Lady Bird

Lady Bird ticketstubThis seems like the sort of movie I would like, a teenager dealing with life and love and growing up, I'm into it and I'd heard good things about it. I believe it takes place around 2003 over the course of a year in the life of Christine, who wants everyone to call her "Lady Bird." This is her thing. She wants to be her own person who stands out from the crowd, while also, trying to fit into a crowd. She also desperately doesn't want to stay in California for college, so that's her big motivation, find a way to get out of Sacramento and out to the east coast. She has relationships, she tries theater and she lies. She lies a lot. About everything. This is also a movie about Lady Bird's relationship with her mother, and this is one of those things that bugs me, not about the movie, but about this sort of familial relationship. When parents aren't proud of their kids for anything, when there isn't praise, or love expressed. It's all about how the kid isn't good enough, is going to fail, needs to set their expectations low... but it's also a very real relationship, and certainly difficult for a young person to navigate while trying to discover their own selves.

The movie does all of these things well. The acting is wonderful, the music brings me back to that time, it's well shot, it's funny, I think my biggest disappointment is that it didn't move me. It may just be me, I certainly heard sniffles and sighs around me in the theater, and maybe the mother daughter relationship is the experience I'm missing. So it's a good movie, but maybe not as much a movie for me as I was hoping.


Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ticketstubIn case anyone was wondering what Thor (and Hulk) were up to during the events of Captain America: Civil War well, here you go. Asgard is threatened by the powerful Hela, and Thor must form alliances to defend his home. What stands out to me most is that the stakes in this movie are relatively high, the destruction of all Asgardians and potentially, the loss of the other nine worlds and more, but this is actually a very light-hearted movie filled with genuinely funny scenes. Lots of jokes and sick-burns and sight-gags and physical comedy (which I don't normally like, but works pretty well here). So understand, this is a fun movie with great action sequences and very little emotion and pretty much nothing dark. There are actually situations that, I think, are meant to be dark, but the comedic tone everywhere else overpowers those darker scenes and dilutes their effectiveness. I think I was too busy laughing to mourn the loss of the seriousness this movie might have had. So that's it really. Thor is a lot of fun, go check it out for that, and maybe to fill in some more of the Marvel Universe goings-ons.


The Foreigner

The Foreigner ticketstubA summary of this movie reads a lot like Taken, a man with a past as a trained operative goes on a revenge mission against those who took his daughter from him. One of the main differences in this movie, though, are the political impacts and dealings happening parallel to Quan's search for the names of those responsible. Bronson is the Irish politician with an IRA past who Quan, played by Jackie Chan, threatens to get the names of the bombers. Both do an amazing job, but I think most notable is Chan in a dramatic role in a Western movie. There isn't a moment of comedy or camp anywhere to be seen. Just grief, and drive to find those responsible, and it's almost chilling. I would say the only thing that bugged me is the difference between the slow moving old man we see in the beginning of the movie, and the trained fighter we see later. Are we supposed to believe that Quan has kept up his training and works out regularly, but no one knows he's got skills? And I wasn't clear if he was an agent of the United States or just known by the US. I guess what I'm saying is that I wasn't entirely sold by Quan's background, but the movie was still good. Tense. Maybe a little too much watching people talking on phones. If you're looking to scratch a "serious action movie" itch, I think this would work for you.


Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 ticketstubMuch of what I expect is conversation-worthy about this movie comes from the major plot points and twists, so I won't be discussing those. What I can say, is that this movie is very pretty, very visual, designed in a way to make it all feel real and lived in. You can see the evolution from where we are now with technology, to the technologies presented in the movie... well, most of them. We haven't quite figured out synthetic organisms on the scale of cats and dogs and humans. The score also felt like an evolution from the synthesizers of the original movie to the synth mixed with the heavy rumbles found in many modern films. The action scenes felt familiar, brutal, like every fight is a desperate struggle for survival, which made for some very intense sequences. Again, taking cues from the original movie, 2049 gives the viewer plenty of room to breathe and take in the scenery. Long slow shots that give you time to live in this world, to imagine yourself walking down that street, or flying over the city. It's very effective for immersion and pacing. I would say I liked the movie, it worked really well and it very much felt like it followed from the original movie. I'm just not sure I loved it, and I can't quite tell you why.



It ticketstubAs horror movies go, It is pretty damned good. It has a setting in the late '80s, early '90s, so it hits that nostalgia bone for people around my age. It's about a demon (or something) that takes the form of a clown in order to feed on fear, and therefore, the movie is made up of terrifying scenarios. It has great effects and some satisfying jump-scares and just the right amount of reality. What I think makes this film extra scary, though, are not the horrible terrifying scenarios Pennywise puts the characters through to terrorize them, but the things the people of this town do to each other, largely in the form of abusive parents and sadistic bullies. These kids go through so much at home and at school and in-between, some of it breaks them, some of it makes them stronger (as something to fight back against). But honestly, those scenes, where people are being horrible to each other, is what caused me the most discomfort.

As a production, the movie is put together well, has a smooth escalating build to a finale, is filled with horror scenarios that, while fairly common themes in horror, are satisfying for what they are, and uses believable characters in the children that have clearly been through some shit and are flawed as a result, but overcome all that to become heroes (if unrecognized by the town). You really want to cheer for these characters and every time they stumble you feel that letdown, but you feel confident they will eventually get up and do what needs to be done. It works really well. And, by that I mean, It works really well. Note, this is a hard R rating. There is graphic violence and gore and tons of F-bombs and various forms of child abuse. I felt really uncomfortable about the 8 year olds sitting behind me in the theater.


Spider-man: Homecoming

Spider-man: Homecoming ticketstubHey look, another Spider-man movie! Hey look, a Spider-man movie that isn't an origin story!!! Now there's something to be excited about. What makes this version of Spider-man different, (besides the lack of an overt origin story) is that he actually appears to be a kid in high school, and in fact, a fair bit of the movie takes place in high school. I'm not a real stickler for the importance of movies adhering to their source material, but the character and setting do feel more honest when portrayed as a teenager doing teenager things. In this case, Peter Parker's real drive isn't to save the world, it's be accepted by the Avengers, and by Tony Stark in particular. He wants them to take him seriously, he wants them to not treat him like the kid he clearly still is. In the process of trying to prove himself, he stumbles across a gang of arms dealers selling weapons made from alien scrap. Peter's struggle is between being the normal "good" teen trying to get through high school and hopefully attract the attention of the girl he's crushing on, and, as they say, using his powers for good. He wants to help and protect people, and he doesn't like being kept on the sidelines where he feels wasted and useless.

Yes, okay, but is this a good Spider-man movie? I would give an emphatic yes on that. In fact, I think it may be the best Spider-man movie yet. It is a little slow, and it's not huge and stakes don't feel near apocalyptic, but I kind of like that. We tight focus on Peter and his beginnings as the Spider-man. He still seems kind of clumsy and he is clearly still trying to figure out the ins-and-outs of being a superhero. There's some comedy and maybe a tiny dash of campy-ness, but mostly it feels sincere. It also makes numerous connections to the Avengers, so it has a bunch of comfy touch points along the way. This is an easy recommend for me.


The Big Sick

The Big Sick ticketstubThis movie follows the beginnings of the relationship between stand-up comic Kumail, and graduate student Emily. Over several weeks, the relationship develops, but it comes out that Kumail, a Pakistani, has not told his parents that he's dating a white woman for fear that his family will disown him. Shortly after this argument, Emily gets sick and is very quickly put into a medically induced coma.

This could have been a typical romantic comedy, but to me, The Big Sick feels fresh and challenges the audience to consider how cultural differences can impact a relationship, and the importance of understanding and communicating. We're also dealing with the role of parents, how valuable they are to us, but also the importance of recognizing when you need to put your own happiness before theirs.

I have been listening to Kumail and Emily on podcasts for years, and I have heard Emily explain the real life story from her perspective and it's all very moving and relevant, I think. Seeing Kumail's perspective, both as a man trying to navigate his familial relationships and his love for Emily, all mixed in with his clever observations as a comic helped to give this movie a fresh feel. It was funny and moving and I had feelings...and lots of tears, and it felt wonderful. If you like romantic comedies (and modern trends in comedy), I think you will really love this movie. If you just like good movies with lots to make you feel things, then I also think you'll enjoy this.


War for the Planet of the Apes

Unlike the previous two movies, War is presented entirely from the perspective of the apes. We only know what they know and when they don't know what's going on, neither do we. This helps to persist the swing of sympathy from the humans in Rise to the apes in War and I found it very effective. I think we all saw this coming, but by this movie we are very much on the side of the apes and we see humans as the brutal animals. The events in this movie also bring us closer to the events and timeline as presented in the original series of Planet of the Apes movies.

My body was tensed through the entire movie, even when there wasn't action on screen. The emotion and character and heart demonstrated by the apes was incredible, and conveyed through the most amazing facial expressions I've seen on screen. It's interesting how the faces of the ape characters seemed so much more expressive than any human actor I've seen. I don't know if this is a testament of the advancement of facial motion capture technology, or the motion capture actors, in a way, over-acting to better convey those expressions, but whatever it was, it worked amazingly well.

My only criticism is that the story is very simple. Caesar wants to save his people and get revenge for what humans have done to him and his family. There is a minor B-story and that's it. We're not intertwining multiple stories of any complexity, and I think that helped to keep the focus on the characters and watching their emotional journey. It works well. I was also rather surprised by the lack of graphic violence. Not to say that there isn't violence, it's just most of it happens off-screen or when it does happen on-screen, it isn't all that graphic. I'm sure this was to maintain a marketable rating, but I found it a pleasant change from the borderline unwatchable graphic violence common in war-themed movies. I can't say you're going to have a joyous time with this movie, but I think you'll almost certainly enjoy it.


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

If you're familiar with Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element you'll find Valerian is the comfy chair sitting right next to it. The look and feel of the worlds presented in Valerian are similar in all the right ways, though a fair bit more CG and less rubber suits. I'm sure those who prefer practical effects over the CG will be upset, but I found most of it to be more seamless and less distracting. The mystery behind the story is simple, but interesting in the way it pulls you forward in search of new details to explain the tragedy on the planet Mul. The rest of it feels like a series of loosely connected action sequences, that, while entertaining on their own, don't all fit together very well taken as a whole.

When looking at characters, we have the "I just follow orders" Valerian who seems to avoid following most of the rules most of the time. We also learn almost immediately after he's introduced that he's possibly the greatest perpetrator of sexual harassment in the known universe, and this is blown off like "haha, isn't it funny that this guy has slept with every female he's ever encountered ever, and now he's being extremely inappropriate with his partner while on the job." I think the audience is supposed to find this funny or endearing or kind of slimy, but we're also supposed to see Valerian as the hero, so I found myself very confused. He's cocky and arrogant and not great at following orders and the constant harassment of Laureline makes me feel uncomfortable. Laureline, on the other hand, spends most of the movie either saving Valerian, or being saved by him. She doesn't take a whole lot of initiative on her own, and I found that disappointing. She also grudgingly puts up with Valerian's harassment, even after knowing how much of a sleaze he is (she demonstrates her familiarity with his past within the first few minutes of being introduced). Honestly, my favorite characters were all of the side characters. Captain Okto-Bar is really trying to do the best he can to solve the mystery and deal with the threats to Alpha. Ethan Hawke does a wonderful job as charismatic a pimp. Rihanna is an amazing performer, eager to be recognized as artistic. Sergeant Neza serves well under the Captain. Even a funny little submersible pilot named Bob the Pirate is entertaining for the time he's on screen. And don't get me wrong, Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan aren't doing a bad job as Laureline and Valerian, I just don't find them to be nearly as interesting as the supporting cast.

Did I enjoy the movie? Yes I did, and it's because the action that is there, as disconnected as it seems most of the time, is fun. The worldbuilding is thorough. The aliens are curious and, well, alien. And I really want to get an explanation of what happened to the people from Mul. So, lots of interesting supporting characters, some really fun action and sumptuous art design throughout, I think Valerian does, in the end, work out to be an enjoyable movie. Just know that I have some pretty serious issues with the main characters and their highly inappropriate relationship, and the kind of bullshit "love conquers all" message at the end, but if you can keep your expectations fairly low and go in expecting a fun ride, I think you'll like it just fine.


Baby Driver

Baby Driver ticketstubThis movie felt like the heists (and the escapes gone wrong) from the Payday games with the drama and police chase hi-jinks of the GTA games. Kevin Spacey is the sort of over-the-top fixer you would expect to see in a video game. Jamie Foxx is an over-the-top bank heist addict. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzales are in it for the thrill and the lifestyle. And Ansel Elgort's "Baby" is just in it to get out. It's a fun cast that, from the very beginning, you know is a bomb waiting to go off. Everything here is about to go horribly wrong, so let's sit back and wait for the shit to get sucked into the fan. As you would expect from a movie about a getaway driver, the movie is chock full of intense car chases, and it feels amazing. What you get here are chases that feel realistic, more or less, not the insanity you would get from a Fast and Furious movie. The crime story is enhanced by a bit of romantic cuteness that feels way too neat and tidy for my taste, but it's sufficient as a motivator for Baby to keep us wanting to see how it turns out. There's also the music that runs through the entire movie. I'll admit, this music is not the sort that interests me, in fact, there was no song in the entire movie that was of a genre I'd be into, but it all worked beautifully and absolutely enhanced the rhythm of everything that was happening on screen. Overall, this was a really great ride filled with thrills, romance, and a great soundtrack.