A Fantastic Woman

I don’t typically pay too much attention to the foreign category at the Oscars. I guess I average seeing about one a year at the theaters. Something about it has to be really special to not only get my attention, but get me to see it. After Chile got the nomination for this film, all I’ve been hearing is good things about this movie, including a story that truly grabbed me.

The film is about a transgender woman whose older boyfriend suddenly dies. While she’s trying to process her grief, she’s also dealing with rejection from his family who refuses to allow her that basic right.

For me, this movie is truly heartbreaking because I absolutely hate the thought that people could be so cruel. And that’s that I know they could have been way worse. Yet in the center of all that abuse and exclusion, she is strong and determined and powerful and beautiful.

This movie is such an important one though. It’s important to tell stories about characters that like this that aren’t transition stories. I feel like films like this teach empathy and acceptance, and it’s something we need more of.

A Fantastic Woman – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m

Early Man

Did everyone else know this movie was about soccer (sorry, football)? Cause I didn’t. It’s basically what would happen if the Flintstones discovered soccer and engaged in a match to save their way of life. I am dead serious.

Aardman frustrates me a bit because I love their style of animation and I love their very smart humor (smart visual humor, no less, tough combo). But I think they work best as shorts. When it comes to features, they have trouble stretching the story and finding the pacing. Such a bummer.

Early Man fell into that category for me. If you take any five minute scene of it, and it’s great. But string them all together and it seems to drag on despite being on the shorter side for a feature.

I loved Eddie Redmayne voicing our lead character (you wouldn’t know it was him if I hadn’t told you), but again, not enough to truly save the movie for me.

I still love everything this studio stands for, and how they’ve stayed true to their style and vision. I just wish they knew how to better wrangle it.

Early Man – \m/ \m/

Black Panther

I feel very unqualified to write this post. This is a character that has meant a lot to a lot of people, and I’m not the person to properly express that. But if you wanna get an idea of that, go see this movie opening weekend with a full house. The audience experience is incredible, and unlike any other I’ve felt. I’ve seen some of the most emotional Stardust posts too. That said, we know I at least feel qualified to talk about this from an average filmgoer’s perspective, so let’s at least get into that shall we? And I think I’ll skip over the usual plot summary.

Something I love about Marvel is how they can take the same formula and still make it feel like something completely new. I think a lot of that has to do with their willingness to bring in new directors and new voices. The overall vision is more about story and characters than look and feel, and directors are given fairly free reign. For that reason, Ryan Coogler was certainly a bit part of what made Black Panther a winner.

The way a Stardust friend described it, Black Panther’s country of Wakanda was practically its own character. It was so beautiful, not just aesthetically, but culturally. Everyone involved in the production design wove African culture into every fiber of the film to create this new but grounded world and it was stunning.

I think for me, though, the cast was the film’s greatest strength. Chadwick Boseman was truly regal with his refined strength and restraint. But his adversary Michael B Jordan, OH MY GOD, absolutely in the running for best Marvel villain (sorry Loki). A baddie with real motivation and a noble (if misguided) cause? Yesssssss

But this isn’t all a boys show. Oh no. This film featured some of the absolute strongest ladies that we’ve seen thus far in the MCU. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and a scene stealing Letitia Wright (yeah nerd girl!) were everything.

I love that this is the direction Marvel is taking to shake things up, and I’m even more excited to go into Infinity War knowing we have some of these amazing people on deck. I’m kneeling before the King of Wakanda.

Black Panther – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Fifty Shades Freed

Look, I know how terrible this franchise is. I can’t stay away. I’m too curious and I need to know what’s happening. It’s a morbid fascination. Like staring at a car crash. The world’s sexiest car crash.

Does the plot even matter? Is there a plot at all? I don’t know. There’s so many holes and disconnects and questions and problems. What sustains this movie for me is the chemistry between our two leads. When I’m watching them, and not thinking about anything else, I’m into it. But as soon as I turn my brain back on, I notice everything that’s wrong (starting first with how incredibly unhealthy their relationship is).

Oh and then Jamie Dornan looks just enough like an ex (but hotter) to really mess with my head, so that doesn’t help matters at all. Some of the same mannerisms too. Okay, not going there.

Hey at this point, you know what you’re getting. I think we’re all ready for it to be over. Still, just because something’s terrible doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. It’s all about perspective and mindset, and not overthinking. Not thinking at all really

Fifty Shades Freed – \m/ \m/

The 15:17 to Paris

First and foremost, these boys are hero. Nothing I say in the following post should diminish that in any way. Okay yeah, so it’s a little hard to take Alek seriously after watching him on DWTS, but still, heroes.

The 15:17 to Paris is the true story about the three American boys who thwarted a potential terrorist attack on a train to Paris. We get a look at the boys growing up, joining the military (two of the three did), and their European vacation that took an unexpected turn. Sounds like a rather nice tribute to some homegrown heroes, yeah? Unfortunately, the quality of the film wasn’t anywhere near good enough to properly honor them.

Most people will point at the main problem being that director Clint Eastwood chose to cast the three real young men as themselves. None of them have any acting experience, it’s (somewhat painfully) obvious. I get the desire behind this sort of experiment in authenticity, and while there was some added emotional impact at seeing them relive their story, a lot of it proved to be a distraction. However, this is not the tragic flaw of the film.

The tragic flaw of the film is the screenplay. It’s atrocious. To start, the dialog is just bad (made even worse when delivered by amateurs). But the problems go deeper than that. The story is unfocused and brings up lots of points and events that aren’t relevant to anything. The ones that are relevant are way too obvious. It was clearly an attempt to be profound (oh look how it all comes full circle) but was just so cheesy. Then there were bits that checked both boxes of bad like the guys wistfully looking over a balcony “You ever feel like life is pushing us towards some greater purpose?”. Oh and how many times did the guys hafta debate whether or not they’d go to Paris. We all know they’re going to Paris, it’s in the name of the freaking movie.

Now there was a small window of time where things worked: the scenes on the train. Granted, that’s what people paid admission for so it had dang well better work, and thankfully it did. It was suspenseful and really something incredible to watch these guys recreate their moments of triumph and humanity. I understand the intent to not make this an action movie and to give them more depth and respect in looking at their past, but in this case, I think avoiding the main event did them a disservice. It’s just so frustrating because these boys deserve so much better than they got in this movie.

The 15:17 to Paris – \m/ \m/

Peter Rabbit

Movie season is picking back up. The good news is that we’re back to multiple new releases I’m interested in each weekend. The bad news is that quantity doesn’t imply quality. This is the sorta movie that I likely would have overlooked if it opened in the middle of a busy summer. I also would have skipped it if not for the cast. I absolutely adore James Corden (who is the main reason I almost saw The Emoji Movie). Also, kinda digging Domhnall Gleeson right now, so that was a plus. I still went in with rather low expectations.

I know I’m aware of the character of Peter Rabbit, but I don’t remember too many details. This movie was a modern retelling. Gleeson is uber villain Mr McGregor’s nephew, who takes over the country home and garden that Peter and his friends love to ransack. It’s pretty generic kids stuff. Cute animals. Silly slapstick. Simple story. My screening had a house full of kids and they ate it all up. So many tiny voices laughing throughout. Me, not as much, EXCEPT for the stuff involving Cottontail (voiced by Daisy Ridley). She had some clever and unexpected dialog that I absolutely loved.

Overall, it was light and delightful, worth taking the kids to, but adults don’t go out of your way.

Peter Rabbit – \m/ \m/ \m/

The Cloverfield Paradox

Anyone else blindsided by Netflix’ surprise announcement during the Superbowl? I at least knew that there was a Cloverfield movie on the way, and that it had been recently purchased by Netflix. However, I was still under the impression that it aimed for an April release date. That excited me. Then Twitter told me it was actually releasing that night? Whaaa? Thank God for early kickoff times on the west coast and screw watching Jack die on This is Us. The second the game was over (my team lost anyways) I made my rounds saying goodbye at my friends’ Superbowl party and drove home to fire up Netflix.

Before we talk about the movie itself, let’s talk about what I like about this franchise in the making. Where this movie has succeeded above all else is in the marketing, or lack thereof. Remember the initial confusion over what that first Cloverfield movie was? And then the bomb that was dropped with there being a sequel? Now an even bigger bomb of “oh hey there’s a movie, and oh hey we’re giving it to you right now” Genius. This may be the single smartest marketing ploy Netflix has ever done, and I’m sure that one single Superbowl ad still cost less than the glut of Bright billboards that are just now slowly starting to disappear from my commute.

The other thing I really like about this franchise is how loosely tied together it is. Normally not a strength, but it is here. Obviously if there were a big monster attack there’d be a million different stories from a million different places around the world. Why should we be satisfied with just one storyline? Why don’t we ever explore what’s happening elsewhere at the same time? For me, the main excitement of watching this new installment was waiting to see the connection. I loved how 10 Cloverfield Ln threw it in there at the end, and I expected something similar here.

And speaking of the loose connection, I think it’s absolutely genius how each movie thus far falls into a different thriller subgenre. We had a found footage monster chase, a claustophobic escape, and now a lost in space horror. Waiting to see what avenue they go down next will be the single most exciting point for me, I think. There’s already talk of yet another installment underway.

Besides everything I just mentioned, what really had me excited about this movie was the cast itself. Daniel Bruhl (really, you had me there), Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyellowo (shut up and take my money already), Chris O’Down, Ziyi Zhang, I mean come on can you assemble a better cast that has never been seen in this setting? No really, all you cars better clear out my way post-game because (as a friend said on my way out) I got a date with a giant monster.

Okay so I finally sit down to watch the movie. Already going in I’m distracted by the usual shiny objects that keep me from focusing when I’m at home. I stop and rewind the movie a few times. Eventually I realize that this really is another Alien(s)/Sunshine/Life/Supernova/etc movie. The idea behind what’s causing the chaos is unique, but I don’t know how great it’d be if it was released as just a general movie without being tied in to this monster universe. I also think that I would have been far more invested if I was seeing it on a big screen. I spaced out on events and just overall felt like I didn’t get the full impact I would have liked.

The cast did deliver and we did get some cool effects and suspense sequences, I was just underwhelmed. Part of me feels like I wish we could have had more tie in to the universe, but at the same time I realize that those teasing tidbits are part of what make this so special. Still, while the hype that was created was appropriate for the reputation these movies have, I feel like it didn’t create for the best movie watching experience. Yes I absolutely had to watch it immediately, but it also meant I was tired and unfocused and unprepared, and ultimately felt a bit let down.

Winchester

Normally, I write off these kind of mainstream horror movies. Something has to make me really wanna see it. Besides it being a pretty dry weekend (really no one wants to open against the Superbowl? huh…Go Pats!), what really intrigued me was that Helen Mirren would do this movie. Why the heck is one of our most celebrated and revered actresses doing cheesy horror? What does she know about this that we don’t? I still haven’t figured it out.

Soooo yeah. Crazy haunted house with boarded up rooms, hallways that lead nowhere, weird staircases, and oh, it’s a real place. There’s a rich old lady who lives there (Mirren) who also runs a company that primarily manufactures firearms. A doctor (Jason Clarke) is sent to evaluate her mental health by members of that company that want to overthrow her. Surely a woman building a weird house and talking about ghosts isn’t in her right mind, right?

It was basically what I expected. The house concept (which is what I thought was cool) wasn’t really explored to it’s full potential. The story was kinda lazy and cliche, and just built to maximize jump scares. I’ve talked ad nauseum about how I want more than just that from horror movies. But if that’s your thing, then cool, I’ll just sit out the next one.

Winchester – \m/ \n

Mudbound

I only had one Oscar homework assignment! I prolly could have even watched this before the nominations, but I have trouble focusing on movies watched at home. And Netflix still hadn’t managed to break into the features awards race. I figured I’d just wait until the announcement, and low and behold Mudbound came in with a couple above the line nominations.

I had only the vaguest idea of what this movie was about, but the first thing I had wrong was the setting. I assumed it was somewhere Civil War-ish, but it’s actually WWII-ish. The story focuses on a white family and a black family that live on a farm property and how they deal with the war and its fallout. Yeah it sounds kinda blah, but it was an absolutely compelling film.

Again, watching a movie at home, there are distractions. Cats. Stardust. Candy Crush. Among other things. So I maybe wasn’t giving this movie the full and complete attention it deserved. Then we got to the third act. So intense and extreme, it jolted me to full and rapt attention, haunting me thru the next day. Totally get why the screenplay nomination.

On the acting side, while (an unrecognizable) Mary J Blige got the nomination, my eyes were mostly on Garret Hedlund. Okay so they’ve been on him ever since Four Brothers, but he’s never really had material to sink his teeth into like this one. From the main characters, he was one of the two I was most invested in. The other was played by Jason Mitchell. Their fraught and unlikely friendship was the most captivating storyline for me. I also enjoyed seeing Jonathan Banks break way worse than bad as the true villain of the film.

I really wish this could have gotten a proper big screen run, so I could have fully taken it all in (esp that beautiful cinematography). I think Netflix prolly did it a disservice by snatching it up, but thankfully it was able to break into the awards race and get some of the attention it deserves.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure

I only went to this out of a misguided sense of obligation. An OCD based need for completeness. I liked the maze setup of the first one, but the second one just seemed like a bunch of running around to me. I’ve said many times, but when it comes to dystopian YA stories, I care more about the world they live in than the revolution, and this series is disproportionately favored towards the revolution.

Yeah so after spending a movie running around we’ve got more running around. Srsly, most of the film is just these long paint-by-numbers action sequences (if you can even call them action). And sometimes there’s zombies, sorta? There were a few moments of suspense, but mostly the movie was a snooze. Oh and they have no concept of how science works.

I guess it’s okay for fans of the series, or young ‘uns who don’t really know how good movies work. Otherwise, it’s not even worth spending more thought on.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure – \m/ \n