Ben is Back

Boy Erased, Lucas Hedges goes to conversion therapy. Beautiful Boy, Timothee Chalamet plays a drug addict. Ben is Back, Lucas Hedges plays a drug addict. Got those fall 2018 indie movies straight? This one’s Ben is Back.

Lucas Hedges plays a drug addict. Oh, I said as much. Whereas Beautiful Boy follows the full struggle, Ben is Back follows a single night. It’s Christmas Eve Day and Hedges’ Ben, who is supposed to be in rehab, unexpectedly shows up at home to surprise his mom (a never better Julia Roberts). He’s trying hard to keep it together for mom, sister, step dad, and half sibs, but eventually it falls apart and he ends up leading his mom thru a tour of the worst parts of his life.

This was such an emotionally intense film and I was hanging on every single moment of it. The main reason I felt it so strongly was Julia Roberts. This may be my new favorite performance of hers. We’d see that big and charismatic signature smile of hers, but it was different this time. Now, there was a pain hiding behind it. A look in her eyes saying she was just trying to keep it together. So many emotions conveyed in every single look she gave and every one of them broke my heart. There were so many little details that made it hit harder and harder.

So yeeeaaah if you’re looking for an alternative Christmas film, especially one that’s not exactly upbeat, here’s an option. But no really, this needs to be seen for a variety of reasons. It’s a powerful and emotional film and so incredibly well acted and put together

Ben is Back – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

2018 has been all about revolutionizing the superhero movie. Just when people are starting to fatigue and expect the same thing, we get Black Panther, Infinity War and now Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures took an animated swing at Spidey this time around, focusing on Miles Morales, a young biracial (that’s freaking huge) kid from Brooklyn who gets bit by the spider blah blah blah. Except not blah! Some science things happen and Miles ends up face to face with Spider-men, uh Spider-people, uh Spider-beings from other dimensions. The Spideys teach Miles the ropes (with parallel universe middle age Peter Parker leading the way) while working together to get everyone home and save the universe from collapsing.

The first way it’s revolutionary, I mentioned already: REPRESENTATION!!! Miles is half black half Latino, and someone I’m sure lots of little kids out there will be thrilled to look up to. Again, that’s freaking huge. Add in the other Spideys, and we’ve got two girls, one of whom is Asian, and also a pig. Lots of people getting to see themselves on screen because there is room for everyone in the Spider-verse.

But the way it’s most revolutionary is the animation. Oh my GOD the animation was gorgeous. It really does look and feel like a comic book. The screening I was at included a Q&A with the producers (LORD AND MILLER!!!) and the three directors (three!!) and they mentioned that the animation was done at half the frame rate to give it a slower comic vibe. But the artistry was stunning, and it also enabled them to take the story places that you could never go live action. I know a lot of people are gonna wanna dismiss this movie because it’s animated (I know I had that temptation at first), but if that’s you, I hope I can convince you that the animation is exactly why you need to see it.

The story was so well written too. It was a great way to introduce the characters, and it had such smart and self aware wit in the screenplay. I laughed so hard and felt so hard for these characters. That’s another advantage to really good animation. If it’s gonna take one week to animate one second (a stat given at the QA, as opposed to most films which is one week for 4 seconds), you can be dang sure that none of that screentime is wasted.

Since I got to see this early, most of the comments on my Stardust reaction have been from friends saying that my excitement reaffirmed their hype for this movie. My response was always the same: the hype is so deserved!

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Roma

There’s a lot of discussion around a major awards contender being released primarily on Netflix. Some people are glad it will be wildly available so quickly, others believe it deserves to be seen on the big screen, and there are those that think streaming films shouldn’t be up for awards. For my own movie watching experience, I need to see it in a theater. Not because I want to fully experience the cinematography or because that’s what the artist intended, but merely because that’s the only way to guarantee that I pay attention. There’s too many distractions at home, so if a movie is truly as magnificient as I’ve been hearing, I want to watch it in a way that I can’t escape it. For me, that experience was worth it with Roma.

Roma is Alfonso CuarĂ³n’s deeply personal film about a middle class Mexican family in the early 70’s, seen thru the eyes of Cleo, the young housekeeper who lives with them. That simple. Cleo goes thru the highest of highs and lowest of lows, and the family goes thru the highest of highs and lowest of lows. But thru it all, there’s a love that keeps all of them together.

On a technical level, this film is brilliant. Beautiful cinematography and exquisite storytelling. But for me, that was just the icing. The characters are what drew me in, much more strongly than I usually am with a character piece (I typically prefer a stronger thru story). And I know exactly why that was the case. While this is an incredibly personal film for Cuaron, it felt like an incredibly personal film for me too.

You prolly know this by now, but I grew up in a border town. What you prolly didn’t know was that it is incredibly common for everyone to have a housekeeper, like Cleo. It’s more rare not to have someone, at least coming once or twice a week if not staying with you full time. We had so many of these women staying with us over the years. Some young, some old, some here legally, most sending the bulk of their pay home to their families. Many of these ladies became part of our family while they were here.

My mind always goes first to Geli (pronounced hell-y). She worked for us when I was tiny and then again when I was older. She took such good care of me (not that my parents did, they were wonderful, but working parents can’t be home 100% of the time). She’d braid my hair and we’d play games and watch tv. The second time around, I had to be on a strict diet because of some medication I was taking, and she got so creative in the kitchen putting together fun and healthy meals for me. My mom still hears from her occasionally. She’s happily married (to an American) with children of her own, who I know are getting the absolute best care.

Then there’s stories that I don’t remember who they went with, I just know they happened. There was the girl who loved watching Mary Tyler Moore with me. She didn’t understand English, but was still drawn to the show, and would run into the room when she heard the characters’ voices. There were the silly games I’d make up that they’d play with me. My earliest memory is crying hysterically as my mom was leaving for work, and our housekeeper was holding me tightly trying to distract me with the tv.

Right now, my mom has Yasmin and her family. That relationship has lasted for well over a decade. I may have the order of events wrong, but I think it started with her husband Simon being my grandparents’ caretaker. Then he became my mom’s gardener. Then Yasmin started cleaning my mom’s house. Later their daughter Lili would be my mom’s dogsitter. They’ll often stay at my mom’s house if the border crossing is getting difficult (even with them being legally allowed to work in the US). Esp when Lili is staying with the dog for the week, her parents usually join her. Every week when I call home, my mom’s usually got some story about one of them. They’ll never know how truly grateful I am for them being there to take care of my mom. They’ve been with her thru so much, and any time she mentions a way that she can help them out, I tell her to do it without any hesitation.

I bring up all of this to illustrate that I truly do know the emotions and that bond that Cuaron was trying to capture. His attention to detail blew me away. Little things, like the way Cleo would hold the dog back when the family would get home or how she’d refer to “Senora Sofia” would take me back to childhood memories I haven’t thought about in years. Not only did I not have trouble believing that Cleo was part of the family, I knew it with every fiber of my being. And I cared for her in the same way. My heart broke for her over and over as the story played out.

So sit where you’re gonna sit on the debate of whether this needs to be seen in theaters or if Netflix is fine. See it how you’re gonna see it, just see it. I know I needed to give it the attention it deserved, and for me that meant the theater.

Roma – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Robin Hood

I was thoroughly warned off this movie. 15% on Rotten Tomatoes. Horrible reviews on Stardust. And I nearly avoided it too. I had it on my schedule for Thanksgiving Saturday, but then opted to stay home in giraffe pajamas with a jigsaw puzzle and my box of Black Friday(ish) movie aquisitions. Still, I was stubborn. I was too curious about this movie, and Taron Egerton looked way too hot (esp that moment in the trailer when he shoots the arrow without looking). So I spent my Tuesday night with the bad food and surly waiters of the AMC Dine In.

Do I need to explain the premise of Robin Hood? Rob from the rich and give to the poor and all that. Was this movie anything new? Absolutely not. It was thin and cliche and cheesy and half assed and unoriginal. Plus Jamie Foxx’s Little John couldn’t decide on an accent. what I later learned was a an artistic choice for the costumes to look 1/3 period, 1/3 current, 1/3 futuristic looked like a hot mess. But you know what? I kinda didn’t care. Nope, I did not hate this movie. Hell, I even enjoyed it.

Yes, it’s terrible quality, but it was still a lot of fun to watch. Basically, all I wanted out of this was a high adrenaline Guy Ritchie rip off (did anyone other than me like King Arthur last year?) that was pleasant to look at. That’s exactly what I got, and at that time, that was enough. But if that doesn’t sound like enough to you, then approach with extreme caution, if you dare approach at all.

Robin Hood – \m/ \m/ \m/

Ralph Breaks the Internet

I figured out my movie watching schedule for the Thanksgiving weekend, and there was one glaring problem: I’d scheduled Ralph Breaks the Internet for Black Friday afternoon, at AMC Century City. This theater is in the Westfield Mall, one of the still standing and thriving shopping centers in the area, with difficult parking on a slow day. Sure maybe I shoulda priorized Ralph over Creed earlier in the week, but I’d just assumed that one of my other nearby AMC’s would hafta pick him up. But alas, short of paying for a ticket (heaven forbid I should pay for an individual movie), this was my one option. With a little luck and prayer, I could make it work, yeah?

Initially, I intended to see The Favourite after Ralph, but having gotten thru my own Black Friday shopping early, I switched it around to free up my evening. The film let out at the nearby theater earlier than expected, and I made the quick trip over to the Westfield. It was now 1:30. Ralph started at 2:00. AMC is known for 20+ min of previews, but I also had to make a quick stop at either Panda Express or Chic-Fil-A, whichever had the shorter line.

I wandered the parking lot for nearly half an hour. The signs kept pointing me to supposedly available parking spots that didn’t exist. I tried to stay moving, avoiding the rows where traffic was clearly backed up. My only hope was that I’d happen to catch someone getting into their car directly in front of me. I wasn’t gonna be that guy that plants behind a loading vehicle for ten minutes, but maybe two would be acceptible. I also didn’t care if I was trying to squeeze my giant pickup truck into a COMPACT spot. I still don’t understand Cali’s obsession with that. Big Boys like my Samwise have it hard enough.

Anyways, it’s getting closer to 2, and I try to turn down an aisle. It should be my turn to go, but the lady to my right guns it across the lane before I can make the left. Annoying. I make my way down and find uh oh, this row of traffic halts at the end, turning off into a row of halted traffic. Exactly what I’d tried to avoid. Noooooooo!!!!!! I’m thinking thru worst case scenarios if I miss my movie time. I’m too far below cell signal to cancel my reservation. Would I ever find a spot?

Just then, a woman walks up to a parked SUV in front of me. She waves at me to let me know that she’s backing out, so that I can stay put and give her space to leave (also allowing me to take the spot). I nod back at her enthusiastically and turn on my blinker. She gets in and I see the reverse lights. Now remember that lady who jumped ahead of me in line? She sees SUV lady and decides that the spot is hers. She backs up towards me, but there’s not enough space for the SUV to clear and get out. No way on earth am I backing up as she’s gesturing wildly for me to do. I consider inching forward, but decide to take the higher ground. SUV isn’t moving. Angry lady inches further and further back. I’m mentally daring her to hit my truck as my anxiety is spiking higher than its been in weeks. After a minute or two, she finally gives up and pulls forward, immediately idling in reverse to try and reverse back into the space once the car is out. Except it doesn’t work that way. SUV backs out and forces angry lady forward. I pull in. Well, I try to. It’s one of those compact spaces, and I don’t have much room. I back up and into it several times and end up less than an inch from the support beam. Still, I squeeze in without Samwise hitting anything, and I run in to make my movie (after a detour to Panda). Even after the film ended, I was still shaken up from the ordeal. I opted to stay and shop because I was gonna make the parking effort worth it (and thankfully finished just about all of my Christmas shopping).

Thanks for indulging me getting that off my chest, but as we all know this is a blog about movies and not about trying to park a big truck in a bigger city. Speaking of a big guy investigating a big place, Ralph! Picking up six years after we left him and Vanellope, the two besties have a rather sweet life of video games and hanging out. Yet something seems missing. When Vanellope’s game breaks, the two of them venture out into the vast internet to find a replacement part, and maybe a little more than they bargained for.

The film’s biggest strength is its insightful observations, which it then turns into humor. Almost the entire thing is a meta joke about the internet, calling out all its flaws and strengths as we know them. Some of it did feel a little Ready Player One (and maybe woulda therefore been more impactful a bit further removed from that film), but it’s that “funny cause it’s true” vibe that made this stand out from the other kiddie fare out there.

The internet wasn’t the only bit receiving some biting commentary. As I’m sure you’ve been hearing about, the Disney Princesses show up to have some fun with Vanellope, and they too get the insightful treatment. The statement being made about them, and they way they’re brought into the present day is so long overdue. We know I’m a Disney kid, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about those ladies. This film made me absolutely love them more than I had before. It’s perfect.

While I was waiting for the post credits scene (and yes, you should absolutely wait until the very last credit rolls), I just had to text my BFFF. The movie just made me miss him so much, and the journey we’ve had is not unlike the one that these movie besties go on. Some people are worth trekking across the internet for. This dude’s worth it (not that I’d ever admit it to him). So is Ralph.

Ralph Breaks the Internet – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

The Favourite

Black Friday. When the shopping’s all done, it’s time to watch the movies. Got done earlier than expected, rearranged my schedule and ran out to see The Favourite. Y’all remember Yorgos Lanthimos? He’s the quirky director dude behind The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Now he’s following up the romcom and the thriller with a period piece. He may be one of the few who can get me excited for a film in that genre.

Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne of England, who leaves most of the ruling to her trusted friend Sarah (Rachel Weitz). All is well and good (relatively) until Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) shows up on the scene, hoping to work her way back up the rungs of society, creating her own All About Eve scheme, centuries before anyone knew anything about Bette Davis Eyes.

I was with it for the first half or so. More than with it, perfectly delighted watching this film. Lanthimos’ unique sense of humor provided such a fun twist on the time, with a strange sense of humor that would have been unexpected from anyone else. It was a blast watching our three leading ladies toy with each other and scheme and backstab and everything else that’s fun.

Then about halfway thru, I just lost interest. Maybe the novelty wore off, or maybe it just kept going on the same track for too long. I did later hear that Lanthimos did not write the screenplay himself, so that could account for why the excitement of it dropped. I went from eating up every second of dialog for just waiting for it all to be over so I could go to my next movie on the list. Such a bummer, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened. Maybe too much shopping in the early AM?

The Favourite – \m/ \m/ \n

Anna and the Apocalypse

Thanksgiving weekend. A time for shopping, Disneyland, turkey, and movies. I was playing schedule tetris in my head, trying to figure what movie to see on Wednesday (despite my maxed out A-List for the week) to get a jump on all of it. Then I got an email from Arclight about a free screening of Anna and the Apocalypse two weeks early. Decision quickly made! They claimed to have some fun festitivies associated, but they kinda fizzled. However, I did get to take a photo with a bloody snowman.

It’s Christmas time somewhere in the UK, and Anna is filled with all the usual existential angst. She wants to break free of her little town and find love and adventure. She wants it so much, she sings about it ala High School Musical, and she’s not the only one. Her inner circle are all looking for similar things, and singing about them. A few songs in, after her friends have performed at the school Christmas show which Anna has noped out of, zomebies appear. Anna’s priorities change in an instant as she tries to find her father and get out of town. And yes, she continues singing about it.

This is easily one of, if not the most, fun movies of the year. The sense of humor that was struck is absolutely perfect. The incredible cast (who really could lead another installment of HSM) play it all completely straight, which then gives a tongue in cheek vibe to the whole thing. It really does feel like a teeny bopper musical that happens to have zombies in it, and that juxtaposition is what’s so hilarious. I’ve since acquired the soundtrack, I just haven’t gotten around to listening to it yet.

I could go on and on about what I enjoyed about the film (and possibly dive into the inevitable comparison with Shaun of the Dead) but honestly, I don’t wanna give too much away. The film was filled with one surprise after another, and they deserve to be unwrapped on their own.

Anna and the Apocalypse – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Creed II

Last month, I actually watched all of the Rocky franchise in anticipation of this film. It wasn’t the initial plan, but I wanted to write them all up for the blog. There’s def enough to differentiate them all, and immediately following, I had opinions. Then I got lazy. So it’s not happening. But I will talk about Creed II.

Picking up some time after Creed (the second best film in the entire franchise, I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess the first), Adonis Creed is on top of his game and on top of the world. So of course that means someone wants to bring him down. Enter Viktor Drago, son of and coached by Ivan Drago, the man who killed Donnie’s father Apollo Creed in the ring. In other words, brush up on your Rocky IV. Otherwise, if you’re lost, you’re lost.

Sitting in this theater, I was completely with it. Esp at the inevitable moment when the trumpet blasts of Rocky’s theme come in, you can’t help but be swept up in the emotion of the moment. And it’s all emotion getting to that moment, because we love these characters so much. They’re the reason the series is so uplifting, and Creed II is not exception. Donnie and Bianca’s story gets deeper, and Donnie’s relationship with Rocky gets rocky, and Donnie’s place in his dad’s legacy evolves.

However, once it was all over and I was thinking back on it, I realized a few things. The movie is predictable like whoa. At the start of every scene, I could usually guess where it was gonna go. Secondly, I don’t think there was anything truly new here (with the exception of how the Drago father/son relationship resolved, which I very much loved). Yes, we’re taking Donnie to new places, but Rocky’s been there before.

Still none of that mattered in the moment. The movie did what it set out to, which was to uplift and entertain, but it won’t be as memorable a chapter as its predecessor. And that’s okay.

Creed II – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Widows

In the couple months that I’ve had AMC A-List, I’ve been going to the Dine In theater quite a bit. I’m usually the type to find a favorite dish somewhere and order that 9 times out of ten, but I’ve made my way thru more than half of their menu and I still can’t find that one thing. I’ve come to the realization that their food just isn’t good. It’s unhealthy, overpriced, and all of it leaves me feeling dehydrated. Still, I press on, because the idea sounds better than yet another TV dinner at home.

Rounding off my second four movie weekend in a row, was a Sunday afternoon showing of Widows and a plate of boneless wings (one of the more acceptable food items, and one of the few under 1000 calories, but just barely). Viola Davis finds a notebook left by her criminal late husband Liam Neeson, spelling out the plans for a $5 million heist. When hubby’s cohorts come knocking on her door for the dough he owes them, she enlists the widows of hubby’s crew to pull off the job.

I loved this movie, I was so along for the ride. And judging by the way the auditorium burst into applause several times during the third act, I think everyone else was along for it too. Normally when you hear a plot like this, you think heist thriller, but it was a slower burn than that, more of a drama. A drama where I loved seeing all the pieces fall into place. I’d totally forgotten that Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay, so I was not at all mentally prepared for her signature twists and turns.

Flynn wasn’t the only amazing lady involved. We had a killer quartet of ’em leading the film: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo. These femme fatales were incredible (Debicki in particular held my attention, but mostly because she hasn’t gotten a great role like this before). If nothing else, the big takeaway from this film should be that female driven films like this need to be a thing. ‘Cause if this is what they can be, we need many many more of them.

Widows – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Green Book

Before I even knew what this movie was about, I was interested in seeing it for leads Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. I’d planned it for this weekend, when a screening was announced that included a Q&A with Mortensen. I wavered for a minute. Was it really worth 16 bucks when I could easily MoviePass it? “He’s effing Aragorn” I reminded myself as I shelled out the cash. Totally effing worth it!!

Green Book tells the real story of a real unlikely friendship. Taking place in the early 60’s Ali plays Dr Don Shirley, an acclaimed concert pianist and uncharacteristically (for the time) cultured African American. He hires Tony (Mortensen), a man completely unrefined and opposite him in every way, to drive him on his concert tour of the deep south.

Obviously racial themes are rather prevalent in this film, and they’re handled with such care and grace. This is one of those films that can change hearts and minds if properly received. Their journey is beautiful, how they both grow from having ignorant attitudes towards the other to eventual acceptance and understanding.

But it’s not a heavy handed drama. This film can be uproariously funny at times, as is often the case with such an odd couple pairing. It’s actually directed by Peter Farrelly (who with his brother is primarily known for films like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary). In the Q&A, Mortesen explained that Farrelly specifically tried not to make the film too funny, trying to make a serious drama, but despite his best efforts, it naturally bent that way. Sometimes those really are the best comedies.

Both performances are incredible, and the two men play off each other with ease. Points also for Linda Cardellini in a supporting role as Tony’s wife back home. This film is looking to be a major contender this Oscar season, and I am all for it.

I also wanna take a quick second to shout out Mortensen for his appearance at the film yesterday. First off, IRL he’s almost as chatty as Tony Lip. I’ve never seen someone in these Q&A’s talk as freely with minimal questions and prompting like he did. He’s truly passionate about this film, and had a lot of interesting things to say about it. But moreso, I wanna praise him for after the film. I’ve been to a bunch of these things (primarily at The Landmark) and usually when it’s over, the celeb is rushed out of the auditorium on to their next enagagement or wherever. Sometimes one or two lucky people sitting in front can manage a quick autograph or selfie, but it’s not likely. I sat up in the front row, dealing with a strained neck thru the film, specifically for that reason. I was able to get up to him quickly for the selfie selfishly concerned that he was taking too long talking to the dude in front of me about making an appearance at a nearby college. After I got his attention, and he obliged me for the photo, I got out of the way and I noticed a crowd had gathered. He wasn’t rushing out. He was staying, signing LOTR memorabilia and talking to people. That. Never. Happens. Not at these events that I’ve ever seen (it’s a big part of why I’m picky about which ones I go to now). That man truly is the King.

Green Book – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/