Sisters

“Greetings from Texas, y’all. I’ve been exiled here for the holidays. God help me. Although, there is one slight advantage to my hometown (well two if you count the food). For some reason, the gods deemed this town worthy of hosting an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. First chance I had to escape, I ran over there. The busy weekend had kept me from being able to see Sisters, although I would have just as happily gone to a repeat viewing of Star Wars. I got there kinda late, so I didn’t really get to take advantage of the full service food and drink offerings, but that just means I’ll hafta go back later. Contemplating a Christmas trip with Mom. Anyways…

I do very much love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, exponentially so when they’re together. This time, they’re playing sisters who decide to throw one last big wild party in their parents home. One sister is very conservative, the other very wild. Care to guess which is which? You probably got it backwards. In a bold and smart move, the two decided to play against type, reversing their Baby Mama roles, letting Fey go wild and Poehler rein it in. As someone who has watched these two ladies play off each other for a long time, it was a very welcome change. Bad looked especially good on Ms Fey. I don’t think I’ve seen her look like she’s having so much fun. That alone was worth the price of admission.

There wasn’t a whole lot going on with the plot, but that mostly didn’t matter. It really was about cutting these ladies loose and letting them have some fun together. It wasn’t as hard of an R rating as I generally like, and not every joke landed, but enough of it worked to be thoroughly enjoyable. And of course, they brought in a bunch of their friends, many of them SNL alumns. Again, not everything was an instant slam dunk, but everyone clearly had a blast with what they were doing. And I had a blast watching. Or maybe it was just the taste of freedom that I had for those two precious hours…

Sisters – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“I’ve put off writing this. I knew I had a couple days until my next semi-arbitrary due date, so I wanted to take some time to just sort of soak it all in and process things. Was I really leaving the theater on such a high because the movie was that good? Or was it just basking in the glow of the Wars?

I don’t know if I’ve written about it before, but I was in a musical version of the Star Wars trilogy back in MIT. It’s ten year anniversary recently passed, and it was filled with Facebook posts back and forth between various friends who were involved. As part of an MIT and Star Wars thing that was being put together to mark the occassion of the new film, I recently spoke with an alum about the whole experience. It’s been surreal reliving things.

I mostly went thru all that to illustrate that Star Wars is kind of a big deal to me. I maybe do not live and die by the ways of the force, but it’s special to me. Fandom-wise, it’s up there for me with LOTR and Superman. So of course I bought my tickets two months in advance to be there on Thur evening before it opened. I had my hair in pseudo Leia buns all day, and arrived at the screening wearing a Rebel shirt and an Ewok headdress. I was ready.

The pressure was really on for this movie, and not just from me. The disappointment of the prequels hung in the atmosphere anytime this new one was mentioned. I actually don’t despise them as much as other people do, but I understand that kind of heartbreak (ie, Man of Steel or more recently Terminator Genysis). I made a choice to try not to seek out too much advance information. If it came my way via the trailer playing before another movie or thru an Entertainment Weekly article, fine. I really wanted to just experience this film for what it was, with as little expectation as possible.

I think my strategy worked. Watching the film, I was just sort of basking in the glow of the force. I knew the new and returning cast members, but nothing about their characters or the plot. So I really was just living moment to moment, absorbing all the suspense. Some things made me cheer, others laugh, even some tears, but never any groans. That in itself was a win.

I don’t want to go too much into specifics, because I do think the no expectations route was the way to see this, so I’d like to try and preserve that. Also, this is the sort of movie that you don’t straddle the fence about. You either know you’re gonna see it or you’re not. However, one point I do want to get across is that I think what made this all work was the attitude behind the film. It was very clearly made from a place of love and respect. Everything was thought through thoroughly, and all aspects were treated with care, whereas the prequels were kind of self righteous (or at least that’s the word that kept coming back to me). This was very much by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see where it goes next.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Knock Knock

“What?! After a long drought we get not one, but TWO Eli Roth movies in one year?! It feels like Christmas, and not just because we’re actually ten days out from the holiday. But yes, we got The Green Inferno a couple months back and now we get Knock Knock. Okay, technically we got Knock Knock pretty quick after Inferno, but the release was too limited for me to see it. Therefore I had to wait to watch the BluRay, which I smartly decided to try and watch now and not save it for watching at home over Christmas, with my mother in earshot.

Roth takes things in a new for him direction, with what he’s classifying as a psycho-sexual thriller. I do agree it’s more thriller than horror. It’s a semi unofficial remake of Death Game, which I am not familiar with. However, I am very much familiar with Funny Games, and certainly picked up on a similar vibe there. Reining in possibly the biggest name Roth directed so far, Keanu Reeves stars as husband/father, Evan, left alone for the weekend by his loving and trusting family. He answers his door to find two young women, seemingly in need of help. One thing leads to another, he makes a few mistakes betraying his family’s trust, and before he knows it, the two girls have turned his home into his own personal hell.

I say it’s like
Funny Games
because it’s a very similar being held hostage in your home by a pair of sadistic kids, who make a game out of your sanity and survival. The motivations behind the pairs of attackers are a little different, but they have a similar dangerous mischief about them. Now, I do love a good psychological thriller, so of course I enjoyed this really messed up ride. I’d still rank Funny Games higher, but I really appreciate having more than one film of this icky-feeling sub sub genre to torture my psyche with.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Keanu as an actor (though he seems wonderful as a person), but I enjoyed him here. He’s capable of this great vulnerability that worked perfectly here. We’ve seen him kick butt as Neo and John Wick, so it was an interesting turn to see him knocked down a few pegs by two pretty little girls.

As far as the girls, as I’ve become more sensitive to gender disparity on film, Roth’s often misogynistic attitude isn’t sitting too well with me. Some of the way the earlier scenes were played out seemed a bit exploitative, but I do like the idea of powerful girls, even if it was a sadistic power. Lorenza “”Mrs Roth”” Izzo played Genesis, the more unstable and unpredictable of the two, opposite Ana de Arma’s Bel, the more child-like and seemingly innocent one. They were two very distinct characters that worked well off each other. Neither was the bigger threat, and combined they were a haunting force.

So yeah, certainly still a big fan of Eli’s work, even if I’m becoming a little bit more mindful about it. I suppose it’s a good thing, actually trying to put some thought into why I like certain things and questioning others instead of blindly following. We’ll see how this inner struggle unfolds over time…”

In the Heart of the Sea

“I had my concerns going in. As much as I respect Ron Howard as a director, and as much as I love cast members Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, and a surprise Benjamin Walker, I wasn’t too sure there’d be a whole lot to this movie. The trailer suggested a thin plot that would be heavily reliant on contained but over the top action sequences. I was kinda right.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the true story of whaling ship, the Essex, and it’s unfortunate encounter with a large whale. Its story would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In fact, the film was framed as Melville talking with a survivor about the ordeal, in order to inform a book he’s writing. While I did go thru a very long phase of reading classic literature towards the end of elementary school, I never quite made it around to Moby Dick. I read a tiny abridged version that basically just said “”there was a big white whale and it was mean””, but that doesn’t really count. Besides, I’m sure all the metaphor would have been lost on me at that age, and I would have found it quite boring. Then again, my favorite book at the time (and still in my top 3 today) was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, so maybe the great white whale would have been up my alley.

But we’re not here to talk about the reading choices of fifth grade Dawn, we’re here to talk about the movie choices of, um, considerably older than fifth grade Dawn. The film was a little ho-hum. Yes, it was an interesting and perhaps even inspiring survivor’s tale, although a big chunk of it seemed a bit too reminiscent of the other recent survivor’s tale, Unbroken. I just found it too simplistic–Go get the whales! There are no whales. Get the big whale! Oh crap–pretty much the plot right there.

Characters were okay, but nothing earth shattering. Chris Hemsworth’s guy was pretty impressive in how he knew his way around a boat, but we’ve seen the sad sailor away from home archetype as well as the second in command who’s resentful of his ill-qualified leader archetype. Really, the surprise Benjamin Walker was the best part for me. His trailer for the next Nicholas Sparks movie played before the film, and I found myself thinking that as much as I like him and don’t get to see him often, that movie wouldn’t be worth sitting thru. Instead, I’ll content myself with waiting to see him on stage in American Psycho in a few months. And then he appeared on screen here. He didn’t really have a whole lot to work with, but you can’t fault a guy for trying. Ah well, until next time

In the Heart of the Sea – \m/ \m/ \n”

The Danish Girl

“This weekend I was at a small holiday gathering with friends. Everytime I mentioned I saw The Danish Girl earlier that day (because of course asking me what movies I’ve seen recently is the perfect conversation starter), the response was an enthusiastic “”ooh how was it?”” to which I usually replied with “”fascinating””.

Following up his Academy Award winning performance in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne stars in an equally Oscar-bait-y role as the titular Danish Girl, Lili Elbe. Elbe, nee
Einar Wegener, was among the first people in history to undergo gender transition surgery. The character, and Wegener’s wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), were real people that existed. The story around them is mostly fictionalized.

And yes, like I said, fascinating. It’s just such an interesting, unique, and timely story with truly intriguing characters with incredible chemistry. I remember watching some of the early scenes, wishing for the type of relationship they have, filled with so much honesty, trust, passion, and fun. Finding out later it was fictionalized did at least put that into perspective. All aspects of the characters and story grabbed me, and you really just need to experience the roller coaster along with them.

My one minor complaint, and it’s more of a whiny gripe, is that while Redmayne’s performance is utterly fantatic and worthy of nominations and smaller awards (I have other thoughts on where the big prize should go this year), I felt like so much of it was very similar to how he played Stephen Hawking. Yes these are both vastly different characters, but I got the same sort of “”I’m acting vulnerable”” vibe from him, relying on much of the same expressions and instincts. I’m not saying he’s not good at it, but I look forward to the day of seeing him return to something lighter like My Week With Marilyn or (at least the first half of) Les Miserables. Still, if we’re talking great performances of the year, this is certainly one worth watching.

The Danish Girl – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

A Christmas Story

“Similar to a few weeks back with Back to the Future Part II, I organized a movie night at work the other day. We’d had much success with last year’s holiday screening of Home Alone, the best part of which was a colleague bringing his five-ish year old daughter who found every second hilarious. By supposed request (requests were conveyed to a partner in crime), for this year, we went with A Christmas Story. Attendance may have been on the low side, but besides myself, no one who was there had seen this before. And they all rather enjoyed it. So I call that a win. Especially when it meant large amounts of pizza for a small amount of people!

So if you’ve never turned to TNT on Christmas Day (or is it TBS?) and caught the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story, it tells the um story of young Ralphie, a boy in the 1940’s whose only wish for Christmas is a red rider carbine action bb gun. He goes thru every possible avenue he can think of to get his prize toy, begging his parents, Santa, and countless other adults, who all discourage him with the phrase “”you’ll shoot your eye out””. Along the way, there’s various other shenanigans amongst his family and friends. There’s the schoolmate who is triple dog dared to stick his tongue to an icy pole, the “”fra-jill-ay”” major award his father wins, the unfortunate Christmas present that is most certainly not his beloved gun, and countless other moments that I’m sure have at least a hint of familiarity for you.

I’ll still pick Die Hard, Elf, or Muppets Christmas Carol as my go-to Christmas movies every year, but A Christmas Story is absolutely worth watching if you never have before. And then watching again some time later to rediscover all those gems of small scenes. You’d be hard pressed to find another movie that has so many classic and memorable vignettes and images that have invaded our pop culture”

Misery

“Part two of my Thanksgiving pre-NYC homework!

I adore Stephen King. He’s probably my fave author after Chuck Palahniuk, and I’ve read countless books of his, typically trying to hit at least one a year. So of course I read Misery. Pretty sure I read it before seeing the movie, because I remember the movie feeling a little bland on first watch.

This time, not so bland. Helps that I had a good several years between this and the last time I saw it, so this was really a refresher on the story. Well, outside the basics of the story: popular author is rescued from snowy car crash by his self proclaimed number one fan, who holds him captive until he writes a book for her. Insubordination is met with punishment.

What’s amazing about the movie is the cast: Kathy Bates (in one of the few Oscar winning horror roles in history) and James Caan. Bates turns on a dime between the shy and demure homebody and the frightening captor. I don’t typically think of this as horror since it’s not really scary, but the tone is definitely right for the genre. I guess it’s scary in a put-yourself-in-this-position sort of way. Still, a must-see-at-least-once-in-your-life for that cast.

So what was it like on stage? Honestly, having read the novel and seen the movie, I don’t think the stage version added a whole lot, at least not on the page. Two things that were notably cool about it: audience reactions and Bruce Willis!! opposite Laurie Metcalf. Clearly, I was more excited about one than the other. But no really, hearing the loud gasps and feeling the aura of suspense in the air was pretty cool. And now I’ve got another shiny signed Playbill for the wall.”

School of Rock

“Over Thanksgiving break, I had a cinematic homework assignment for myself. In preparation for the following weekend’s NYC trip and Broadway binge, I had two very specific movies to watch: School of Rock and Misery. I’ll give you three guesses what two shows I was seeing.

Starting off with School of Rock, I always forget how good this movie is. Well after the stage version, I’m not likely to forget that again, but hold up, we’ll get there. Movie first.

Just in case there’s one poor unfortunate soul out there reading this that isn’t familiar, here’s the rundown. Jack Black’s Dewey Finn is basically every slacker Jack Black character ever (especially his Tenacious D alter ego JB). Because of reasons (such as being kicked out of his band and needing to advance the plot), he impersonates his substitute teacher roommate and gets hired to work at a very prestigious elementary school. When he finds out his students are actually pretty good musicians, he enlists them in forming the rock band of his dreams. He educates them in the awesome of rock as they prepare for a big battle of the bands coming up, which Dewey thinks will solve all his problems.

As with most every other movie of his, this really hinges on Black. If you can’t stand him or his humor, you probably don’t wanna see this. That said, it’s the kids that really steal the show. They’re all very different three dimensional characters, who kick butt at what they do, and have the well deserved attitude to go with it. Oh and these kids play their own instruments too. Really it’s just a fun movie that you think will be mindless noise, but it’s actually kinda uplifting and wonderful. Protip, be sure and check out the special features to find the clip of Jack Black begging Led Zeppelin to use The Immigrant Song. Or maybe just click on the YouTube link I provided. Either works.

So, the stage version. Oh my rock gods, it was such a fun show. I sat in the almost back row of the theater with the BFFF, because of course the best way to enjoy cheesy rock is to have the two of us together (he’s the Wayne to my Garth). And oh man, we were rocking out pretty hardcore back there. The music, fantastic, and also by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yeah, that Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whodda thunk? Okay sure there’s a lot of I’m-in-a-musical-so-I’m-singing songs, but the rock ones (including a couple lifted from the movie) are killer.

The humor is all there, many lines verbatim from the screenplay. The kids are playing their instruments for reals, live on stage! (I told the bass player at the stage door that I hope my one day future daughter is half as badass as she is.) The only minor differences were that there was a slight romantic subplot that had originally been cut from the movie (eh), and some of the children’s characters were even more developed (yay).

For me though, the best part of the show was Alex Brightman stepping in as Dewey. He had the mischievous spirit of Jack Black without mimicking him. Just from the clips I was watching in the days leading up to the show, I was totally crushing on him. During the opening number, every time he was rocking out like a dork running all over the stage, I kept turning to the bestie saying “”I love him””. He just has this infectious child-like vibe about him that I could not get enough of. The powers that be certainly chose well in casting this show, chancing it on a relatively unknown actor.

Now excuse me while I go listen to the soundtrack yet again.”

Krampus

“Oh man, this holiday movie season is all about the counter programming. First the irreverent The Night Before, and how the horror-comedy(ish) Krampus.

I only had a passing familiarity with the myth of Krampus, the shadow of St. Nicholas. Christoph Waltz went into the story on Jimmy Fallon last year. I was fascinated. Basically, if you’re good, you get presents from Santa. We know that much. But if you’re bad, Krampus comes for you, throws you in his sack, and takes you away. So of course I was beyond excited to hear there was a new film about it coming out.

The movie follows one family (with Toni Collette and Adam Scott as the parents) as they’re snowed in during a blizzard set on by Krampus and his helpers, who then attack. All because they’ve lost the Christmas spirit. It’s billed as a horror comedy, but it was much closer on the horror end of the spectrum. Dark and gothic vibe, bad things happening to people, demonic gingerbread men. Yes, much of the cast generally focus in comedy, but they weren’t after laughs, except maybe out of the sheer absurdity.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was kinda half baked (I think there’s a gingerbread joke in there somewhere). Cool idea, but didn’t really take it anywhere. And a lot of things that looked cool or creepy or unsettling, but didn’t serve a whole lotta purpose except to be cool/creepy/unsettling/etc. Plot was stretched very thin, and filling the time proved to be a challenge. You can only watch people shivering in fear (and cold) for so long.

I would have loved to see them dive into the myth a bit more. Maybe weave in some more backstory, and actually give some weight to our big bad. Alas that wasn’t the case. Guess I’ll just hafta be on the lookout for more from this Christmas creeper since this bite was rather unsatisfying

Krampus – \m/ \m/ \n”

The Good Dinosaur

“Seems kinda weird that Pixar releases two movies in one year. Especially with the success of Inside Out. Kinda makes you worry that they didn’t have such high hopes for their later offering, The Good Dinosaur. And the truth is, production was plagued with issues, rewrites, recasting, and all sorts of other drama. Still, our little long neck Arlo managed to arrive in theaters with minimal fanfare.

I feel like there’s two scales on which to measure this: as a children’s movie and as a Pixar movie. Three scales if you wanna say movie in general, but it general, it def just skews down to kiddie movie. As a kiddie movie, not bad. Characters are cute and not overly obnoxious. The jokes are fine. Great voice cast. Pretty innocuous overall. As a Pixar movie, so below their standards. Yes, there’s some emotional impact, but nothing compared to Inside Out earlier this year or Up or Toy Story or any of their greats. This was more on par with what you’d expect from Dreamworks, but at least one of their better ones.

There’s a lot of cute and sweet moments, but it’s ultimately a pretty forgettable movie. Still, you could do far worse. The kids will be entertained, and the adults won’t wanna claw their eyes out. But once everyone gets home to their Inside Out DVD or the next kiddie flick rolls around, don’t expect too many people to remember The Good Dinosaur anymore

The Good Dinosaur – \m/ \m/ \m/”