Anyways, still really bummed I couldn’t get the full set in, but what I did see was still absolutely worth it. I’ll play closer attention to schedules and run times if the opportunity ever comes up again

21 Bridges

Black Friday morning is for shopping. Black Friday afternoon is for movies. Preferably something not requiring much brain power because I’m tired, especially after a super long day at Disney before waking up early to be at Target when it opens.

Chadwick Boseman is a cop in NYC. Bad guys kill some cops late at night, so in order to catch them before they get off the island, the island is shut down. No way in or out. Baddies are trapped. Cops go to work.

Watching this movie, it felt like something I woulda caught my dad viewing on tv. He prolly woulda really dug it. I found it incredibly lacking, despite the enormous potential. Shutting down all of NYC? Cool! Oh, but it’s just playing out like any other cop film, just a little faster. Hey that’s a lot of blood, but not a lot of creativity in the shots. Okay big shift in the story, that’ll help. Nope, now I just figured out all of the plot and can now call every beat before they happen. Awesome.

The cast was far better than the film deserved. Not only Chadwick Boseman but JK Simmons, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, all of them great. Just not doing anything too exciting. I really did like Boseman’s character, fiercely moral but no hesitation to do what’s required to get the job done. If he had a less hackneyed story to work with, it could have really been something great. Instead it almost felt like he’d just wandered into the wrong cop drama. I’m sure there’s a good one out there for him, but this wasn’t it.

I guess I got my mindless Black Friday film. Careful what you wish for I guess

21 Bridges – \m/ \m/ \n

Queen & Slim

The main reason I was excited to see this film was because it was written by Lena Waithe. I haven’t actually seen anything she wrote, but her reputation proceeds her with enough praise that I knew I’d be in for something good. Something timely and insightful and powerful. That’s exactly what we got.

Daniel Kaluuya is on a mediocre at best date with Jodie Turner-Smith. He’s driving her home, likely to never see her again once she leaves the car. Or so he thinks. They get pulled over by a shady cop. Things go south and the cop ends up dead. The near strangers now find themselves on the run together, an unwitting Bonnie and Clyde. But the reason this film is so powerful is that it’s less about the events unfolding on screen, and more about its greater context off screen.

Story wise, it’s pretty straightforward. The meat of it is in their relationship to each other and to the people they interact with. I found a beauty in the sense of community and support they were finding in the most unlikely places (the dance hall scene was particularly moving). The way their relationship evolved and grew was also beautiful. These two people who could barely tolerate each other one day became closer and closer and eventually couldn’t exist without the other. In any other story, this would be hailed as a sweet romance. It’s still a very romantic and sexy film, but that’s secondary to the social commentary.

I feel like I could keep talking about this for hours if I were to just let myself go back to the mindset I was in while I watched. But that’s a very heavy and devastating place to return to as I’m writing this on a lazy Saturday morning. Maybe it’s better to let you experience this film for yourself

Queen & Slim – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Frozen II

It was inevitable. Just like it’s inevitable that I’m gonna end up making a “Let It Go” joke somewhere in here. I’ll fight the urge.

Where we last left Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, Arendelle was no longer cut off from the world, and Elsa was no longer hiding her powers and her true self. The queendom was as happy as a little snowman or a reindeer with a carrot. Kristoff’s there too. Now, the elements are acting up, and Elsa’s hearing a strange singing voice, and it looks like it’s time for another life changing adventure!

The plot is a little less straightfoward than before, and it’s got a darker and heavier vibe to it. The songs were a bit clunky in how they were inserted, and it was like the Disney magic was stuck behind the dam that was central to the story. Keep in mind though how high the bar was from the first one. A little drop off was expected.

Still while not perfect, it was a very enjoyable film. The animation is beyond gorgeous, and Olaf made me laugh as much as ever with his far too insightful comments that are really there so the parents find him endearing instead of annoying. And even if I felt like the songs were shoehorned in a bit, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like them. I’ll be hitting up iTunes later this week for sure (despite the fact that they were clearly trying way too hard to top Let It Go).

All that said, there is one wrong from Frozen that was absolutely righted: Kristoff. As you may know, he’s voiced by Broadway treasure Jonathan Groff (affectionately dubbed Groffsauce by one Lin-Manuel Miranda). Despite being a Tony nominated actor, he barely got one song in the first movie that didn’t let him use the extend of his skillz. Frozen II fixes that. Frozen II gives him, wait for it, and 80’s power ballad complete with music video!!! I died. And I found what song I’ll be sneaking into theaters to watch over and over again, like I did with Let It Go back in the day. I don’t think that’s the breakout song the writers intended, and it likely won’t resonate with all the tiny princesses like it did with me, but dammit, that was my favorite three minutes in the movie

It may not have lived up to the impossible hype of Frozen, and I may have had an ultra critical eye as a result, but ultimately it was fun. The kids will like it. Good luck not having the music follow you around for the next few months, and expect a fresh onslaught of Elsa’s next Halloween

Frozen II – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I grew up in Mr Rogers Neighborhood. I remember watching him at home, at school, at Grandma’s house. Any time he was on, I was attentive. Last year, I went and saw the documentary about the man in the ‘hood, and I left there bawling. If what you want is a look into the man himself, then that doc is prolly what you’re looking for. If you want to look at the impact he has, then this movie is what you want.

Matthew Rhys is an investigative journalist who is given an assignment that is unusual for him: write a profile on Fred Rogers. What he finds is that Mr Rogers isn’t your typical subject. He’s far more interested in talking about his interviewer than himself, in being helpful than self promoting. What starts out as a quick meeting for a short interview turns into a life impacting friendship. In an inspired move, the story is framed as an episode of Mr Rogers, which leads to some clever surprises in storytelling.

Again, not a standard biopic. I’d argue not even a biopic in the slightest. You don’t learn anything new about Mr Rogers that you didn’t already know (esp if you saw last year’s doc). What you get instead is something more powerful. You see an illustration of the impact he had. Sure, it’s prolly exaggerated for dramatic effect but you essentially watch someone change their life for the better because they knew this great man. That illustration is much more powerful than mere words in a biopic could convey.

I seem to be burying the lede a little bit here. Fred Rogers is played by another American treasure: Tom Hanks. Hanks possesses the same gentle soul that drove Mr Rogers, and he plays him beautifully with the same patience and tenderness. You never look at him and see Fred, but you feel his presence throughout the film. It’s so moving.

This film isn’t quite what I expected, but it’s lovely nonetheless. If nothing else, I was happy to spend two hours in the neighborhood, even if it wasn’t in the way I thought.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Knives Out

Christopher Plummer is dead. An apparent suicide. His greedy family (Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langford, Don Johnson) await their inheritance. Inspector Daniel Craig is hired to assist police officer Lakeith Stanfield, and nurse Ana de Armas may know more than she lets on. The game is afoot!

A whodunnit is only as good as its suspects, and did you read that list of names I just listed?! Each of them are at the top of their game and greatly enjoying the game they’re playing. The characters are deliciously over the top and insane. If anything, my nitpick is that there’s so many of them, you don’t get a satisfactory amount of time with each individually. But it leaves us a bigger question than whodunnit: who was going to chew the most scenery? No matter the answer, everybody wins!

But what I loved even more than the cast? The humor. The jokes were very smart and unexpected, each carefully laid out amidsts the intricate web of clues. I found myself laughing very loudly, gripping my giant popcorn (free upgrade!) like a teddy bear. And those clues were very well thought out. I didn’t pick up on all of them, but I did find enough to buy the reveal without it having been given away.

Sure, there are things I could nitpick. Looking back afterwards, I saw flaws just like any other film. I don’t care though. I had so much fun watching it, and that’s all that matters. I replayed the mystery in my head all night until I went to sleep. And I’m looking forward to replaying it again for real. Even if I’ll know the ending, I feel like it’ll be completely rewatchable

Knives Out – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Good Liar

Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellan are international treasures. I would watch them read the phone book and be perfectly content. Put them together in a game of cat and mouse? Sign me up please!

Sir Ian woos Dame Helen after meeting her on a dating site, but he has less than noble intentions. He’s a con man working a long game on her. But could she be the one mark that can actually handle him?

It’s hard to describe the plot without giving away too much. Hell, the trailer can’t even manage it. I walked in with certain story assumptions that I feel would have been better left as a surprise. But really, I only had two expectations going in: amazing performances and a fun game.

The performances, it goes without saying, were fantastic of course. These two were very clearly relishing their roles and having so much fun. But neither really (well maybe Dame Helen towards the end) had a BIG showstopping monolgue. Lots of scenery chewing for sure, but no mind blowing. In fact, I almost ran home to watch Apt Pupil, my favorite Ian McKellan performance (yes, over Gandlaf) because that was the level I was hoping for.

And my other desire from the film? That too was a bit unsatisfying. My brain was running in circles trying to figure out what the underlying game was, and while the reasons went far deeper (and darker!) than I expected, the twists weren’t nearly twisty enough for me. I was discussing it with a friend and he brought up Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. That was the level I was hoping for, and it’s not at all what I got. Still great, and I was unbelievably anxious leading into the final act, but not quite what I’d hoped.

Remember when I said I’d happily watch these two read the phone book? Even if it wasn’t quite up to the level I’d hoped, it was still much better than a phone book reading. So I’ll take it.

The Good Liar – \m/ \m/ \m/

Charlie’s Angels

Yes, it’s another reboot of Charlie’s Angels. This time it’s Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. But we do find ways to tie this back in to the series and the Cameron/Drew/Lucy version. It’s fun, and full of all the girl power, but not a whole lot memorable otherwise.

I mean I suppose it’s a good thing to know that the ladies can make a mediocre run of the mill action flick like the guys can, I just would have wanted more. I did really enjoy the credits sequence, which had a lot of fun moments, but that wasn’t as much the vibe throughout the rest of the film.

There was one standout for me though and that was Kristen Stewart. I absolutely loved her as an Angel. Post-Twilight, she’s worked hard to keep true to her authentic self instead of conforming to the mold that Hollywood wants for its leading ladies. On screen she takes very unique and interesting roles, and off screen she’s outspoken and quite the character herself. This is the first film where I really feel like we saw her own personality in there. To start with, I love that they didn’t sanitize her appearance. She keeps her short bleach blonde do and her ink, which may have been scandalous for an Angel back in the day. But what I really loved was her kinda dark sense of humor. She wasn’t this picture perfect lady, she had bite and balls and I adored her. I just wish the rest of the film was able to keep up with her unconventional style instead of being kinda basic.

Charlie’s Angels – \m/ \m/ \m/