First Man

Damien Chazelle is back on the scene. Whiplash is one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. La La Land one of the most overrated. First Man? Well, let’s get into it.

The title refers to Neil Armstrong, who we all know as the first man to walk on the moon. This is his story. And yes, I mean his story, not the story of the moon landing, though that’s a big part of the story. This looks briefly into his life as a pilot, before joining NASA, as well as the GEMINI mission and the early parts of the lunar program. We get a look into his family life, starting with the death of his young daughter, and a look at his friends at NASA, some of whom lost their lives in service of the mission.

The story is fascinating. I can’t believe that it’s taken so long for such a legend’s life to be put on screen. I loved that it not only honored him, but the others he worked with, including those that gave everything. Ryan Gosling played him well with that stoic charm we know and love him for.

However, something was just missing for me. The pacing dragged, to the point where by the time we landed on the moon, I was dozing. The moon landing is the last thing that should make you sleepy!! I get that this was a personal story, not one about the action of the missions, but there could have been a bit more vitality to it.

My biggest gripe though was the camerawork. I fully understand that it was an artistic choice, and I can appreciate that. However, the shaky cam and extreme closeups were just very difficult to watch. True, I have been dealing with some eye strain lately (getting it under control tho!) so that further contributed to my not liking it. It just really took away from the film.

Okay, so I know I prolly shouldn’t even say this, and that it’s completely unfair, but I absolutely could not help but mentally compare this to Apollo 13. Ron Howard’s masterpiece is a damn near perfect movie, and an impossible bar to live up to. First Man was never gonna get there. And that’s okay. I just wish it’d been a little closer

First Man – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Hate U Give

Who says YA adaptations have to be only fluff? There are few movies I’ve seen as emotionally powerful as The Hate U Give. I don’t care if the original target audience for the novel was tweens, this is a movie that everyone needs to see.

The story centers around Starr, a black high school girl caught between two worlds; the poor primarily black community she lives in and the affluent white high school she attends. While she hates herself for having to live two lives with two personas, she realizes it’s the only way to get by. That is until she’s the passenger in the car of a childhood best friend, and witnesses him getting shot and killed by a police officer at a traffic stop. In the aftermath of an event that’s bigger than her, she has to learn how to use her voice to stand up for her home community, even if that means alienating the other.

I felt a weight on my chest for the entire movie that didn’t lift until after the credits rolled. The whole time, I felt like I was on a hair trigger that would send me to tears at any moment. A few times, I did nearly lose it. I don’t know that I can further put into words the emotional impact of this film.

Our Starr, Amandla Stenberg, truly is a STAR. She carried that story with grace and power that actresses with twice her experience don’t even have half of. Everything I felt watching this movie, I felt because of her.

Starr’s parents were the other pillars of this movie, played by Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall. Their relationship was everything. I truly admired the love they had for each other, and the strong example they led for their children. They instilled such strong values in them, it gave me hope for humanity. If there are fictional characters that strong of character, there must be some that exist in the real world. They truly set an example for how I would want my hypothetical future family to function.

The other thought I left this movie with was that I realized that so many of this year’s best movies are made by black filmmakers. I know there’s still a long way to go, but this is proof that representation matters. These are the stories that need to be told, and I love that they’re starting to trickle out there. I can’t wait to see what comes next. I just hope my heart can take the impact.

The Hate U Give – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Smallfoot

Usually all you can hope for with a non Disney/Pixar animated film is something in the range of “okay” and “watchable” and maybe even a “cute”. That’s about where we landed with Smallfoot.

In an adorable twist on the classic myth, the abominable snowman is real, except he’s more like the huggable snowman. The yetis live way up high on a big mountain, secluded from the rest of the world, and governed by a set of beliefs written on stone. One of those beliefs is that there is no smallfoot–human creatures that live below the mountain. In fact, there is no below the mountain. A chance encounter between bigfoot Migo (Channing Tatum) and a plane crashed human leads him to question everything he’s ever been told.

Besides being cute, what impressed me about this movie was the amount of positive lessons for the kiddies. Usually there’s one big moral that we’re working towards. This had so many small but important ideas: ask questions, don’t make assumptions about people, be open to new ideas, learn about each other’s cultures, don’t take everything you’re told at face value.

The voice cast was great too. We learned a couple weeks prior that Zendaya is Meechee, but I really loved Channing Tatum. The film is technically a musical, and I’m not sure I heard him sing before. His voice was so sweet with a delicate quality to it that I didn’t expect.

I wish there had been more in jokes for the big kids (um, adults) in the audience. The pacing felt a little slow, and I didn’t laugh as much as I’d had hoped. But it was sweet and cute, and it will be a win for the little ones

Smallfoot – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Sisters Brothers

It’s rare that I find a Western I like. This was not it. And I had such high hopes for it too.

John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix are the Sisters Brothers, an infamous duo of assassins. And they’re after Riz Ahmed, a prospector who may have discovered a better way to acquire gold. Somehow Jake Gyllenhaal is involved too. I don’t know, I wasn’t really following; I was so bored.

The main draw for me was the cast. The next draw was the humor that the promos seemed to promise. The cast was superb, but the funny was too thin and scattered. It was more a Western with more comic relief than usual, as opposed to a comedic Western.

Reilly was particularly great in this movie, so I suppose it’s worth watching for him if you’re a fan. But really, he’s got so many better movies. I wouldn’t waste your time unless you’re a true western aficionado. Lord knows I’m not.

The Sisters Brothers – \m/ \n

Venom

You have the chance to make a movie with Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed, and this is what you come up with?!

Riz Ahmed somehow acquires some alien creatures and one of them somehow merges with Tom Hardy. And now he’s got crazy abilities and an even crazier appetite. It plays out like a supehero origin story, but Venom is no hero. You’d think this would be a great opportunity to subvert the genre, yeah? Yeah, you’d think. Instead of doing that, it just pulled all of the worst bits of superhero films.

I did really like the Venom character, and his relationship with Tom Hardy (whose character I also liked). Any moment that was just about them navigating their new relationship, I dug. The rest of the movie was lazy and boring and even stupid at times.

Lord knows I love my scifis and supers and various other extraordinary stories. I am used to suspending disbelief and just going with their made up science and accepting it as a necessary part of the story. Welp, I seem to have hit my limit for that. I just could not buy a single thing they were saying, and I was ready to throw things if they said “symbiote” (or some variation) one more time (potential drinking game maybe?)

The action sequences were dull, the baddie cliche, the love interest overdone. Again, so much potential with such a cool character and a great cast, but it was totally wasted. Yet again, Hollywood realizes that we’ll pay money to see crap, and yet again we fell for it. We deserve better. So does Venom.

Venom – \m/ \m/

Bad Times at the El Royale

My movie premiere tally is up to 4! Yup, got to see Bad Times at the El Royale at the Chinese Theatre. It’s funny because a week before I’d just been saying to myself that I wanted to see a premiere there. And the week before that, I’d said that this was one of the upcoming movies I was most looking forward to. Dreams do come true.

Written and directed by Drew Goddard (the guy that did Cabin in the Woods and The Martian, two very highly ranked movies in my top 100), the El Royale is a hotel straddling the state line between California and Nevada. Time was when it was one of the hottest hangouts in either state, but now it’s a run down hide out for shady types. And the cast invovles Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth. All but Hemsworth were present at the premiere.

I was actually sitting along the aisle they entered for the intro. I wanted to attempt to fist bump them (at least Bridges and Hamm) as they walked down, but they were each escorting their costars down the stairs. Totally cool, maybe on their way back up, when they’d be more likely to look directly up at me. Except the lights dimmed the second they finished the intro, and they had a costar’s hand in one hand, and a lit up cell phone in the other. Ah well. As a bonus tho, I did spot Joss Whedon in the crowd behind me. I kinda freaked out a bit.

Back to the movie. Think Tarantino by way of Joss Whedon. So now you know I loved it. The story was dark and gritty (I think I use those adjectives too much in my write ups, may need to consider retirement) and the mystery was in tense. It played out in pieces, following each character, discovering their motivations for staying at this seedy sanctuary. But like an episode of Lost, right as you’d start to uncover the mystery, we’d jump to the next story, which would suddenly have you equally enthralled. Woeven throughout tho was this biting (and often macabre) humor. Drew, didja write this movie just for me?

The cast was incredible. It’s my fave Bridges performance in a while, and I loved seeing Hemsworth break bad. However, the true MVP, hands down no question was Cynthia Erivo. Her story was the most compelling, and her desperation was felt in every frame. That alone would be enough to win the movie, but on top of that, she got to show off her singing. This is where I point out that she’s a Tony Award winning actress for The Color Purple musical on broadway a few years back. Hard not to see why.

This was the type of dark movie that I love, and I especially love that they’re getting better and better. Goddard’s quickly climbing up the ranks of my favorites list.

Bad Times at the El Royale – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

A Star is Born

This has been such a good year for movies. I was gonna start this blog by saying this was one of my most anticipated movies left this year, when I remembered that I’ve got another most anticipated movie to write up this session. Still this really has been one of my most anticipated movies this year. So much so, that I’ll forgive the three months that I couldn’t go to the movies without seeing the same trailer for this movie.

I’m pretty sure this movie has been everywhere and I don’t need to explain it, but here goes. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga lead this remake of the classic story of a women getting discovered and shooting to fame. Yet it’s ultimately a love story. Wait, Dawn was highly anticipating a love story? I mean have you seen that trailer that I said I watched a million times before every movie ever?

I could tell from that trailer that Gaga was gonna be amazing. And I was so excited to see her strip away the facade (not that I don’t love the superstar glam side of her) and be real. She lived up to every expectation I had in that area. The first time she was pulled up to sing on the big stage, I had chills. But the one who truly blew me away was Bradley. I think this may be his all time best performance, and he showed a depth that I did not know was possible. Oh and Sam Elliott was a great treat in his few scenes.

The first act of the film is unbelievable. The emotions felt so real, and the chemistry between the two of them was palpable. You could see it in every look they gave each other. I want to live in the first act. This made me understand why some people love romantic movies.

There are some things I can nitpick about the second act. Namely, a few story choices that I felt either needed to go deeper or get scrapped. But once we got to the ending, all the feels came back and it was powerful.

So yes, like half of America, I have since purchased the soundtrack, and will likely be listening to it all week at work. I really wanna just sneak into a theater to watch the first act again. That alone made the whole movie for me. Plus drag queens. So many bonus points for the drag queens in the movie (I assume I can thank Gaga for that detail)

A Star is Born – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Maniac

October 2, 2018. That’s gonna go down as one of my best days ever. That’s the day I MET ELI ROTH!!!. (Anyone else remember the mini project I did about him on this blog some time back?).

Let’s back up. It was Beyond Fest at the Egyptian Theater (finally giving me an excuse to go). I’d gotten a ticket to see Roth preview his new series Eli Roth’s History of Horror, which would be followed by a 4K restoration of Maniac. In between, he’d be interviewing Maniac director William Lustig with Saw mastermind Leigh Whannell. Needless to say, I immediately bought a ticket the second I read the email blast that told me about this.

Eli came out before the episode to introduce it. The show breaks down different subgenres of horror, talking with various directors, actors, and other horror aficionados. The one he showed discussed slasher movies with people like Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephen King, and Rob Zombie. They analyzed Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and yes, Maniac, among others. I feel like I learned so much just in that one hour, I could have stayed there all night to binge the series. I also could have followed up each episode with the highlighted films, and it made me really excited to know I’d be seeing one of those at least.

Next of course came the interview. Since I hadn’t seen Maniac yet, it was a bit tough to grasp a lot of what they were talkign about. However, it did tell me what to make sure to pay attention to when I did watch. Either way, completely fascinating. There’s nothing like watching horror lovers talk about the genre like giddy little kids.

There was a brief intermission before the film started, and that’s when I had my shot. I saw Eli standing around in the oppose aisle chatting with someone (he’d been sitting in the audience for the screening). How was there not a massive throng gathering there? I wasn’t gonna wait for someone else to make their move and risk missing my chance. I went over, and stood nearby as he finished his conversation. When he looked over at me, I told him I was big fan and I politely asked for a selfie, which he obliged (in true Dawn fashion, it was blurry, because the more I care about the person in the pic, the worse the pic comes out). I congratulated him on the show, and told him that I learned a lot from it and couldn’t wait to see more. I quickly ran back to my side of the theater since there were a few other people gathering now. I assume they were getting their selfies, but I don’t actually know because I ran to go upload the photo (heaven forbid something happen to my phone before the pic was immortalized). I got back to my seat just as the film was starting.

So, Maniac. How much street cred will I lose if I admit that I hadn’t even heard of it before receiving that fateful announcement video? Hell, I’d apparently even seen the Elijah Wood remake (which I totally forgot that I’d seen, and that its on my movie wall) and I didn’t even know about this. Good thing I fixed that.

Released in 1980, Maniac is one of the most classic and controversial slasher movies in horror history. An incredibly menacing Joe Spinell plays Frank, a serial killer who terrorizes NYC, scalping the women he murders, and creating mannequin trophies. I might be able to attribute some of this to how much my heart was pounding from meeting Mr Roth immediately beforehand, but I found this movie terrifying. There were two scenes in particular that did it.

There’s an early scene where he strangles a woman. The expressions he was making are going to be seared into my brain’s nightmares for a very long time. That is not something pleasant to see in high def on a giant screen, up close (I was sitting in the second row so I could be close to the in person shenanigans previously discussed).

The other scene, which I’ve come to hear is iconic, was the subway chase into the bathroom. The suspense in that sequence was so thick you could cut it with Frank’s knife. With every tight close up of our victim, I kenw he had to be just outside the frame, but director Lustig took his time showing him. It was as drawn out and frustrating (in a good way) as I’ve ever seen. But that scene was particularly terrifying because it’s real world horror. As a woman, I’m wary of where I go at night, and when I frequented public transporation, I was always spooked by an empty subway tunnel. I avoided them after late hours as much as I could. This movie reinforced that fear,. in a way that I don’t know I’ve experienced with another movie.

Truly watching that movie was an epic experience to top off what was an epic night that’s gonna stay with me

Night School

I was in MN last week! Hence the hiatus. No time to write, and fell a bit behind on movies. But I _finally_ got to go to Mall of America! And really, I got to spend some time with my Daddy’s side of the family, which was pretty awesome and long overdue (Hi, Uncle Phil!) But yeah now, I’ve gotta play catch up, which is further complicated by the fact that I’m fairly sure I’ve got computer vision syndrome, and my eyes are rebelling as I try and look at the screen (don’t worry, doc appt already scheduled). Let’s see how much I can avoid looking at the screen while I type (and I’ve already once caught the cursor jumped to the wrong spot).

On the eve of the trip, I went with some of the Stardust crew to see Night School. We shoulda gone to Smallfoot instead.

Kevin Hart, playing every Kevin Hart character ever, decides that it’s finally time for him to get his GED because reasons. That means night school, where his teacher is Tiffany Haddish. Hilarity ensues, or at least tries to and kinda fails at it.

I adore Tiffany, and she’s the only reason I had any interest in this (besides the fact that the movie was picked for me that night). She was a bit more subdued than usual, but it worked. I absolutely loved her character. She was fierce with a heart of gold and a sense of confidence and compassion that is beautiful to see in a female character. Except there wasn’t nearly enough of her. The promo for the movie would lead you to believe her screen time is split pretty even with Kevin. Their screentime is more like 3:1 in his favor, and the movie suffered for it.

I also rather liked the supporting characters, but I feel like their potential was quandered. Rob Riggle, Mary Lyn Rajskub, and some others who I didn’t recognize but grew fond of despite how cliche their storypoints were. Sign of a great cast that I still liked them, even if I didn’t like anything they did (does that even make sense).

But there was one other major problem with the movie–the editing. Now I say this knowing almost nothing about editing. I can sometimes notice really really good editing, and apparently I can also sometimes notice really really bad editing. Things happened twice in a row, scenes had awkward lead ins, lips didn’t match words. It was beyond distracting, and further dragged down a movie that was already mediocre at best.

This is def not a see it in theaters movie. It’s barely a see it on Netflix. Actually yeah, stream it, and take care of your chores during Kevin Hart’s scenes. It’ll be your most productive cleaning binge in a while.

Night School – \m/ \m/

Assassination Nation

I really didn’t know what to expect from this, except something crazy. Even as I watched it, I had no idea where it was gonna go. The crazy didn’t really kick in til the third act, but that didn’t make the ride any less wild.

In a modern reinterpretation of the Salem witch trials, four glamorous gals rule the high school, led by the lusty Lillian. But when half of the town’s cell phones are hacked, contents posted online, dirty secrets are aired and everything is turned upside down.

This film crosses between so many genres, it’s impossible to keep up. Teen comedy, horror, thriller, the list goes on. It was stylish and funny and oh so very topical. It’s absolutely a movie for our times, as it explored so many themes that are incredibly relevant today, all with a wink and some blood.

I absolutely loved Lillian and her besty Bex (mega points for a transgender actress and a transgender character who owns her identity). However, my biggest gripe is that the other two girls weren’t as fleshed out. I wanted them to have empowering backstories too, instead of just fading into the background in their red coats.

This movie isn’t gonna work for everybody. It’s weird, and it’s loud, and it’s unapologetic. Fortunately, that’s a formula that definitely works for me!

Assassination Nation – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n