Victoria and Abdul

This movie kept on getting the shaft from my schedule. First because I didn't wanna pay to see it at a non-Movie Pass theater, then I overslept, then it got deprioritized. That was nearly its fate one more time until I realized, I didn't actually wanna see Geostorm. Plus Eddie Izzard is in this. I think I made the right choice.

Victoria is Queen Victoria of England, and Abdul is Abdul Karim, a man brought over from India to serve the queen. The two formed an unusual but close friendship, depicted in a movie that is equally sweet and infuriating.

It's sweet because their friendship is so beautifully portrayed. Judi Dench reminds us why she's not just playing a Queen, but is true film royality. Her eyes light up the screen and her affection for her dear friend is palpable. I was so moved by how excited she'd get to learn everything she could about Abdul's culture, which is an attitude I wish I could see more people take today.

It's infuriating because of the opposition they faced. There was a near mutiny in her staff, outrage from her family, and an attempt to erase Abdul from history. Those scenes were so upsetting to watch and such an opposite mood from the happy scenes between the two friends.

I would have wanted more of the good side of the story. Weird for me to say, I know, but the warm fuzzies I got from those scenes are unlike anything I typically feel from films today. Yes, I generally prefer the dark and disturbing stuff, but sometimes you need a feelgood film. That's where Victoria and Abdul's strength lied.

Victoria and Abdul – \m/ \m/ \m/

Tragedy Girls

I saw a trailer for Tragedy Girls the other day at one of the smallest of the indie theaters I frequent. “That looks cool” I thought “And right up my alley, but it's prolly gonna be a really small release during what's looking like a really busy movie month.” So I didn't take any further planning action. Until a friend texted earlier in the week. “Anyone wanna see this?” I quickly replied with a “ooooh yeah!” As a bonus, it ended up being a Q&A screening.

With a similar 90's throwback slasher vibe like we saw with Happy Death Day, two gore enthusist high school girls try to make a name for themselves by blogging about the grisly deaths occuring in their small town. They eventually start taking matters into their own hands, secretly causing said deaths to further their brand. There's lots of blood. And social media.

I liked this, but I didn't love it. Somewhere along the way it lost a little steam and didn't know where to go. But what I liked, I really liked. Not just the fun horror comedy tone, or the pitch perfect cast, but there were some pretty great girl power themes in there. Seriously.

That was actually a lot of the focus of the Q&A, asking the writers about their choices in empowering the girls rather than victimizing them. Even sociopaths deserve respect!

Tragedy Girls – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Snowman

I almost refused to watch this movie on principle. Not because I'd heard it was terrible, which I was hearing a lot of (especially on Stardust). I can handle terrible. The reason was the feeble explanation as to why it was terrible. The morning I had planned to see this movie, I saw an article from the director of the film basically saying that the movie was unfinished. There were scenes that never got filmed, and in the editing room they discovered so many missing pieces. Yet they put out this movie anyways, expecting an audience to pay to see it. Don't we as an audience deserve more respect than that?!

The Snowman is a murder mystery starring Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson, quality actors who could not save this movie. It was pretty standard cat and mouse, catch a killer stuff. That was fine. I actually was able to keep my attention throughout the film. It didn't actually feel so bad.

Until it was over. And I noticed how many loose ends weren't close to tied up, or how we jumped to the killer reveal without really knowing much about him, or how so much of the movie just didn't fit together. There's entire sections that I have no idea how they're meant to relate to everything else. It just seemed like such a half assed attempt at putting together a movie.

The only person on Stardust who almost gave this a favorable review admitted to having read the book and therefore had much of the missing context. I think my attitude while watching was far more forgiving than the one held by most of the rest of my fellow dusters. However, don't misunderstand me, I will not be forgiving towards this movie. I'll repeat my earlier assertion, as an audience, we deserve more respect from Hollywood. Do not give them your money for this movie and do not let them get away with lazy filmmaking. We deserve better. We deserve completed and well thought out films. How could that really be too much to ask?

The Snowman – \m/

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

This was a fascinating story with so many pieces to it: the creation of Wonder Woman, the controversy surrounding her themes, the unconventional throuple relationship between the creator and two women, the psychology of dominance and submission, the invention of the lie detector. All of that somehow fit into one movie, and it all flowed rather well.

Okay, I usually use the second paragraph of my posts to explain the plot, but really it's everything I said in the intro. Luke Evans is Professor Marston. Rebecca Hall is his wife. Bella Heathcote is their lover. Three fantastic performances. More substance than we've seen from Evans, and the best role Hall has had in years.

The structure of the story works incredibly well to keep things interesting while juggling all those different threads. The timing is also great, coming in off the heels of Wonder Woman and getting a glimpse at the wonder women that inspired her. It's really a cool opportunity to see how these two films go hand in gold bracelet-ed hand.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan is back in the game and changing up the rules. Yowza that's a cheesy line. My bad. But it's true. With the Foreigner, he proves he's still got it, but instead of sticking to the visual comedy he's known for, he goes darker in this revenge/political thriller. If only it was more thrilling.

The movie doesn't waste any time in getting started. We see Chan pick up his daughter from school and a few minutes later she's killed in a terrorist blast. He spends the rest of the movie trying to track down her killer. Pierce Brosnan is involved somehow.

The obvious comparison is Taken, but it's not quite the same (or as good). The action is much lighter here, although when there are fight scenes, Chan kicks as much ass as ever. I do actually really like this change of pace for him. The role fit him very well and I think he could do a lot in this space. If only the rest of the movie were as good as his bouts of action.

I knew to expect more drama than anything else, but I really wasn't into it. I cared about Chan's storylines, but not so much about the political side with chasing down the IRA and Pierce Brosnan doing stuff. Mostly just feels like a wasted opportunity, but as an initial step in this darker direction for Chan, I think it's a decent starting point. I hope he keeps going this way.

The Foreigner – \m/ \m/ \n

The Florida Project

The people I've talked to who have seen this movie all use the same word to describe it that I do. Heartbreaking.

The filmmaker behind Tangerine brings us this movie, which looks at the lives of those well below the poverty line in Orlando, through the eyes of six year old Moonee. Moonee lives in a discount hotel with her mom, Halley, who hustles her way to paying the rent every week. But Moonee for the most part is happy, going on adventures with the other kids who live nearby and discovering the forgotten parts of the city that represents so much excess to the rest of the country and the world.

This film is heartbreaking on multiple levels. For one, just the poverty that these families live in is devastating. You see how what they go through to barely scrape by in living conditions that most of us would never survive in. But I think what breaks my heart more is the small joys that they find in that world. Little things that we take for granted can mean everything to them.

One example, one of Moonee's friends had a birthday. Halley hitchhikes with them to a parking lot at a hotel near Disney, where they put out a picnic blanket and share a pack of Little Debbies and watch the Disneyland fireworks. How many times have I gotten annoyed at the fireworks crowds at Disneyland, as I'm trying to run to some other attraction? That display that I've casually rejected so many times means everything to these kids.

I normally don't tend to enjoy movies that don't have solid plotlines, but I was so invested in these kids and their stories. The kids felt so real and unscripted. They weren't glamorized or put thru some Hollywood sanitization. They were kids just like you'd see on the street. I was also invested because these aren't stories you hear, another thing that pains me to realize. There are kids living like this all over the country and nobody talks about it. Their stories seemed to fresh to me that I couldn't help but be absorbed.

On a lighter note, the film also featured Willem DaFoe playing against his established type. As I joked on Stardust just before the timer cut me off, he was more Willem DaFriend, which is a side we rarely see of him on film. He was the sympathetic manager of the hotel, and represented a lot of the emotions that the audience was feeling. I'm hearing awards buzz, and though it's too soon to call, I'd say he's very deserving.

Anyways, if you can see this film, please do. Not just because of the awards potential, but because the story of these kids deserves to be heard. It's an emotional experience unlike anything I've felt at the movies in a long time.

The Florida Project – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Marshall

Courtroom dramas are crowd pleasers. Their structure makes it easy to put together a dramatic story that holds your attention. However, because of that, they can be indistinguishable from each other. Not all of them can have a “You can't handle the truth” outburst. The trick is to find a way to stand out. For me, the way that Marshall set itself apart was in the dichotomous relationship between it's two protagonists.

Marshall focuses on one of the cases of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), an African American lawyer who at the time was the only lawyer for the NAACP. He traveled the country representing black men who were believed to have been accused of crime because of their race. This fight brought him to the defense of Joseph Spell, a black man accused of raping a white woman. He teams up with local Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).

Here's where we get the dichotomy. Marshall is a well polished and confident criminal lawyer, enthusiastic to take on this case. Friedman is a lowly insurance lawyer, who prefers to base his cases on technicalities over arguments, who is very reluctant to assist and intends to only sign on as a formality. However, when the presiding judge rules that Marshall is not allowed to speak in Court, Friedman has to step up and take the lead, at least visibly while Marshall um marshalls him in the background. Two opposite men in roles opposite of what they want. Made for a truly interesting dynamic.

The case itself was fascinating, as they tend to be in this genre. I was certainly with it the whole way through. Our two leads were played to perfection. Boseman stands out more and more as a true Hollywood leading man and Gad continues to be the heart of the silver screen.

My one concern is that this movie won't really prove to be too memorable (not only because it opened in an over crowded weekend). And that sucks because Thurgood Marshall is a historic figure that deserves to be celebrated. He got a fantastic actor to play him, and he got a decent screen play, but he simply deserves more.

Marshall – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Happy Death Day

My first introduction to horror movies was the slasher craze of the 90's. They're ridiculously campy, but completely entertaining. Scream in particular is an all time fave because of the way that it parodies the genre while still being a part of it. It plays with tropes and doesn't take itself too seriously in the process. Happy Death Day is the first movie that I've felt recaptures that spirit, and it was such a blast to watch.

So imagine Scream as Groundhog Day and throw in a little Mean Girls. Tree (played fabulously by Jessica Rothe, potentially star making turn) lives through what seems like a typical birthday in college, complete with class, covert trysts, and a frat party thrown in her honor. Oh except she never makes it to the party because she's killed on the way there. And then she wakes up right back where she started her day. Thus she's stuck in a loop until she can figure out who keeps on killing her.

As I said in my Stardust reaction, if a horror movie is not gonna be a masterpiece (and few are), I would much rather it double down on the cheese than the scares. I am much more likely to get invested in a movie that's fun than one that's overly serious. Cheap jump scare movies don't do it for me. Campy thrillers do.

Happy Death Day doesn't even try to be serious. It knows it's place in the world, and that's always an admirable quality in a film. It plays up the cheese factor and embraces it, much in the same way that Scream did. It picks apart horror tropes and Groundhog day tropes, particularly the latter. I loved some of the creative curveballs it threw into the genres, keeping it just a bit unpredictable. Even if I figured out the killer pretty quickly, these movies were never about who did it. They're about surviving long enough to find out who did it.

In all honestly, and this is a sentence I never expected to type, this was some of the most fun I've had the movies all year. We're looking at a potential top ten contender for me. And I am oh so pleasantly surprised.

Happy Death Day – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Brawl in Cell Block 99

If you go into a movie with minimal knowlege, and the experience is subpar because it did not fit the genre you expected, is that your own fault for not doing your homework or the movie's fault for not making itself more clear? That's the philosophical conundrum I had after Brawl in Cell Block 99. I knew that Vince Vaughn was leaving his comedic persona behind and taking on a more dramatic and intense role. The buzz on Stardust was that it was very intense indeed. What I failed to pick up on was that it was apparently meant to be more grindhouse than serious drama, at least according to the Rotten Tomatoes summarized review. That's a very crucial piece of information that woulda changed my perception completely.

Vaughn plays a southern tough guy who turns to drug running to provide for his wife and unborn child. Of course, as tends to happen to most drug runners, he soon finds himself in prison. Not long after landing in a min security prison, an employee of his very upset employer threatens his family if he doesn't get himself into max security prison and kill an inmate. So Vaughn gets violent.

Here's why the grindhouse detail was crucial. I had such a hard time getting into the movie because it was so incredibly unbelivable. The specific threat against his wife was intense. The max security prison would violate so many federal laws. I also doubted the chemistry between Vaughn and Jennifer Carpenter, but that wouldn't have been helped. I just couldn't convince myself the scenario was plausible enough to get behind it. Also, the violence is incredibly graphic. Normally, I'm okay with that. And in a Grindhouse context, I'd absolutely be okay with that. But still thinking it was serious drama, it seemed way excessive.

I think this is how I missed that point. The movie took way too long (nearly an hour) in the set up to get Vaughn to prison. And much of that set up did seem like taking-itself-way-too-seriously drama. I'd have expected a grindhouse movie to cut right to the action. Vince Vaughn destroying a car out of anger with his bare hands does not count. That seemed more like dramatic overacting.

Lemme cut him a break. Vaughn was actually pretty good. If you only know him as a Frat Pack actor, he's unrecognizable. He's also a pretty big guy, so casting him as a toughened roughneck was genius. He looked the part and fit it quite well. It's just the movie wasn't clear to me on its intentions, and I misinterpreted everything. Had I known what I was watching, I prolly woulda loved it and given it a higher score. Learn from my mistakes!

Brawl in Cell Block 99 – \m/ \m/ \n

Blade Runner 2049

If you watch my Stardust reaction for this movie, you'll see me scream in frustration. Frustration because I wanted so badly to love this movie, and the pacing made it so dang hard. Let's back up.

We're looking at a far removed sequel to scifi classic Blade Runner. I have so much respect for that movie. It's fascinating story and mythology that's been created. But everytime I try to watch it (which I did a few days before the sequel), I just can't get into it. My patience is tested and it loses my interest. The new one seemed to have the same problem.

Now, there's no denying that this film is visually stunning. That actually seems like a very underwhelming way of putting it, but it truly is one of the most beautiful films I've seen. I'll be damned if this doesn't finally nab Roger Deakins his long overdue cinematography Oscar.

The cast was also phenomenal. Harrison Ford really impressed me with how expressive he was. He's a man of few words (on screen and IRL) but the looks he give tell volumes. Ryan Gosling was perfect casting. His ability to play his emotions subtly and keep things close to the vest were very appropriate for his character, as is his ability to show empathy.

But slow pacing is a movie killer for me. I talked to a friend who said that they didn't care about the pace because they had pretty pictures and an amazing soundtrack to get thru the narrative lulls. I need a story that's constantly moving forward. I get that film is meant to be art that is appreciated for different elements, but it doesn't work on me. Had we knocked out the excess run time and kept it at or below two hours, I'd prolly be feeling differently. And I hate that I feel this way. *scream of frustration*

Blade Runner 2049 – \m/ \m/ \m/