Black Christmas

Ooof this film killed my Fantasy Movie League this week, coming in so far under projections. It baffled me, until I actually saw it. I absolutely backed the wrong reindeer here.

This is a pretty straightfoward slasher movie that takes place on a college campus in the days leading up to Christmas break. Disappearances go unnoticed because people just assume they’re going home for the holidays. On top of that, there’s a take on college rape culture. Our protagonist was sexually assaulted a few years prior, and no one in authority believed her. The timing and victims of these disappearances seem to be related to some retaliatory acts she and her friends have taken.

The first half or so is watchable. Nothing too remarkable. The Christmas stuff (ie, stabbing someone with an icicle and leaving a snow angel on the ground) feels a little forced, but playful. The horror aspects were pretty basic though, nothing innovative at all. That’s fine. It’s marketed at the teens who can’t get into the R rated films, so it’s passable gateway horror.

And then there’s a reveal about how things are happening. And it’s dumb. I try to give films the benefit of the doubt and find the positives, and I just can’t figure out a way to spin this one. It completely lost me, and I couldn’t get out of that 90 minute film soon enough.

The other thing that really didn’t help the film was that it was trying way too hard to be woke. I say that as someone who is all about female empowerment. There were some good intentions and even some good moves (such as the song the girls sang at the frat), but it just felt like such a reach. Especially when said reveal was revealed, the whole thing felt very contrived. I want the film this was trying to be, not the one it actually was. Cause this was a total bummer.

Black Christmas – \m/ \m/

Uncut Gems

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about Good Time. I hadn’t seen it since theaters where I absolutely loved it, and it reminded me how the Safdie brothers did a lot to legitimize Robert Pattinson’s career (I will never say one negative word about him as an actor ever again). I was wondering what they’d been up to since, but didn’t wonder enough to look it up. I ordered the film off my Best Buy wishlist and watched it shortly thereafter. The very next day, I’m at the movies (big surprise) and I see the trailer for Uncut Gems. I see the Safdie brother’s name splashed across the screen. My excitement for this film infinitely grows.

Adam Sandler is a jeweler in NYC, but he’s also a bit of a hustler who is very addicted to sports betting. He owes money all over town and some of those debts are coming due, but he’s got a scheme to cover them. An opal he’s been tracking for months has finally been smuggled in from Ethiopia, and if all goes according to plan, he can turn it around for a major profit. That doesn’t mean he won’t try to draw a little more money off it when an opportunity arises.

This is definitely a Safide film. It has the same look and feel, and the same sense of unsettling paranoia, but I’d argue that this is even more chaotic and disorienting. The shots are tight. The music is tense. People are constantly talking over each other. You don’t get a sense of exactly what’s going on, but you know that it’s constant deception and one bad decision after another. And I get the sense that disorientation is the point. Sandler is trying to front to everybody that he’s got it under control, so you have to just take his word for it. But you can’t help but feel the underlying danger. You know he’s really getting in deeper and deeper.

By the time we got to the last twenty minutes (no spoilers) I was literally on the edge of my seat. As in, I sat up at full attention, pulled up my legs criss cross apple sauce, and leaned forward so far that I thought I was gonna fall out of my chair. I just needed to know what was going to happen, and given the aforementioned chaos I really had no way of knowing. All I know is that I left there feeling like I needed a Xanax.

I said that the Safdies legitimized Pattinson’s career, and they’ve done wonders with Sandler here. It’s no secret that he’s been chasing an Oscar for years, and this might finally be what gets him in that nomination. Really, if it’s not this movie, it’s never going to happen for him. You cannot look at him here and see The Waterboy or Happy Gilmore. It’s a completely transformitive performance.

The story behind getting this film to the big screen is almost as fascinating at the film itself (it’s spelled out on IMDB trivia), but it was destined to be Sandler. And he owns this.

Uncut Gems – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Bombshell

Charlize Theron. Nicole Kidman. Margot Robbie. Shut up and take my money.

These three ladies are playing Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and a ficticious amalgam of young impressional women, all working at Fox News under Roger Ailes. We know what eventually happened to him (or rather what happened to women because of him), and that aftermath. What I didn’t know was how that downfall went down. This is that story, told from the perspective of these amazing women and others.

I am about as anti-Fox News as you can get, so I really didn’t know a whole lot of this story. To some extent, I refused to know, So the majority of this story was entirely new to me. Therefore, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole film, which is in the running for my favorite screenplay of the year. It was absolutely non-stop, so much information rushing at me so quickly and I still wanted more. But this is written by Charles Randolph, who also wrote The Big Short, so it incorporates a lot of the same humor and fourth wall breaks and other fun things (I hate to say gimmicks because that has a negative connotation) that I loved that film for. Not quite as extreme as Short, but enough to really make this film stand out.

Our cast is of course fantastic. Charlize Theron is completely unrecognizable, in face and voice. But beyond that, our leading ladies really do own the screen, telling this story with power and conviction and owning every written word of it. It’s not every day that you get to see a trio of powerful ladies, and this is absolutely an argument for why we need more.

There’s an insane supporting cast too. John Lithgow plays Ailes, and though he is one of my most beloved actors, I absolutely detested him here. I never thought I’d say such words, but then again, there are few (if any) people who are more deplorable than Ailes. In addition, there were a lot of known faces and surprises in the cast. Kate McKinnon and Mark Duplass were standouts for me, but I won’t spoil the fun of discovering some of the others in the moment.

Bombshell – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Dark Waters

After taking a detour into the MCU, it’s time for Mark Ruffalo to turn his sights back towards Awards glory. His role in Dark Waters is absolutely as Oscar bait as you get. Real person who made a significant impact and had an emotional journey along the way. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the film that’s gonna win it for him (although at least as of writing I just checked and this film won this week’s Best Performer on Fantasy Movie League, subject to change tho since it’s only Sat).

Ruffalo is Rob Bilott. Bilott is a corporate lawyer who is approached by a family friend and owner of a small farm in West Virginia. His cattle have all died under mysterious circumstances, and he suspects the big name chemical company, Dupont, who has set up a landfill down the street is to blame. Billot spends the next 15+ years trying to prove Dupont’s guilt and defend the innocent people who have been hurt.

On paper it’s a truly fascinating story, and it absolutely deserves to be told. Not to give anything away, but Dupont is responsible for hurting a large population of the world as we know it, and they need to be taken to task for it. Likewise, Bilott did years of thankless work and is more than due his recognition. The bummer, though, is that it doesn’t make for a very cinematic film. Most of what he did was pore over a closet’s worth of documents, just a bunch of legal legwork. The breakthroughs in the case were often years apart. So put it together as a film and it’s not as riveting as you would hope.

Anne Hathaway had a few standout moments as Bilott’s wife, with bursts of emotion ranging from anger to empathy. And Ruffalo’s performance was really good, but the role was still rather muted. Despite the pieces being there, I just don’t think it made a very exciting movie.

Dark Waters – \m/ \m/

Waves

The stars were going to have to align for me to see this. I couldn’t get a read off it from the trailer. It looked gorgeous, but these art house films can be hit or miss for me. Some awards potential, but also potentially too small to be a contender. I was willing to see it if I didn’t hafta go out of my way and if it was free. I didn’t expect it to play at AMC, but I did have a couple Arclight passes I could use. It took a couple of weeks until there was an agreeable showtime, but it happened. The stars aligned. And I’m oh so very glad they did.

I don’t really know how I can explain what this film is about without spelling out every single plot point. The film follows an African American family in the Miami area, who on the surface appear to have everything, but the struggles run deep. The first half revolves around the teenage son building up to a catastrophic event the second follows the teenage daughter dealing with the aftermath. Sounds simple, but it is so complex and rich and absolutely gorgeous.

This film is an undeniable work of art. It’s shot beautifully, and so well put together. Story aside, it’s lovely to just look at and enjoy the images flashing by. I was hooked from the opening sequence that played like a music video while hinting at a deeper meaning. But if you know me, you know that a pretty picture isn’t enough to hold my attention. I need strong characters with a stronger story. That’s exactly what this film delivered.

I’d been hesitant to watch because I thought it’d be all slice of life vignettes, we’ve all seen those. They meander and maybe say a lot but don’t have much through line. This started like that, but before I realized it, it was building to a frenzy. I was holding my breath on the edge of my seat, waiting to burst.

Then the film shifted. It started playing out more in that meandering images way. And then I started crying. Spontaneously. It wasn’t that somebody said something or did something. I just cried. I think it was because I’d expected this particular scene to follow the pattern of the previous ones, and I was caught off guard when the camera panned and revealed a different character. I also think that I’d been holding in all the feelings that the first half of the film had given me, I just needed to emotionally clear the slate if I was gonna get thru the rest of the film. And oh man, that scene where I started crying ended up being one of the most emotional, so the tears kept coming thru it.

I often make the distinction between films that are art and films that are entertainment. This one is certainly the former, but it’s an argument for why artistic cinema is so important.

Waves – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Lord of the Rings Marathon

2019 is turning out to be the year of the marathon. About two weeks prior, I’d given up on spending the Sunday of my 4 day Turkey weekend doing a scavenger hunt at Disney. No one else on my team was available. I put up a sort of hail Mary post on the event, hoping that maybe someone would see it and add me to their team. About five minutes later, I get an email from American Cinemateque. The Egyptian Theater would be doing an all day marathon of LOTR–extended editions–over the holiday weekend. Well I was prolly gonna spend that particular day at the movies anyways, so this sounded perfect!

The day arrived. Marathon started at 1. With minimal traffic, it’d take 35 min to get to Hollywood. I knew I could park at a garage a couple blocks away for $17, but I thought I could maybe get somethign closer and/or cheaper. I didn’t like the idea of walking back at midnight to a dark underground garage. Long story short, I spend way too much time failing at parking and end up at that lot and RUNNING over to catch the movie. It’s a giant auditorium. Their website says it’s easy to get tix at the last minute, so surely there’ll be plenty of seats, yeah? As I’m walking in, I see a bunch of SOLD OUT signs. Crap. I run in and it’s packed. I def need an aisle seat cause these are 3.5+ hour movies. All I find is house left third row. Great. Really close and at an angle.

I drop my blanket and neck pillow in my seat, make a bathroom run, and a concession run. The line at concessions is long, and I hear them starting to make announcements. I wander to the back of the auditorium. They’d said there’d be breaks between, but I wanted to know how long. 15 min then 30. Awesome. Concessions takes forever because the card reader in my line goes down. Fellowship has already started. Well I’m late anyway, so I’ll take the super cute Insta picture I’d planned (although I woulda rather had it in a seat than the lobby). I sit down, and Gandalf has already made it to Bilbo’s house.

Now I’ve seen these movies a million times, including in theaters. 5, 8, and 13 respectively. And ever since the extended cuts were released, I never watched a theatrical cut again. But none of those big screen viewings had ever been extended cuts. It’d also been nearly over 15 years (Jesus.) since I had seen them in a theater. I could not have asked for a better way to spend the day.

The time just flew by. It was like I had simultaneously never been in Middle Earth and had never left. I still had the biggest smile on my face, key scenes made me emotional, I laughed, I nearly cried, it was glorious. I even spotted details and connections than I’d never seen before.

There’s something I realized that I love about watching rereleases in LA at tiny independent theaters: the crowds here LOVE those movies. There were So. Many. Cheers. Every time a new character is introduced (I first heard it for Samwise, and not again for a while later, to the point where I thought maybe I’d missed Sean Astin making an appearing or something), every time Aragorn does something badass, Legolas does something cool, or Gandalf does something powerful, every time there’s a famous (especially meme-d line), everytime there’s a BIG moment. We couldn’t go more than maybe 20 minutes without loud bursts of applause and I loved in. I joined in a few whoops and hollars as well.

The first movie ends, and I’ve been in heaven. It’s now about 4:30. 15 minutes plus credits they said, yeah? I run to the Mickey D’s two blocks away. My nuggets come right away (they forgot my hot mustard tho) and I shove them in my mouth while I wait for my hot chocolate. And I wait. And I wait. It eventually appears and sits on a counter behind the frazzled server and it’s longer until I get her attention and point her to it. I run into the theater. It’s now 4:55. Surely, I’ve missed the intro, right? I hear someone say “5 minutes” as I make a pit stop and then run into my seat, just in time to see it start. Awesome.

I start doing math in my head. Movie 2 is starting at 5. Does that mean movie 3 is starting at 9? Oh now we’re getting out after midnight, closer to 1. My parking garage is open until 2. I don’t like the idea of going alone, but surely a large number of the people in this theater will be heading the same way at the same time. We’re good.

I’m sitting there with my little Gollum doll in hand absolutely loving it. Towers really packs in the extras with the extended edition, so it’s almost a whole different movie, with much more depth between the layers. The neck pillow made these seats not just bearable, but great. I’m comfy and I’ve got a great up close view. Seriously, the best way I could have spent the day.

Movie gets out 8:30 maybe? I expect an either 9:00 or 9:15 start time. It’s still late, but it’ll be fine. I run to Starbucks across the street and bring back a tea and a cake pop. I walk back to my seat to get myself situated and I over hear two things. “9:40” and “4 and a half hours”. Um what?! Actually 3 things “People will have to leave early because they need to get their cars by 2”. WHAT?! A quick Google-ing confirms. LOTR: ROTK theatrical is 3 hours 20 min. Extended adds 50 minutes. So yeah, nearly 4 and a half hours. There’s no way I’m comfortable leaving alone that late, nevermind if I can even stay awake for the movie (good thing I got a green tea at Starbucks instead of my usual chamomile).

I’m standing in the aisle until around 9:15, hoping the film starts soon. I give up and sit down with my book. As overheard, it does start at 9:40. I make the heartbreaking decision to do something I’ve never done before: leave a movie early. I’ll stick it out until midnight, then I’ll bail. That’ll get me thru just over half. The film starts, and I’m lamenting the fact that some of my favorite moments in the film (and really the entire series) are in the second half. I can always watch it at home (even though I’ve already got my Black Friday movies incoming and my queue growing).

10:05. The movie stops. Dude comes up to the front. They realize that they were sent the theatrical cut, not extended. He asks the audience: continue theatrical in 35 mm or switch to extended digital? The crowd votes for digital. It’ll take some time to switch the equipment. He offers vouchers if people wanna leave since it won’t be what was promised. I give him an arbitrary deadline of 10:15. If it’s not running by then, I’m outta here. 10:13 I start packing up my blanket and neck pillow and sweater and Gollum doll.

10:14 dude comes back up. Because they’re using the BluRay, there will be a pause halfway thru to switch discs. Okay that’ll prolly be sometime after midnight, so prolly a good point to bail. Cool. Oh crap, wait a second. Are we… He immediately confirms my fear “Because we missed one of the extra scenes, we’ll be backing it up a little bit”. So now I’m watching less than 2 hours of this film, part of it twice? The lights go down, the screen comes up, and it’s the title credits again. Nope. I’m out. Gimme that voucher.

So I bailed, completely heartbroken. Seriously, couldn’t they have started the marathon at 11 instead of 1? Did no one see a problem with the uber late run time? I guess I didn’t break my “never left a movie early” streak, but now it’s “didn’t see every movie in a marathon” unless falling asleep at previous ones already broke that. I’ll prolly end up watching ROTK at home after my chores are done today. For the ones I did see, does that up my count of how many times I’ve seen them in theaters? Or is it a separate count cause they’re extended? Anyways, still really bummed I couldn’t get the full set in, but what I did see was still absolutely worth it. I’ll play closer attention to schedules and run times if the opportunity ever comes up again

21 Bridges

Black Friday morning is for shopping. Black Friday afternoon is for movies. Preferably something not requiring much brain power because I’m tired, especially after a super long day at Disney before waking up early to be at Target when it opens.

Chadwick Boseman is a cop in NYC. Bad guys kill some cops late at night, so in order to catch them before they get off the island, the island is shut down. No way in or out. Baddies are trapped. Cops go to work.

Watching this movie, it felt like something I woulda caught my dad viewing on tv. He prolly woulda really dug it. I found it incredibly lacking, despite the enormous potential. Shutting down all of NYC? Cool! Oh, but it’s just playing out like any other cop film, just a little faster. Hey that’s a lot of blood, but not a lot of creativity in the shots. Okay big shift in the story, that’ll help. Nope, now I just figured out all of the plot and can now call every beat before they happen. Awesome.

The cast was far better than the film deserved. Not only Chadwick Boseman but JK Simmons, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, all of them great. Just not doing anything too exciting. I really did like Boseman’s character, fiercely moral but no hesitation to do what’s required to get the job done. If he had a less hackneyed story to work with, it could have really been something great. Instead it almost felt like he’d just wandered into the wrong cop drama. I’m sure there’s a good one out there for him, but this wasn’t it.

I guess I got my mindless Black Friday film. Careful what you wish for I guess

21 Bridges – \m/ \m/ \n

Queen & Slim

The main reason I was excited to see this film was because it was written by Lena Waithe. I haven’t actually seen anything she wrote, but her reputation proceeds her with enough praise that I knew I’d be in for something good. Something timely and insightful and powerful. That’s exactly what we got.

Daniel Kaluuya is on a mediocre at best date with Jodie Turner-Smith. He’s driving her home, likely to never see her again once she leaves the car. Or so he thinks. They get pulled over by a shady cop. Things go south and the cop ends up dead. The near strangers now find themselves on the run together, an unwitting Bonnie and Clyde. But the reason this film is so powerful is that it’s less about the events unfolding on screen, and more about its greater context off screen.

Story wise, it’s pretty straightforward. The meat of it is in their relationship to each other and to the people they interact with. I found a beauty in the sense of community and support they were finding in the most unlikely places (the dance hall scene was particularly moving). The way their relationship evolved and grew was also beautiful. These two people who could barely tolerate each other one day became closer and closer and eventually couldn’t exist without the other. In any other story, this would be hailed as a sweet romance. It’s still a very romantic and sexy film, but that’s secondary to the social commentary.

I feel like I could keep talking about this for hours if I were to just let myself go back to the mindset I was in while I watched. But that’s a very heavy and devastating place to return to as I’m writing this on a lazy Saturday morning. Maybe it’s better to let you experience this film for yourself

Queen & Slim – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Frozen II

It was inevitable. Just like it’s inevitable that I’m gonna end up making a “Let It Go” joke somewhere in here. I’ll fight the urge.

Where we last left Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, Arendelle was no longer cut off from the world, and Elsa was no longer hiding her powers and her true self. The queendom was as happy as a little snowman or a reindeer with a carrot. Kristoff’s there too. Now, the elements are acting up, and Elsa’s hearing a strange singing voice, and it looks like it’s time for another life changing adventure!

The plot is a little less straightfoward than before, and it’s got a darker and heavier vibe to it. The songs were a bit clunky in how they were inserted, and it was like the Disney magic was stuck behind the dam that was central to the story. Keep in mind though how high the bar was from the first one. A little drop off was expected.

Still while not perfect, it was a very enjoyable film. The animation is beyond gorgeous, and Olaf made me laugh as much as ever with his far too insightful comments that are really there so the parents find him endearing instead of annoying. And even if I felt like the songs were shoehorned in a bit, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like them. I’ll be hitting up iTunes later this week for sure (despite the fact that they were clearly trying way too hard to top Let It Go).

All that said, there is one wrong from Frozen that was absolutely righted: Kristoff. As you may know, he’s voiced by Broadway treasure Jonathan Groff (affectionately dubbed Groffsauce by one Lin-Manuel Miranda). Despite being a Tony nominated actor, he barely got one song in the first movie that didn’t let him use the extend of his skillz. Frozen II fixes that. Frozen II gives him, wait for it, and 80’s power ballad complete with music video!!! I died. And I found what song I’ll be sneaking into theaters to watch over and over again, like I did with Let It Go back in the day. I don’t think that’s the breakout song the writers intended, and it likely won’t resonate with all the tiny princesses like it did with me, but dammit, that was my favorite three minutes in the movie

It may not have lived up to the impossible hype of Frozen, and I may have had an ultra critical eye as a result, but ultimately it was fun. The kids will like it. Good luck not having the music follow you around for the next few months, and expect a fresh onslaught of Elsa’s next Halloween

Frozen II – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I grew up in Mr Rogers Neighborhood. I remember watching him at home, at school, at Grandma’s house. Any time he was on, I was attentive. Last year, I went and saw the documentary about the man in the ‘hood, and I left there bawling. If what you want is a look into the man himself, then that doc is prolly what you’re looking for. If you want to look at the impact he has, then this movie is what you want.

Matthew Rhys is an investigative journalist who is given an assignment that is unusual for him: write a profile on Fred Rogers. What he finds is that Mr Rogers isn’t your typical subject. He’s far more interested in talking about his interviewer than himself, in being helpful than self promoting. What starts out as a quick meeting for a short interview turns into a life impacting friendship. In an inspired move, the story is framed as an episode of Mr Rogers, which leads to some clever surprises in storytelling.

Again, not a standard biopic. I’d argue not even a biopic in the slightest. You don’t learn anything new about Mr Rogers that you didn’t already know (esp if you saw last year’s doc). What you get instead is something more powerful. You see an illustration of the impact he had. Sure, it’s prolly exaggerated for dramatic effect but you essentially watch someone change their life for the better because they knew this great man. That illustration is much more powerful than mere words in a biopic could convey.

I seem to be burying the lede a little bit here. Fred Rogers is played by another American treasure: Tom Hanks. Hanks possesses the same gentle soul that drove Mr Rogers, and he plays him beautifully with the same patience and tenderness. You never look at him and see Fred, but you feel his presence throughout the film. It’s so moving.

This film isn’t quite what I expected, but it’s lovely nonetheless. If nothing else, I was happy to spend two hours in the neighborhood, even if it wasn’t in the way I thought.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n