Instant Family

Growing up in the 90s, there were so many family movies to choose from Blockbuster. I don’t just mean dumb kids stuff that the parents could tolerate, but films that were actually enjoyable by all members. Father of the Bride, Mrs Doubtfire, Mighty Ducks, the list goes on. We don’t really see too much of that anymore. Enter Mark Wahlberg. Wait, what?

Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star as a couple who decide to try adopting thru foster care. They end up with more than they bargained for when they end up bringing home three siblings, including a moody and independent teenager. That’s really it. The film follows the ups and downs of the process in a way that’s very Hollywood, but has emotions that feel very real.

Personally, I’m a huge believer in adoption. Especially as I’m getting older and still single, I absolutely recognize it as a valid choice that I could potentially make one day, and the film certainly gave me a lot to think about in that regard. I found the the whole journey so beautiful, but it was also a lot of fun. This is first and foremost a comedy afterall, and it delivered by showcasing so many real life scenarios. Simply put, I just felt good watching this movie.

Instant Family – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindelwald

The Wizarding World is one of my favorite places to spend time in. I’ve been rewatching the HP movies as I go to sleep recently, and today I finally bought a Kindle, mostly so that I can reread the books when I eventually go on my much postponed trip to London. I have a Universal pass, specifically for going to Hogsmeade any time I feel like a Butter Beer, and I’m often spotted wearing my Ravenclaw sweater (that’s admittedly a size or two too big). All that is to say, that when it comes to these new films, I’m just happy to be in this world more than anything else.

Picking up not too long where we last left Newt Scamander and friends, Johnny Depp’s revealed baddie Grindelwald has escaped. He’s tracking down Ezra Miller’s Creedence, who in turn is trying to find out his true identity. Dumbledaaaammmmn, err, (relatively) young Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his old student Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to go after them. That’s about as much of the plot as I can confidently type out because it does get a little messy.

No, I couldn’t always follow it, and yes I feel like the screenplay could have been much cleaner. But I didn’t care too much about that. Again, just happy to be in this world, but more than that, happy to be spending some time with these characters.

As I was watching, I realized that Newt truly is one of JK Rowling’s best ever characters. He operates from a place of humility and compassion, all too rare qualities in heroes leading a film. Redmayne brings him to life with such grace. My favorite moments in the film were him interacting with his creatures. While in the first film, the real life Magical Pokemon Go portion may have felt unnecessary, I realized here that’s what gives the film its heart. He had one sequence with a giant Japanese water demon (I think I’m remembering what it was correctly) that I could just watch over and over. That made the movie for me.

And Dumbledore was also a treat to see. He is one of the most iconic characters in the entire franchise, and I love seeing this new perspective on him. Jude Law plays him to perfection. You can see twinkles of the old Headmaster we’ve loved, but with a new mystery to him.

The other characters I adore are Queenie and Jacob. While they may have seemed like filler last time, the main story has a really interesting way in playing out thru their relationship. I’m super excited to see where that goes.

In fact, I’m super excited to see where the whole franchise goes. Even if there were some story issues along the way, the last maybe 15 min or so had me on the edge of my seat, and I need the next film immediately. I’m desperate to know where these new revelations will take us.

Fantastic Beasts: THe Crimes of Grindelwald – \m/ \m/ \m/

Destroyer

Oscar season is starting up, which means it’s a great time to have a close friend in SAG. I get a text from said friend inviting me to a screening of Destroyer. “I haven’t even heard of this one” “It’s Nicole Kidman’s gritty film trying for an Oscar.” “Sure, why not.” I google the trailer later. What was that? That’s Nicole Kidman? Looks more like an episode of Breaking Bad. Oh I am so in for this.

We get to the theater and find that the screening is overbooked. However, there’s a second screening (with a different organizer) happening 30 minutes later. They have enough extra space to take in all us overflow from the initial screening. We’re given validated parking and popcorn (which would not have been part of the package with the first show). Okay, this is fancy. After a few minutes in the theater, director Lee Daniels comes up and intros the film. He’s not actually involved in the film, he just threw this shindig for his good friend Nicole.

The film ends, and we’re expecting a Q&A. But the credits are over and the auditorium is half empty. We walk out, and there are signs directing us to an after party. Ummm okay?! Wine and hor d’oeuvres are passed around. Buddy and I are chatting about the film when he interrupts me with a low voice “By the way, Nicole Kidman is right behind you” WHAT?!! I turn around, and low and behold she’s a few feet behind me. She stays near for a while, and we watch her have the sweetest interaction with her old friend Lee. We think about what we’d say if she mingles over our way, but know that it won’t actually happen. A couple we’re chatting with grab her for a selfie on her way out. We try to follow suit, but she’s too quick and she’s gone. Still, magical just being so close to her for a little while. What the heck was this night?!

So now that you’re jealous that I’m living this superstar glam Hollywood life (I felt severely underdressed in my hoodie and smeared off eyeliner), time to chat about the movie itself. Nicole plays a cop of some sort, and her story plays out with a dual timeline. In the present, she’s an old and bitter officer, investigating a murder that is somehow linked to her past. In her past, she’s an undercover cop infiltrating a group of scumbags up to some nefarious purpose.

I loved this structure so much. It was so effective and enthralling. As the events would unfold in the present, you’d get another piece of the puzzle of the past. I was living for every detail to be revealed. There were turns that I did not expect in the slightest. This is absolutely the kind of dark and gritty drama that I live for.

And I’m still so shocked that Nicole Kidman took this on. It is so unlike anything we’ve seen her remotely involved in. She completely loses herself in the role and gives us something different from any other performance of hers. There’s some really great age makeup at play too (to be fair though, it wasn’t until halfway thru the movie where they stated was the timelapse was that I realized it was simply meant for her to be older, not a meth head). This is a performance we’re gonna be talking about for a long time, especially thru this Oscar season.

Destroyer – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

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