My Two Cents*
*Actual value may vary
Alita: Battle Angel
The large, CGI-enhanced eyes of the main character draw viewers in to the delicately crafted, bleak world of Iron City filled with, you suspect, rich back stories around every corner. I wanted to hear them all. I should probably read the source material.
In many ways, Alita, just follows recent science regarding teenage brains — they feel and do everything more intensely than their older or younger compatriots — combined with a solid plot. And Alita is intense, almost every moment of the movie, from her innocence at the beginning to her anger and, later, deadly resolve. Reentry into the real world after the final, “middle finger” to what’s his face up in Zion (Hello sequel!?!) took some time. Fight scenes flow, as do the Rollerball scenes, which in 3d iMax left me feeling shocked and awed. We root for Alita because, deep down, Americans have always liked our heroes slightly augmented. And who can resist a fight against an unjust system run by an abusively powerful boss? AND teen romance? Phew. I'll go back for seconds when I recover from round one.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Sure, the whole debacle made us all chuckle from afar. However, this documentary (and the one by Hulu) lays bare the actual costs, and it’s anything but humorous. Mostly, it’s horrifying. Retold through deftly edited interviews and found footage, the doc’s narrative chops are strong. We witness it all unravel, fueled by infinite amounts of ego and denial. The film stops short of any broader implications of these two combustible ingredients (The White House? Brexit?), which left me wanting. I wanted answers as to why smart individuals so easily get duped when working in groups? How people can so quickly escape culpability? How do people become so malleably (and unable to act ethically) when money (like the balance of their fee) is held over them? I wanted introspection. Instead, we learn Billy is likely a sociopath — a master manipulator of wills — which, conveniently, absolves everyone (including the film makers, who did Fyre’s marketing) of responsibility. How nice for them.
I've never seen a Transformer movie. I probably wouldn't have seen this one either, except I saw the trailer for it so many times (thanks AMC-Pass!) I couldn't escape, my fate sealed. This prequel, taking place in the 80s, shows the beginning of the saga (which I know nothing about) and how Bumblebee lost his voice (which I didn't know he never had). I clearly missed all the Easter eggs, but it didn't detract from a solid if predictable plot, a female heroine who kicks butt, and what's his face playing the hot bad guy that (eventually) figures it out. Last, I might add. I dig the CGI, but found myself wondering more about how they transform and where everything goes more than the current predicament. So, like, does the muffler have the same function in car form as it does in upright form? How about the windshield wiper fluid?
Three Identical Strangers
Three brothers find each other; things do not go well. I'm struck by a few things. Man's inhumanity to man. Also, how people, “… just doing their job,” can so easily shed culpability. (This alone must be the source of so much suffering in the world.) Also, our penchant for overlooking data points that don’t support biased conclusions we prefer to tell ourselves. Finally, how sunlight really is the best disinfectant. Hopefully, through this movie, these families will find answers. I do think this doc settles the argument of nature v nurture: Nature matters, and is most evident in the physical, but nurture matters a whole lot more.
There’a metaphor here somewhere — of large municipalities gobbling up smaller municipalities, plundering the environment in a never ending quest to survive — that lives deep in the boughs of a plot decorated with creepy, archetypical characters, a “tough-girl-I-won’t-let-you-in” love story, and CGI. So, so much CGI. I got the sense the world of Mortal Engines was rich and filled with stories; the movie alludes to them. However, they exist beyond the scope of this two hour sojourn and given the overall production, it’s likely we’ll never know them.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
The basic gist -- a quest into the modern internet (complete with jokes about us and our consumption of it) -- acts as the infrastructure for an interesting morality tale about neediness, insecurity, and the difficulties of changing circumstances and relationships. It's a lot to unpack for young audiences, but what comes across clearly is our changing attitudes about who needs saving: in this case, it's the boy. The show's female characters are all badasses, including the often hapless Disney princesses now recast as modern, awesome women. It's good to see Disney change, while poking fun of itself in the process.
This feel good movie does well at depicting the harsh realities of the foster system and the children caught up in it. It walks many lines deftly, managing to show varying perspectives of complex issues and practices. It shies away from little, at times charging into uncomfortable territory politle folks keep to themselves. Wahlberg (over the top) and Notaro's (very dry) humor disarm many of these scenes, but they stick with you. It ends in a romantic, Hollywood-celebration after an emotionally charged climax, which feels slapped on by a movie studio and a sugar-coating of what these children and parents will likely face. The message, however, is clear: Being a foster or adoptive parent is one of the greatest, selfless acts of our time. Only the strongest even dare.
Anna And The Apocalypse
A holiday, romantic, zombie comedy musical, complete with teen agnst? Yes, please! Sure, mostly everyone dies and the movie ends without a lesson learned or a solution found, but did I mention it's a musical?
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald
Magic! Adventure! CGI! Cleverness! More CGI! Another series!?! Jesus. The love story at the center between the two main characters is a charming draw, plus we're all wondering how this series will tie into the original Harry Potter books. Who's Harry's relative?! Tell us! Grindelwald's racism (against muggles) is all too familiar, pushing this fantasy squarely into our reality. Escapism it's not, but that's always been the sly trick of the series -- a bait and switch under clever Latin utterances and whiz-bangry. The movie pauses rather than ends. You might call it a cliffhanger, but the dude blows up the cliff. Yah, we get it. Wait for the run to complete before opting into an unsatisfying long wait.
A "touching" take about a guy with clear brain damage climbing a mountain without ropes. Spoiler alert: he survives, but the stunning videography still tweaks your nerves the entire time. The story of his girlfriend and ethical dilemma facing the camera crew add unexpected depth, becoming the actual story since you're pretty sure he lives. What he achieved was amazing, clearly, but let’s not forget the cold fact something is wrong with him. That, we should not celebrate. He’ll likely be dead by 40, like others of his ilk, leaving a wake of grief and questions regarding how and why someone would or could do this unanswered.
The movie begins with an abundance of slap-stick humor clearly, meant to engage and disarm younger brains. However, it quickly turns more serious, teaching us that questioning old beliefs and seeking Truth are noble and just causes no matter how unpleasant the journey or result might turn out. Accompanying this are mega-doses of perspective shifting -- showing how to opposing perspectives can co-exist, both wrong and both correct. Let's also not forget the plot supporting these surprisingly deep themes - a story about a human and yeti learning from one another. The religious and hardline anti-immigrant among us need not see this flick, because its lesson is pretty clear and you're not going to like it.
As origin stories go, this wasn’t a bad one. The bad guys are really, really bad, and the good guys are, well, hungry. Some plot points require a pretty big gulp, but overall it’s a fun ride with a relentless pace that keeps moving through the entire movie. It ends as expected with big, flashing signs suggesting sequel.
A Simple Favor
A smart, roller-coaster tale of love, death, and money too bizarre to be true, which it isn't, despite the filmmakers suggesting otherwise. Witty dialogue adorns the delicately crafted plot, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively shine in the roles seemingly tailored made for them. An excellent soundtrack accompanies, and the loud music choices pair nicely with the simmering action. A must-see for fans of either Anna or Blake, or just those who appreciate a good yarn.
This movie doesn’t break new ground or say anything not already said. It’s still enjoyable as hell watching Jennifer Gardner kick ass and wreak holy revenge on the bad guys. The ending pleases and surprises, leaving room for a sequel which everyone will surely watch and then judge harsher because the main character is a woman.
The title makes no sense, sure, but the movie is still a fun tale of a woman finding her way — shedding a pretty insufferable guy and existence in the process. Anyone would be attracted to Hawk’s character given the audio effect "Sultry But Conflicted Past Rocker," used throughout the movie to great effect, which would cause any sane person to ignore the wreckage of his character’s life and swoon. That said, it’s still a great tale about life, mistakes, and growing up. I like how it ends, hopeful but not explicitly so. The lesson, we can muck up in our past but that doesn’t ensure a ruined future, is a good one. Also, hidden deep are potent points about what art means to the artist and fan, how they can differ, and how mutually exclusive perspectives can be both correct. Art (and life) can be complex stuff.
The filmmakers did an excellent job expressing the scale of the world early humans barely knew, so vast as to be infinite, and the many dangers our species faced in its early days. It is humbling to think of a time when we participated in the food chain, as opposed to dominating it. But the casting is unlikely and the dialogue (told in sub-title) feels like cheating. Did these people really communicate using complex sentence structure, all the while communicating very abstract and complex ideas regarding leadership? I have doubts. But I like dogs, so I'm pleased things worked out.
The Happytime Murders
A crude, simplistic story that's technically impressive, and even sorta funny. Just make sure your inner 13 year old is who watches the movie, because pretty much any other inner age will be disappointed in how you spend your time.
I'm for any movie that shows how black Americans are and have been treated in this country. It's shocking to hear this vitriol coming at you. The white, racists are portrayed as backwards, simple, and clinging to a world order rapidly evaporating. Little has changed from the movie's time to now. The main characters, acting as one, engage in the most delightful shenanigans. The parts of the story that stick center around them and their difficult conversations. The bomb sub-plot? A dud.
Growing up is bad. We get it. Working too much is bad for your marriage. No shit. I think if a magic talking bear (and friends) living in an entirely alternate universe accessed through a stump were part of my childhood, I wouldn't grow up to be such a pill. Still, the movie's antics are enjoyable and the animation engaging. You see the catharsis coming four miles off, but whatever. The bad boss gets it and the worker(s) saves the day! It's all very charming. Just save yourself a huge amount of hassle and don't grow up.
The Darkest Minds
Studios are so desperate for the next teen series to squeeze. This will not be it, unfortunately, because the rich, sci-fi backstory has potential. The angsty, teenage feelings of love and betrayal take center stage and feel pretty rote. I get it, hormones. And ticket sales. Also adults are bad, which is true from a teen's perspective whether you have superpowers or not. Did the movie end, or did they just stop filming? I don't remember.
Sorry to Bother You
A brutal satire of the economy, technology creep, and the black experience in America. The movie comes at you fast, is messy, all over the place, and taking it literally will lead to disappointment. However none of that doesn't detracts from its blistering critique.
The Shape of Water
Turns out the past is heavily saturated and highly contrasted. The sets are magnificently decorated. For those fans of Bio Shock (a computer first person shooter), everything will feel familiar. Some of the themes are pretty familiar too -- women not respected and ignored, men too proud and warlike to figure anything meaningful out, gay discrimination, Communist witch-hunts. The main character, so put off by her own species (and who can blame her) turns to a fish-like creature for companionship. Fortunately, the details of their coupling are left to our imaginations, but the message remains clear: In a world built by men, swimming with the fishes is absolutely preferable.