Overlord

I could not get a read on this from the trailer. It looked kinda bland, but I knew to expect more from a Bad Robot production. Then the buzz started to come in on Stardust touting this as a bonkers grindhouse gore fest, and I could not get to the theater soon enough.

A troop of soldiers during WWII are dropped in a small town in France, ordered to take out a tower the Nazi’s are jamming their signals from. At least that’s where it starts. The first half plays out like a war flick. Then second half, is something bloody different.

I was so impatient watching this film. We know I love my gore, and I was hoping to regret choosing to watch this at the Dine In with a plate of shrimp tacos. The build up was good ), def felt like it could have been a straight up war flick(reminded me of something between Fury and Inglorious Basterds, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I was waiting too much for the second half, a la From Dusk Til Dawn. The second half did not disappoint. It wasn’t as non stop as I woulda hoped, but the bursts of gore were quite satisfying.

Overlord – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Front Runner

I went to see this movie with a meetup group the other night, and it turned out I was the youngest in the crew. At dinner before the film, some of the others were talking about the Gary Hart scandal (the subject of the movie we were about to see) and what they all remembered from it, and the following political scandals. I, on the other hand, had never even heard this story before, hence why I was interested in seeing this film (plus director Jason Reitman and actor Hugh Jackman).

For those of you, like me, who didn’t know this story before hand in 1988 Gary Hart was the front runner for the democratic presidential nomination. In all likelyhood, he was on board to take the White House. Then he got caught up in a sex scandal, and his political aspirations went to hell.

It’s interesting on the surface, but it turns out, it doesn’t really fill a whole movie that well. I was so incredibly bored throughout, I think I looked at my watch every two minutes for the second half. And that was despite some great performances. Hugh Jackman puts his signature charm and charisma to good use, and Vera Farmiga slays. They just weren’t enough to keep my attention.

The screening I was at was followed by a Q&A with Jason Reitman. One thing he explained that I wish I had been privy to beforehand was that at any given point in the film, there were always two or three conversations happening at once. Maybe there was newscaster on a tv screen, maybe it was more thru body language, but there were always disparate things happening. It’s not possible to catch every bit at the same time. The idea being to force the audience to decide, what are you going to pay attention to. What’s important? What’s the angle of the story that matters to you? And what is just noise? Had I tapped into that, I think it would have been a more engaging film, noticing and understanding the different sides of the same story happening at the same time. But I didn’t pick up on it.

The Front Runner – \m/ \m/

The Grinch

I was super skeptical when this was announced. The 1966 Boris Karloff cartoon is perfection, and there is absolutely not way it can be improved upon. Then I started to see some really snarky and clever Billboards across town, with the Grinch’s image and LA-centric slogans. “Seriously, another day of sunshine?”
“You’ll never make it to your yoga class.” “I put gluten in your smoothie.”
“The best thing about the holidays is everyone goes home to where they came from.” “Maybe tomorrow you’ll find a shortcut to the 405” Or my favorite, the bus ad with “Hope you make it to your audition”. My friends later told me of NYC ones “You’ll never get Hamilton tickets’ or my actual favorite “No, I will not go to your Off-Broadway play”. The point being, that maybe there would be something to this version of the Grinch that I would like.

I think we know the story of The Grinch, yeah? Green guy, lives in a cave up a mountain outside Whoville. Hates Christmas because his heart is two sizes too small, so he tries to steal the holiday from the Whos down below. Right. Same story here. Although, if you’ll recall, the Karloff cartoon is less than half an hour, so we’ve got some story expansions here. They’re mostly filler, nothing too exciting.

But the core story is very well told, and the animation is absolutely beautiful. It took me all of 20 seconds to decide that I want to live in Whoville forever, and experience Christmas with them the way they do. It was all unbelievably cute too, especially when Max the dog was involved.

Of course, what is the Grinch without a voice, which was provided by Bennedict Cumberbatch. He was perfect voice casting, with the right mix of brains and mischief.

Look, this movie is never gonna replace the Karloff cartoon, but I can absolutely see them coexisting side by side during the holiday season.

The Grinch – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Lisbeth Salander is an incredible literary character. It’s no wonder The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo captivated us all. I have yet to see the original film trilogy, but I’ve read the three books and I adore David Fincher’s film. Book wise, Dragon Tattoo is incredible. Played with Fire is equally good. Hornet’s Nest feels like a really long epilogue. Now she’s back, with a new author after Steig Larson’s passing, and I don’t know that she should have returned.

From the initial trailer, I was concerned. It felt more like Jason Bourne than Lisbeth Salander. She’s hired by a tech genius to recover a program he’s created that allows the user to take full control of weapons of mass destruction across the world, but the web gets very tangled, pulling her in to pieces of her past.

It was fine, pefectly watchable, but it did not feel like a Lisbeth Salander story. It hit all the surface points of her character, but missed her essence that makes her stories so compelling, making it feel like a cheap knockoff.

I have yet to be sold on Claire Foy. I’m not interested in The Crown, and she hasn’t wowed me yet in anything I’ve seen, but I gave her a chance here. Rooney Mara still wins it for me easily (I can’t speak to Noomi Rapace). Foy was lacking the bite and tenacity that fuels Lisbeth, and she never figured out how to fill her silences so they didn’t feel awkward. Mara captured her edge much more effortlessly, like she wasn’t trying to hard, she just was Lisbeth. I feel like Foy didn’t fully try to become her the way that Mara famously did, and the half effort showed.

I think any character’s name could have been put on this film, and it would have been fine. I just don’t think this was worthy of being named for The Girl

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – \m/ \m/ \n

Suspiria

This will prolly be a quick one. The eyes are straining, and credits on the tv are rolling, prompting me to change the DVD. I was excited that I got to see the original Suspiria just days before seeing the remake. Although it turns out, except for a few basic basic plot points and character names, the two are vastly different. So let’s just throw any comparisons out the window, ‘kay?

Dakota Johnson stars as an aspiring dancer (it was more modern than ballet) who comes to Germany to learn under Madam Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but the dance studio isn’t quite what it seems.

Well there’s no doubt this was a horror, although times felt more like a historical drama, with an emphasis on a divided post-WWII Berlin. The imagery was grotesque and horrifying, and there were creepy undertones throughout. There was a hauntingly beautiful dance performance that I absolutely LOVED, not to mention the rest of the dance elements throughout.

However, beyond those fleeting moments of the macabre, I just didn’t get it. I always hate making such admissions, but it’s true, I had no idea what was going on. It was slow, yet still tough to follow, and then it got weird, and then it kept going. Really, I spent most of the time plotting what my dinner options were with the few minutes I’d have to run to the foot court before returning for Round 2 of Bohemian Rhapsody after. Suspiria felt more like an obstacle to get thru.

Suspiria – \m/ \m/

Boy Erased

Boy Erased is the true story about a pastor’s son who is sent to gay conversion therapy in his teens. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched, but in order to get into why, I’ve gotta get personal for a bit. Jump down a few paragraphs if you wanna just get to the movie details.

First off, I’m very much an LGBTQ ally, so I am morally opposed to conversion therapy with every fiber in my being. That alone makes this film difficult, but that’s not what made it so personal for me.

I was raised in a very Christian home, not unlike what’s depicted in the film. All through my childhood, I was told what to believe and how to behave. What things were wrong, and what things were right. There’s a lot I missed out on because they didn’t fit some now seemingly arbitrary definition of godly or ungodly, a list too long to go into here. Over time, I’ve come to realize things here and there that I was taught that I simply cannot believe (their stance on the LGBTQ community is a big one).

I’ve had two big revelations recently. One is that I can’t tell what I genuinely believe vs what I was told I believe. There is such an element of fear and guilt in the way that Christianity is taught, it’s hard to untangle from what you truly understand and hold in your core. I was never taught to question or figure things out for myself. I was just presented with the way things were and there was no gray area. There’s a few absolute truths I’m on board with. I do believe in God, and I can point to examples in my life where I’ve felt like him taking care of me. But the details of how it works, or what’s expected of us, are all hazy.

The second revelation was a couple of months ago. My mom told me that she had been speaking with the pastor of the church I grew up with, someone who is very much responsible for my spiritual upbringing. Mom mentioned to her that I have social anxiety, and Pastor completely dismissed the thought. “She doesn’t have anxiety, what are you talking about? She dances and does theatre, there’s no way she has anxiety” and she shut down the conversation and moved on. Um, newsflash, I do have anxiety (technically generalized anxiety with social phobia, but social anxiety is a good shorthand). I have a legit diagnosis from a therapist I’ve been seeing for a year and a half, plus I’ve known for a long time, since I first was able to put a name to it. It’s just a medical fact at this point.

What hurt me about that exchange wasn’t just that she dismissed something that’s true about me (but let’s be real, it did kind of hurt). But how many other people has she dismissed because what they said didn’t fit their views? How many people didn’t get help or treatment they needed? Of course, my therapist would tell me not to worry about others, and just focus on what I need. Well, how many of her lessons, many of which I’ve been on the receiving end, have come from her own interpretation of a situation, and presented as fact to hundreds of people? I’d already been slipping away from seeking out organized religion and Christianity, but this was the last nail on the coffin (or cross?) I still have my faith, but I’m determined to find God in my own way, instead of being told by a church or an authority figure what to do. Needless to say, conversations with my oblivious mom have been uncomfortable and awkward on my end, as she keeps feeding me all the same things I’ve lately started to question.

So what the heck does any of this have to do with the movie? Like I said, it’s about a boy who was in a faith based conversion camp. Pretty much every person he interacted with reminded me of some authority figure in the church I grew up in, albeit a more extreme version on film in some cases. These characters were so self righteous and close minded and so absolutely sure that their views are the only way and there’s no room for different understandings. It brought up all the anger and resentment I’ve been dealing with and it took all my willpower not to run out of the auditorium to try and alleviate the weight in my chest and the literal sick feeling I had. I may not have been to conversion therapy, but the environment I was in was all too similar, the main difference being that at the time I was conditioned to take it all in.

Needless to say, if the film had such a visceral affect on me, it was incredibly well done. The acting was fantastic from all major parties: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton, Russell Crowe. I could not have had that emotional response if I didn’t believe all of them and see real people I knew in them. The film really does show the emotional and psychological impact of what these awful places do to vulnerable kids, and I absolutely would not trust anybody who sees this film and does not have a strong empathetic response.

Boy Erased – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

The Nutcracker is one of the biggest loves of my life, ever since I was a little girl in ballet class. I was in it many many times, including playing Clara in a watered down school play, but mostly just in various background parts (angel, sweet, soldier, party goer). I’ve seen countless productions of all styles, skill levels, and pedigrees. I’ve collected Nutcrackers since my first performance, and I try to see one production a year live when possible. I know this story inside and out, and just a few notes of any of the songs can trigger a rush of memories.

Given how much weight this carries for me, I tried to keep an open mind going into The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, knowing that it was meant to be a complete re imagining of the story I hold so dear. However, when the film started with the same overture, I tensed up. This was gonna be harder than I expected.

The film starts with Clara and her family on Christmas Eve, except her mom’s dead and now she has a sister in addition to her brother. The party is at Godfather Drosselmyer’s house (I’m not even gonna try and spell that right, but Morgan Freeman plays him), and the family goes despite their still recent grief. One thing leads to another, blah blah blah, and Clara finds herself alone in the kingdom of the four realms, a land her mother once ruled as queen. She finds that one realm is at war with the others, and she’s the only one with the ability to unite them all.

I was desperately trying to keep this idea separate from The Nutcracker, but what made it different is that so much of Tchaikovsky’s score is sprinkled in–and all of the songs are in the wrong place. The casual audience member might not notice, but for me it was exceptionally jarring. Again, I have nearly 30 years of memories tied into those songs, so it’s hard to let them go.

The film itself was fine. Mostly simplistic and predictable sentimental kids stuff. The little ones might eat up this world like sugar plums, but the adults will long for a cotton candy pillow to nap on.

There were, however, two saving graces for me. One, Keira Knightly was absolutely divine as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I adored every second we saw her and her sparkly personality and bubbly sweet voice. The second, ballerina extraordinaire Misty Copeland had a sequence in the middle of the film and again over the end credits. I’ve seen bits of her dancing before, but never on full display like this, and she was absolutely captivating. Her ballet alone was worth the price of admission for me. But let’s be real, I’d rather have watched her perform the actual Nutcracker ballet

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – \m/ \m/ \n

Bohemian Rhapsody

This was my most anticipated movie of the fall. While Green Day may be my favorite, I think Queen may be the greatest band of all time. Freddie Mercury is an unmatched legend. But wait, Rami Malek is playing him? Rami Malek, whom I love and adore on Mr Robot, one of my current biggest crushes, is playing one of the greatest sex gods that ever lived? Yes please!

The film follows Queen, from when Freddie joined the failing college band to their legendary performance at Live Aid. And yes, I mean the film follows the band. There is a big focus on Freddie, but the emphasis is on the group as a whole. We see them assemble their hits and we see their career ebb and flow. I was captivated through all of it.

This band has some of the greatest songs ever written. Each of them are perfectly placed in the film in a way that serves the story and gives context to the lyrics that elevate these masterpieces even more. Songs that I’ve heard hundreds of times had new meaning, and it was so effective.

But the true magic of the film was Rami Malek. He fully embodied Freddie Mercury, a seemingly impossible feat. Throughout the film, especially when he was on stage, I saw Freddie on that screen. Watching him, I started bawling really hard when I realized the weight of Freddie’s loss in this world. Like really full on sobbing. Again, everything just culminated to a beautiful finale, the song lyrics fit perfectly, the emotion he was selling on screen was on point, and I lost it.

I also laughed really hard watching this. And I had a lot of fun. This film was everything I wanted and more, but not everyone agrees, and I get it. I think the main point of critcism comes from the fact that this is a film about the band, and it’s not Freddie’s biopic. Would it have been more powerful if it was? Sure, and maybe we’ll get that film one day. But as Queen’s story, I thought this worked really well, showcasing the connection that made their musical family special.

The other criticism I’m hearing is that it’s very by the books band biopic. Sure, I’ll give it that it has a Behind the Music paint by numbers throughline to it, but what films don’t follow a formula. What makes a film special is the way you dress it up, and what better way to dress it up than with the music of Queen and the flair of Freddie Mercury?

Look, all I know is that as I sat in the front row of that Dolby auditorium (with the bass pumping in my seat), I had the best time. In the days following, I’ve been obsessing with trying to find time in my schedule to see it again. I need to see this on the big screen several more times, because I truly madly deeply loved this film.

Bohemian Rhapsody – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Suspiria (1977)

Ever since Juno raved about Dario Argento, I have been dying to see Suspiria. It’s been at the top of my watch list for years. With the remake coming out, I knew there had to be a theater somewhere in the area showing the original. I was right. Thank you Arclight Hollywood.

A young ballerina goes to a new school in Europe and weird things start happening there. That’s the basic premise. It’s pretty simple. What’s not simple is the elements of terror.

This film is a full assault on the senses, hearing in particular. As soon as the film started, there was this intensely creepy score, blasting at full volume. That alone was unsettling. As the film went on, the score would be layered with other sounds. It started with some everyday sound effects that were heightened to a new level of horror, but as it progressed, it started adding weird voices and dissonance. Yup, getting scared now.

It’s also a visual assult. The colors are so bright and jarring. Then there’s the blood. A gore fiend like me loved the thick and lush red flowing everywhere. Even without the blood, the imagery was just disturbing.

Truly, this is a horror masterpiece on so many levels. It was worth waiting for to get to see it in full scale on the big screen. There were certainly moments where I felt terror, which is a rarity for me.

Wildlife

I remember the first time I saw Little Miss Sunshine, I was particularly struck by Paul Dano. In a film full of such big characters, his seemingly small one was so moving. I’ve followed his career ever since, and now it’s gone behind the camera as he makes his directorial debut with Wildlife.

Set in the 1960’s (my favorite era), Wildlife follows the dissolution of a marriage (mom and dad played by Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal) as seen thru the eyes of their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). What starts off as a strong nuclear family, falls apart as Jake’s Jerry loses his job and eventually leaves to be a fire fighter in the Montana wilderness. Mother Jeanette is left to her own devices to care for her teenage son and reclaim some semblance of her life.

I was into it at first. Again, I love the 60’s and there was great attention to detail of the era. The happy family was heartwarming to watch. Then the tension came. I still loved the scenes where the family was together, the way our leads played off each other and where the story went. Then Jake’s character went away, and Carey’s got more and more unlikable as it went on. It got so uncomfortable (again, this is all told from the teenage son’s perspective) that I almost couldn’t watch anymore. It was dull and depressing. It got back on track towards the end, but by then my mind had already wandered beyond return, thinking about the lunch I was planning to order from the nearby vegan restaurant I love.

Now, while I say that Carey’s character is unlikeable, that’s not a statement against her performance. If anything, it’s a statement for it. She was incredible, in what is possibly her best performance since An Education. So many levels and such intensity. I love how she’s an actress out of her time, like she was born in this time specifically to be in films about different eras.

I don’t know that this film was quite for me, but it was exquisitely put together. I’m at least happy to have seen Carey’s performance.

Wildlife – \m/ \m/ \n