Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Reviews: Ready Player One, Game Night, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Phantom Thread, Loving Vincent

Sorry guys; five disappointing movies ...

Ready Player One: From Steven Spielberg, this is a shallow, uninteresting movie is about a guy who plays in a virtual world looking for three Easter eggs, or "keys", so that he can gain ownership of the company that owns the virtual world. While he is at it, others are also looking for the keys, one of whom is a woman who joins him as love interest (along with some other guild members), as well as certain high-financed players backed by people who are willing to kill you in the real world if they discover who you are and that you are a competitor.

Within five minutes of the start of the movie I found myself not caring about the boy or anyone else, since there is zero character development. Astonishingly, the amount I cared continued to drop as the movie went along. I didn't think that was possible, since I already didn't care at all, but I managed to continue to care less and less. I eventually figured out that this was because the score was very good. It cued me into thinking, every once in a while, that something that I might care about was about to occur. Each time, however, this never happened.

The amusement of the movie is supposed to come from a) watching other people play video games, which is a colossal bore (unless the player knows how to fill the time with snarky commentary, as people often do on YouTube), and b) seeing hundreds of throwbacks to 1980s video games and fiction. Unlike recent media in which this worked, such as Stranger Things and even Super 8 to an extent, it did not work here. I didn't get 90% of the references, and, anyway, simply seeing references on screen is not what made those other media good; the other media had good stories. And, I guess, we are supposed to be amused by c) the suspense as to whether the main character will solve the rather obvious and uninteresting puzzles and ultimately find the keys and triumph. Duh.

There is not a scrap of emotion in the entire movie. Someone gets killed at one point, but it's someone who we were barely introduced to and who is not shown as having any emotional connection to the main character. I am really in shock at this. This is the emotionally manipulative director who brought us Jaws? E.T.? Shindler's List? Bridge of Spies?

Whatever. I guess, while it is a useless and dull movie, it is not particularly offensive, at least. Oh wait, it is: at the end of the movie the narrator tells us that we shouldn't be spending all of our time playing video games / in virtual reality, but should instead interact with each other more in the real world. Thanks for that very important message; never would have known that.

One more thing that irritated me: T.J. Miller played the exact same character in this movie that he played in Silicon Valley. I liked it in Silicon Valley, but it was pretty out of place here.

Game Night: This is ninety minutes of one joke, the kind of joke that is funny only if it comes once, unexpectedly, in the middle of an otherwise serious situation, but is not funny when it comes repeatedly for ninety minutes. This is a farcical remake of The Game (1997, Michael Douglas). Instead of a strange combination of gaslighting, pursuit, and trying to figure out what is going on as the terror mounts, in this movie the terror happens, but everyone keeps making stupid jokes. It's supposed to be funny, because they keep making light of things while bad things happen; that's the one and only joke, really. The acting, directing, and cinematography were fine. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are always cute.

The movie that did this well is The Man Who knew Too Little (1997, Bill Murray), which was a cute and silly movie. I was appalled enough at this movie to happily walk outside the movie theater twice to answer phone calls (I had it on vibrate, guys). If my friends hadn't been with me in the theater, I would have gone home and not gone back in to the theater to finish the movie. In the movie's defense, my friends liked it. They said that they like to see a mindless, silly movie once in a while (I think that's a slight directed at me and my movie choices).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: This is a well-acted, grim piece of midwest Americana. Mildred's (Fances McDermott) daughter was raped and murdered several months ago, but she hasn't heard anything from the police who are busy (according to her) chasing and shooting blacks who aren't really doing anything. So she puts up some billboards that pointedly call out the chief of police (Woody Harrelson) in a low-trafficked area. What makes it interesting is that a) she is actually friends with the chief of police, b) the chief is dying of cancer and should really not be at work, and c) the rest of the police dept doesn't take kindly to this, especially one lunatic racist violent hotheaded police creep. Things come to a boil, especially after the police chief shoots himself.

This movie is relentlessly depressing, representing a lot of the worst aspects of American prejudice, violence, despair, and hatred. Just about nobody supports Midred, not even her son. Interestingly, the lunatic police guy actually makes a kind of (unbelievable) change around two thirds into the movie. This should have given us a bit of hope. However, the movie ends just as bleakly and miserably as it started.

Other than being relentlessly depressing, what actually ruins the movie for me are the multiple acts of outrageous criminal behavior performed by multiple people on multiple occasions, some of it incredibly brutal and most of it performed in sight of multiple witnesses. These acts are done and never have repercussions. And I'm not saying that the bad guys weasel their way out of repercussions, I'm saying that the movie doesn't seem to believe that any reactions by the witnesses or police is expected. What the hell? Is this a video game? While I expect to sometimes find injustice in the system, the system still exists; treating violence like it's just a video game broke the reality of the movie for me.

The movie has compelling performances and some good ideas, but it's ultimately not realistic enough to recommend.

The Phantom Thread: Daniel Day Lewis gives another astounding performance as Reynolds, a dressmaker / bachelor / bully and all around a**hole in 1950s London. He is joined by other great performances by Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, and everyone else in this beautifully shot and artfully scripted period piece about a dressmaker who obsessively creates beautiful dresses, but only if his cadre of assistants take care of his other needs and none of them interrupts his "solitary genius" thinking. This genius is, apparently, sufficient excuse for everyone to give him his way, and for him to throw toxic vitriol at anyone who expresses any kind of opinion, presence, or personality. Like a spoiled baby, as one of the other main characters eventually says.

Krieps plays a waitress, Anna, who is drawn to this bully and who follows him to London to be a dress model and eventually a lover. She falls deeply in love with him - because he is such a genius - and even goes and does some of his bullying for him, both - because he is such a genius - and because she hopes he will one day fall in love with her and allow her to butter her toast in his presence without cursing her out. Even taking into account that this is the 1950s, she is really pathetic; in the first two thirds of the movie, not a moment is shown where she has a relationship with anyone else but him. No family? No friends or neighbors at all?

SPOILERS follow, because really you shouldn't watch this movie, and if you do you should be prepared for what happens.

Anna has a little strength in her, just enough to keep wanting him to love her. And so, one day after she suffers great abuse from him, she poisons him, and he falls sick and can't work for the next few days he is too sick to abuse her, so she is happy. And then, he comes back from his illness and proposes to her.

Okay ... but maybe he doesn't know that she poisoned him?

After the marriage, things go back to as they were, obviously, and he begins to heap abuse at her again until one day she overhears him complaining about how he doesn't want her around as she is disrupting his work. So she poisons him again, and this time he knows it and goes along with it. And he loves her.

And that's the movie. Okay...

So this is a sick, toxic (literally) relationship that works for both of them. She is only happy when he is poisoned and helpless, and he, despite his passion and perfection for work is apparently only able to love her when his work is taken from him and he is poisoned and helpless. Apparently he makes the choice to let her poison him. Perhaps he really doesn't want the endless pressure of being a genius after all? It's hard to say, as the screenwriter leaves it a mystery.

Like Whiplash, I recognize great performances and interesting screenplay, but I can't watch it. Who really wants to watch two hours of repulsive people, where the main character is an abusive, horrible person? A little bit of it in a movie adds color. You know that the scriptwriter threw it in for you to not like the abusive character. But, if the whole movie is about an abusive character who doesn't learn the error of his ways, you get the impression that the scriptwriter thinks that we should be entertained by it, or even sympathetic to this toxic white privileged male jerk.

But I wasn't. And I wasn't. I was simply repulsed. And the perfect "solitary genius" who is too important to be bothered with having to be nice to people is a myth.

Loving Vincent: Like a number of other animations I have reviewed, this work is one of astounding, gorgeous animation but also utterly boring. The plot, such as it is, is ... um ... well, there isn't one. A police officer wanders around trying to deliver a letter and asks a few questions about how Van Gogh died. It is all shots, and scenes, and music, and flaccid unimportant dialog. And nothing happens and there are no characters.

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