Category: reviews

Nine Tweets About LITTLE WOMEN

beach

1. Greta Gerwig made a perfect thing. If I had actually written that “best-of 2019” list, right now I’d be flinging it dramatically into the flames.

2. LOVED the time-shifting storyline. Culminating with cross-cutting to the publisher during the happy ending which was *chef’s kiss* Also: the cinematography. I wanted to eat the beach scene with a spoon.

3. Seriously I’d be very happy to see it win Best Picture (it won’t) and Best Adapted Screenplay (it’d better).*

4. I think one reason I loved LITTLE WOMEN so much is that it is probably the only Best Pic nominee (of those I’ve seen) that is aspirational. Given the preoccupations of the other nominees, and our current real-world hellscape, it feels like a balm.

5. No one’s in danger of getting shot. No one wallows in dysfunction. The stakes are fulfillment/self-actualization vs. conforming and settling.

6. It’s full of kindnesses. Neighbors look out for each other. The lonely are befriended. Wrongs are forgiven. Kind gestures are reciprocated.

7. Even the ‘antagonist’ characters are just people with different opinions who are doing their best. And after blundering around and making mistakes, most of the characters end up where they ought to be.

8. I like movies that explore the stakes of the everyday. People trying to figure out how to live. (It’s why I’m so often on here evangelizing about HOLIDAY, one of my favorite films) And dammit, I like happy endings. So? Also I’m a big sissy and think everybody should be nice.

9. On that note, see also: A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Nice to see so much of Chris Cooper lately.)


*Nope. Taika got it for JOJO RABBIT. Which I haven’t seen. Not in protest, you understand. But since I didn’t see it, I won’t render an opinion here about how Greta obviously got robbed.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

Consumption: 2019

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 3.25.10 PM

I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. It only reflects things seen for the first time; “POLTERGEIST was on again” doesn’t make the list. There are plenty of 2019 releases I haven’t gotten to yet. Of the films I did see, here are some noteables:

THE LIGHTHOUSE brought the crazy. Dafoe, Pattinson and director David Eggers deliver absolutely everything one could ask for in a two-guys-go-nuts-in-a-lighthouse movie. Shot on vintage cameras in black-and-white in 1.55 AR Claustro-vision.

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD was my favorite Tarantino in a long time. 2018’s THE FAVOURITE was another, uh… favorite. Ditto for THE FAREWELL. Awkwafina, so good. Lulu Wang, so good. Most of PARASITE is watching grifters build a Jenga tower of lies and wondering when and how it’s gonna fall, and that = a good time at the movies! Meanwhile, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER was an imperfect end to an imperfect saga. I cried anyway.

What’s on TV? Well, I finally saw KLUTE. TCM, thank you. Jane Fonda, holy shit. They don’t make movies like this anymore; do they? Watching films from the 70s you realize how sanitized and smug most mainstream movies are now. We’re backsliding.

Also caught FIRST REFORMED on video. Paul Schrader’s still got the goods, and brings ’em. AT ETERNITY’S GATE features Willem Dafoe again, this time as Van Gogh. Heartbreaking and beautiful. In its own way, so was RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET… and it feels like this one kinda got overlooked. It’s endlessly clever, has great visuals, and an emotionally affecting core all about friendships and how they can change.

Marvel recently announced they will do a superhero movie centered on a gay character. But, they already have CAPTAIN MARVEL! I mean, come on…

If you like docs, TICKLED dives into the weird world of “competitive endurance tickling.” You’ll want to shower after. Also finally caught up with Berlinger and Sinofsky‘s 1992 doc BROTHER’S KEEPER – riveting. Highly recommended.

On the series side of things, I liked HBO’s “Dead to Me.” Great performances, and the first episode delivered not one but two A+ OMG moments. Held up throughout the season, too. Season 3 of “The Crown” introduced an entirely new cast without a hiccup. If I ever write anything as perfect and delightful as the last two scenes of episode 5 (“Coup”) I can hang up my mouse and die happy.

Adult Swim’s “Primal” was an amazing, totally dialogue-free animated series about a caveman and his dinosaur. The season (series?) finale may be the goriest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. “Undone” (Amazon) was another fine adult animated show. Come for the mind-bending premise and trippy visuals, stay for the writing and performances.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Mary Poppins Returns
Welcome to Marwen
The Favourite
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Vice
The Kid Who Would Be King – Every boy in this movie has chapped lips. England’s cold.
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Apollo 11
High Life – Infuriating “art movie.” Somebody explain to me why this wasn’t terrible.
Pill Head
Avengers: Endgame
Booksmart
Toy Story 4
Yesterday
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
The Farewell
Ad Astra
The Lighthouse
Parasite
Terminator: Dark Fate
Knives Out – My mom would have loved this movie. I loved it too.
Frozen 2
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Mary Poppins
Obvious Child
Avengers: Infinity War
First Reformed
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Eighth Grade
The First Monday In May
At Eternity’s Gate
Vox Lux
The Peanuts Movie
Blackboard Jungle
Victoria & Abdul
Lean On Pete
Where The Boys Are (1960)
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Swim Team
The Invitation (2015)
Clouds Of Sils Marias
Miracle Mile
Spiderman: Homecoming
The General (1926)
Brother’s Keeper (1992)
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Wendy And Lucy
Late Night – Needed a rewrite
Captain Marvel
Klute
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Thunder Road
I Lost My Body
Marriage Story – Alan Alda, MVP
Rocketman – Bohemian Rhapsody ain’t brilliant, but still better than this mopey pity party
Tickled
Empire of Dreams

TELEVISION
Supergirl
Mom
The Orville
Russian Doll
Better Things
What We Do In The Shadows
Archer: 1999
Game of Thrones
Shrill
Dead To Me
Barry
The Great British Baking Show
The Good Place
Fleabag
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
Undone
Bless This Mess
The Crown
Catastrophe
A Year In Space
Mike Birbiglia: The New One – Delivered to me my single biggest belly laugh of 2019
Rick and Morty
Encore
The Mandalorian

###

Consumption: 2017

logan-casino2

I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. As always, it only reflects things seen for the first time. “POLTERGEIST on TV, 14th viewing” doesn’t make the list. Nor do films not viewed in their entirety, for example, Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which got ejected from the Blu-Ray player after 15 minutes. I’d never seen Henry Cavill in anything before but he seems to emit some kind of anti-charisma particle.

I didn’t bother making a numbered best-of list this year. But if I had, LOGAN would be at the top. It’s perfect. Damn you James Mangold, for making me cry at your Wolverine movie.

Some of my other favorite releases of 2017 include THE BEGUILED, COCO, ATOMIC BLONDE, THOR: RAGANOK, and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. Of course, DUNKIRK was impressive – but cold, as is Christopher Nolan’s way. MOTHER! is a movie, alright. Darren Aronofsky swings for the fences. And whatever you think of the film, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfieffer were very good. The BLADE RUNNER sequel was amazing, and very nearly great: only Jared Leto’s messianic super-villain seemed out of place, like a character from a different, dumber movie. THE LAST JEDI: wonderful, about 50% of the time. The compelling Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline almost makes up for how they couldn’t find anything interesting for Poe, Finn, or Rose to do. (Yeah I get that the casino plot is a critique of capitalism and arms dealers and yes intellectually that’s interesting for a Star Wars movie but dramatically it was a big bag of nothing and visually it looked cheap & reminded me of the prequels and like this sentence that movie is too long.)

Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Manchester by the Sea
Elle
La-La Land
Logan
Get Out
Life
Pollyanna
Colossal
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (live from the Old Vic)*
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Baby Driver
The Beguiled
Dunkirk
Atomic Blonde
Dave Made A Maze
Dawson City: Frozen Time
The Big Sick
mother!
Blade Runner 2049
Spoor (Pokot)
Suburbicon
Thor: Ragnarok
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lady Bird
Coco  (saw it January ’18)

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
The Jungle Book (2016)
The Nice Guys
Shadow of a Doubt
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Handmaiden
The Trip (Steve Coogan, not Dennis Hopper)
Back To The Future III
Eat Pray Love
The Meyerowitz Stories
Hidden Figures
Passengers
Bullitt
The Godfather (pretty good! why didn’t anyone tell me about this flick sooner?)
Personal Shopper

TELEVISION
Travelers
Westworld
Orphan Black
Modern Family
Incorporated
New Girl
The Good Place
The Expanse
Supergirl
Better Things
Game of Thrones
Girls
Mom
Downward Dog
I Love Dick
Odd Mom Out
The Orville
Star Trek: Discovery
POV: What Tomorrow Brings
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Other People’s Trades – Primo Levi
Broken Frontier (graphic novel) – Various
Lightspeed Magazine – Various
A whole bunch of screenplays

*I am calling this a movie. I saw it at a movie theater. Harry Potter guy was in it. It counts.

12 tweets about FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

beasts

  1. Caught FANTASTIC BEASTS & ETC over the weekend. Despite a few moments I liked, I’d still rate the experience as “mostly unpleasant”
  2. So, Eddie Redmayne. Is there a reason he played the lead as a creepy weirdo? Or, is he just a creepy weirdo?
  3. Also there’s a dour missionary-type char. who hands out anti-wizard leaflets & mistreats her pack of creepy orphans. Ick.
  4. Colin Farrell, villain, is trying to steal one orphan away for evil purposes. He meets him in dark alleys and hug & caresses him a lot. Ick.
  5. Colin’s big villain monologue: he doesn’t want magic to be a secret. As evil plans go, not super compelling. On his side, kinda
  6. In this universe it’s REALLY important regular people don’t learn magic people exist. Witnesses get mind-erased a la MEN IN BLACK…
  7. Nevertheless there’s a huge skyscraper full of wizards/magical stuff right in dwntwn NY. Sure hope nobody walks in looking for DMV or whatev
  8. Not a Potter fan so this went over my head but at the end SPOILER? Colin Farrell turns into Johnny Depp w/an Aryan Nation haircut.
  9. Look for him in the sequel, I guess
  10. I did like subplot lumpy bakery guy, who falls in love with cute floozy sister-wizard. Anytime I didn’t have to look at Redmayne = +.
  11. So. Much. CGI. This is virtually an animated film w live-action elements. Climax is an exhausting light-show of black clouds & lightning.
  12. Act 3: one vial of memory eraser (b)rain-washes all NYC. Wave a wand, devastated city reassembles. Ho-hum. Magic sure makes things easy.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

6 tweets about COLOSSAL

COLOSSAL poster

  1. Given COLOSSAL’s fun premise, the film that unfolds is not quite the romp you might expect.‬
  2. COLOSSAL puts Kaiju monsters & indie-film slackers into a genre blender. Like many smoothies the result is a bit lumpy & faintly sour
  3. The lumps: Characters poorly defined. Plot threads meander. Some end abruptly and add little. Even the monster origin story is half-baked.
  4. The sour: characters aren’t typical indiefilm losers. Not clever/charismatic enough. The range is more like “pathetic” to “pathological”
  5. Premise pulls you through the rough patches, even as COLOSSAL turns darker. One scene evokes mass carnage without showing a drop of blood.
  6. And as stakes rise, COLOSSAL rallies. The film deploys its cleverest notion near the end, delivering a satisfying resolution.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

6 tweets about LIFE (the movie, not the existential dilemma)

Ryan Reynolds in LIFE

  1. LIFE is not a bad movie, but it’s a B-movie. ‪#LIFEmovie‬ ‪#rental‬
  2. So yeah, if you liked the trailer that’s what the movie is. No more, no less.
  3. There IS a long, lovely single-take intro that’s maybe the best zero-g scene ever in a space movie
  4. There’s also a major action scene toward the end that just doesn’t work very well, IMO
  5. But there’s tension/suspense, gross-outs & scares. Things zip along in a 10-little-Indians way that can’t help but remind you of ALIEN.
  6. The ending (SPOILER!) reminded me of the ’70s when big studio pictures more often than not went “tails” at the end instead of “heads”

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

Consumption: 2016

Hell Or High Water posterI’ve kept an annual list of films, TV and books every year since 2014. This year I’m going to add a ranked list of my favorite films of 2016 as well. My list is better than all the other “top 10” lists, because… mine goes to eleven.

1. Hell Or High Water
2. Manchester By The Sea
3. Moonlight
4. Arrival
5. American Honey
6. Certain Women
7. Deadpool
8. Toni Erdmann
9. Don’t Think Twice
10. Zootopia
11. Moana

The above ranking obviously doesn’t include pictures I haven’t seen yet, and that’s a list of its own that includes THE HANDMAIDEN, SILENCE, SING STREET, PATERSON, HIDDEN FIGURES, FENCES, and JACKIE. I’m working on it.

Below is a complete list of everything I saw in 2016. As always, the list only reflects things seen for the very first time. If I came across JAWS or GROUNDHOG DAY or YOU’VE GOT MAIL already in progress on TV and sat there like a zombie through ’til the end, well, that’s not considered worthy of note. What is worthy of note: ZOOLANDER 2 is so very, very bad it makes you feel stupid for having liked the first one. THE LOBSTER is the other movie I regret having made the effort to go see in the theater. I’ll give it points for originality, I guess. Then I’ll take those points back for being a miserable, cruel, misbegotten thing.

Linked titles will take you to either my review or more information on a particular film.

MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Room
Hail, Caesar!
Anomalisa
Creed
Zoolander 2
Deadpool
My Name Is Doris
Don’t Think Twice
The Lobster
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words
Star Trek Beyond
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Pete’s Dragon (2016)
Hell Or High Water
Toni Erdmann
American Honey
Arrival
Certain Women
Moana
Moonlight
Rogue One
20th Century Women

MOVIES ON THE SMALL SCREEN
What We Do In The Shadows
Spotlight
Amira & Sam
Today’s Special
Prisoners
Captain America: The First Avenger
Shaun The Sheep Movie
The Libeled Lady
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Amy
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Zootopia
Jack Reacher
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels
The Visitor
Finding Dory
Sicario
Lassie Come Home
Chappie
The Shop Around The Corner
Swiss Army Man

TELEVISION
Orphan Black
Togetherness (RIP)
Archer
Modern Family
New Girl
Jessica Jones
The Expanse
Supergirl
The Mindy Project
Odd Mom Out
Moone Boy
Stranger Things
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Better Things
The Good Place
Game of Thrones
Girls
Westworld

BOOKS and OTHER READING
Devotion – Dani Shapiro
60 or so screenplays for the Austin Film Festival competition

12 tweets about ZOOTOPIA

Judy Hopps in peril in ZOOTOPIA

  1. Obviously ZOOTOPIA is allegory for race/crime issues that are very top-of-mind in America right now.
  2. Gutsy to take on this theme in a “kids’ movie.” If this film is even that.
  3. I squirmed during the confrontation after Judy’s speech; Nick (the fox) leaning in: “are you afraid of me?”
  4. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the scene. It’s kind of amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbbdW4wVo6o
  5. So yeah, prejudice… But, using animals to tell the story puts a whole ‘nother layer on ZOOTOPIA, doesn’t it?
  6. Just kind of astonishing seeing a Disney movie using talking animals to take on nature red in tooth and claw.
  7. Here’s a global media empire built largely on drawing cute animals that act like people. Imagery so commonplace in our culture we hardly think about it.
  8. And now they make a movie that says, “think about it.”
  9. “Think how we sentimentalize animals, and how that insulates us from the natural world.”
  10. “Also: think about what they eat. And what you eat.”
  11. Apparently everyone in ZOOTOPIA lives on berries, ice cream, and donuts. There must be a lot of hungry, malnourished lions and bears there.
  12. ZOOTOPIA doesn’t address the topic of vegetarianism overtly. in fact, they carefully avoid the issue. But it’s there.

I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

 

Beyond Recognition

Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto in STAR TREK BEYOND

Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto in STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek, we need to talk. We’ve had a lot of good times. But we’re both in such different places now. I’ve grown. You’ve shrunk.

I never saw INTO DARKNESS. After STAR TREK (2009) I decided to save myself the aggravation. But I was one of the hopeful fans who’d heard STAR TREK BEYOND would be the course-correction the series needed. I got burned again.

Initial reports that this one “got it right” were probably based on a few quiet scenes between McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). The casting has always been the best thing about these reboot movies, and indeed, here they kinda get the dynamic: Spock and McCoy bicker but underneath we can tell they respect each other. Fine. The bar is pretty low if we’re pleased with 10 minutes of chit-chat amid two hours of frenetic nonsense.

I won’t waste anyone’s time with a plot synopsis, but BEYOND kicks off with Kirk whining into his Captain’s log that he’s basically bored (what) with the routine (WHAT) of his 5-year mission. Exploring strange new worlds and boldly going has apparently become a big drag. I wanted to slap Chris Pine. Imagine original series Shatner/Kirk expressing this. It would never have happened. Here, the reboot (or “Kelvin timeline,” if you must) gets fundamental traits of both Kirk and the franchise wrong. This scene was Star Trek putting itself on the psychiatrist couch, trying to diagnose its own malaise. It’s not you, Jim: it’s the scripts.

But J.J. Abrams (director on the first two reboot pics, producer on BEYOND) has never respected the source material. He’s never treated Star Trek like anything more than a gig. He said he tried to watch the original series but “couldn’t get into it.” So he ripped it to shreds and picked out the bits that looked shiny to him. The end result is some kind of assemblage that only vaguely resembles Trek. In this metaphor I think Abrams is either some kind of primitive folk artist or maybe a crow.

But if you like movies made by crows, there’s plenty of shiny bits here to keep you busy. Kirk rides a motorcycle! The Enterprise gets smashed (again), and then the crew blows up the bad guys with an old Beastie Boys tape! Neat! And director Justin Lin never, ever, ever stops moving the camera.

In a rare quiet moment near the end of the film, Spock pulls out a picture of the original cast (from WRATH OF KHAN, I believe) and silently gazes upon it. More soul-searching, maybe: “where did we go wrong?”

Star Trek, I came back to you. I thought you’d changed. I thought maybe it could be like it was before, when we were both younger. But I got hurt again. So this is goodbye.

At least until May, when Discovery debuts.


I’m @giantspecks on Twitter. Occasionally Yelling About Movies #YabtM with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back!

Less

I’ve long favored films that feature smart, articulate characters battering each other with words. I like screwball comedies. I like Judd Apatow. I adore BROADCAST NEWS and I’m a sucker for an Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk.

It’s not hard to understand the hegemony of dialogue-driven, plot-heavy films. Movies begin with screenplays, and screenplays come from writers. But to proceed from the written word can push a visual medium towards acting like literature. Or radio theater.

These days, I’m finding myself more exhilarated by films that act like something else. Movies that move less, and linger more. Where characters may follow smaller dramatic arcs, but they are more finely observed. Films like Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT, Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK (or last year’s AMERICAN HONEY), and Kelly Reichardt’s CERTAIN WOMEN.

Lily Gladstone in Kelly Reichardt's CERTAIN WOMEN

Lily Gladstone in Kelly Reichardt’s CERTAIN WOMEN

I will admit to some see-sawing in my seat during CERTAIN WOMEN. The film teetered on the line for me at times, probably crossing it during Michelle Williams’ arid little segment. But then Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone came along and more than redeemed things. Their silent horseback ride may be the most sublime thing that happened at the movies last year.

AMERICAN HONEY is probably an hour too long, and it doesn’t have an ending. But I kind of loved it. Even if at some points I felt like I was trapped in that van with those kids. Road trips require patience, and a taste for staring out the window just watching things go by. Your mileage no doubt may vary. But really, any film unspools as a collaboration between the filmmaker and you, the viewer. The less that happens onscreen, the more time there is to ponder what does. The question is, how much work do you want to do? How active a collaborator do you want to be?

In the past year I’ve also been catching up with the work of the late Chantal Akerman. After JEANNE DIELMAN (3 hrs 45!) and JE TU IL ELLE, I’m thinking Akerman may have gone too far toward rarefaction. With her long, static takes and prolonged silences, her narratives advance in such tiny increments they sometimes feel like a dare. I watched both films in a state of amazement, commingled with boredom and antagonism.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels

Enduring a three-minute shot of woman’s back as she scrubbed a bathtub, I  wondered if I’d be a hopeless philistine if I called bullshit and turned the damned thing off (I didn’t, and made it all the way to the meager, if startling, climax of JEANNE DIELMAN). Akerman’s films are like homeopathy, there’s so little there. And like homeopathy, if you feel like they are working, it’s probably all in your mind.


I’m John Harden. I also write and direct. I’m on Twitter as @giantspecks, sometimes Yelling About Movies with my friends. Come say hi. Or yell back! #YabtM