Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel, Green Book, Juliet, Naked, Colette, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Aquaman, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Mary Poppins Returns, Like Father

See all of my movie reviews.

Captain Marvel - It's not the toxic male mob intent on trashing this movie because it features strong women characters (some of color, no less) that gets me. It's the well-meaning but clueless regular men (and women) who don't get that a female superhero movie doesn't have to a) be exactly like a male superhero movie or b) feature a woman who has to listen to, love, or get saved or supported by a man.

"Vers" is a Kree, a humanoid with a past that she remembers in glimpses in her dreams. She is fighting as an elite Kree warrior against the "terrorist" shape-shifting Krulls, and told by her mentor and the world's AI that they gave her her special powers (shooting energy blasts from her hands and other things, that other Krees don't have) and will take it away if she can't control it. During a mission she is kidnapped by Krulls and crash lands in 1990s Earth, where she discovers many secrets about the past and the war she is fighting. Eventually she turns into Captain Marvel; this is late in the movie but not a big spoiler.

The naysayers who say that Brie Larson doesn't exhibit enough emotion didn't watch the movie. Okay, maybe she doesn't play CM as a vulnerable helpless naif, or make us feel her struggles too much, but she exhibits fear, doubt, confusion, happiness, joy, anger, and everything in between. She's just freakin' strong and powerful, she's generally in control, and she's angry. Captain Marvel has nothing to prove after being lied to and finally regurgitating the lies. She spent six years in a civilization that treats men and women equally and she doesn't know anything about being a second class citizen. She is a powerhouse and a warrior. And so, in a more human way, is her female friend Lashana Lynch, a pilot who skillfully flies a rescue mission and shoots down enemy ships.

The naysayers who claim that CM doesn't learn or grow also didn't watch the movie. Okay, the turning points were sometimes a tad rushed, but it's a Marvel movie; for crying out loud. Compared to other Marvel movies, this was Shakespeare. Everything about her confusion, her gradual uncovering of the truth, and her turning points are well presented in the movie and make sense. (How she got her powers - and lived - doesn't make sense, but then neither do any of the other Marvel superhero origin stories.)

One way to analyze if the movie works is to ask if the movie would still be good if the sexes were swapped. The answer is hell yes. But it's far better to have women as the lead characters, because so few movies like this do. It's high time that girls had some uncompromising, independent, unsexualized, strong role models.

Everyone involved in this movie did a great job. It has the most real character development and character relations I've seen in a Marvel movie since Iron Man. Within the context of Marvel, the plot flows seamlessly into the rest of the MCU (without the hanging threads that Wonder Woman left in the DCU, for example). CM is a real superhero, like Superman. A fun watch. Ben Mandelsohn also bring fun to most scenes he is in as one of the Skrulls.

Green Book - Based on a true story of a low-class Italian bouncer who drives a black, fancy piano virtuoso across the deep south in 1962. Mahershala Ali plays the somewhat ridiculous Doctor Donald Shirley who is invited as guest of honor in places where he is typically not allowed to sleep or eat. Viggo Mortensen is nearly unrecognizable as his driver, who starts off as a crude racist but ends up ... well, you'll have to see.

The story is okay, the acting and everything else is good. The movie creates a relatively safe space to encounter racism, with only a little violence and general racism. It's more a road movie and a culture class of refined vs uncouth. I don't know that the movie deserved an Oscar for best picture, but it was solid enough, if a tad predictable in some places.

The ending scene is unbelievable as Hollywood movies tend to be.

Juliet, Naked - A very good romantic comedy. Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) is a fanatic blogger who obsessively tracks information about one musician, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who disappeared many years ago. Duncan is more interested in his hobby than his girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), who ends up in contact with Tucker behind Duncan's back.

Like in many romantic comedies, it's hard to figure out how the girl ended up with the guy in the first place. Not that Duncan is horrible, but he's not a great match for Annie. The scenery is a small pretty, port town in England crossed with some scenes in London hospitals and studios. The movie is mostly laid back.

It's sweet and calm, with an original screenplay that goes in a familiar rom-com direction with some original, unexpected confrontations along the way. Well worth a watch.

Colette - Keira Knightley plays the eponymous writer in a now-familiar story of a woman writing under her man's name, who takes the credit, until she has had enough of that, thank you.

Keira is a firehouse in some movies (Pirates of the Caribbean, Begin Again) and out of place in others (Pride and Prejudice, The Imitation Game). Here she is closer to the latter, unfortunately, unable to give the role the kind of gravitas that would make a more interesting picture. Her character is too straightforward. The plot is too straightforward. Colette's lesbian encounters were not scandalous at the time, because no one knew about them, and they are not scandalous to us today, so that part of the plot doesn't really add much substance to the movie.

It's not bad, and it doesn't drag, but it wasn't very memorable.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - Actually a good movie. The critics somewhat miss the mark here. They didn't like that this was an interim chapter of a movie that sets up the next one(s). In this regard, it's something like HP 5 or 6, but without the tournament or shock ending. Basically, if there had been a shock ending, the critics would have been mollified. The problem is that we're not invested in the characters, so that kind of an ending wasn't really possible.

Queenie, Jacob, Newt, and Tina, as well as a host of other characters, all congregate in Paris (and some other places) to chase after the smarmy Grindelwald, who is assembling an army to attack muggles, and the reborn Credence who has some kind of part to play. Dumbledore is also involved in some short scenes that don't give us much information.

They abandoned sense regarding Queenie's character and reduced her to a plot point "good witch turns bad" using the flimsiest of plot elements: they shoehorned Jacob back into the movie as another plot element. That part was kind of a mess, which I bet JKR could have done much better in book form than it ended up being on screen. As for Newt and Tina, yeah, it's a little hard to figure out why Newt is the hero handing this mission, instead of a pack of competent, trained aurors, but whatever. I also give "whatevers" to a few of the other random plot elements.

It's still pretty fun, pretty magical, mostly makes sense, is well-paced, has some clever and thrilling moments, and takes its time doing world-building ...something which other directors could learn from (*cough* new Star Wars *cough* all comic book movies *cough*). I'm not saying I'm going to run out and see it again in the theater, but I'll happily watch it again when I re-watch the whole FBaWTFT series.

Aquaman - Actually ... meh. Lots of men with irrelevant supporting women. That's par for the course, mostly, but the men are not interesting. They yell, pose, and fight. The spectacle and effects are pretty and overwhelming sometimes, but it all comes to a lot of posing and fighting, and nothing interesting in the way of plot or characters.

Queen of Atlantis runs away, or gets washed away, and meets a human who runs a lighthouse. They have a baby, Aquaman, who grows up (in too-little screen time) who goes to claim his crown in the sea. To do this he has to find a magic trident, while being pursued by a human in a magic suit who is upset that Aquaman didn't save his criminal father from dying, as well as the current lord of Atlantis who wants to kill all the humans for dumping garbage in the ocean.

On the one hand, it's nice when the bad guys have reasonable motivations (taken too far). On the other hand, do we really want to be rooting FOR dumping in the ocean? Or oppression of black people around the world (Black Panther)? Or overpopulation (Avengers Infinity War)?

Visually beautiful, frenetic, and kind of insane is the best that can be said about it. It's like Thor underwater, with a laser light show. Not on my list of great comic movies.

Ralph Breaks the Internet - Ralph and Princess Vanellope are video game characters, as you know from the last outing of this franchise. They get sucked into the Internet, and try to find a (real world physical) component to fix Vanellope's arcade game (and then the money to buy the component), and then they get into fights and races with hot gaming chicks and computer viruses.

It mostly makes sense if you don't think about any of it too hard (take one small aspect of a real world concept, pretend that it makes sense for a video game character to deal with or manifest, repeat ad nauseum). It's entertaining. It tries hard to have relatable characters, but they are just flat pixels on which to give a few life lessons and say jokes. The room full of hip Disney princesses was fun, but I couldn't help feeling that even this scene could have been better. Actually, just following a bunch of updated, feminist Disney princesses, free from the constraints of their movie plots, would make a great movie.

It tries hard, but ultimately it's just okay.

Mary Poppins Returns - Emily Blunt makes a nice Mary Poppins. She lacks (deliberately) some of the warmth and sentimentality that Julie Andrews had in the original, but makes up for it with a no-nonsense strictness and charm that gives her a more otherworldly, appealing magical quality. Lin-Manuel Miranda is good as the sidekick with an accent almost as bad as Van Dyke's was.

In this story, The Banks children are grown up with children of their own. They are facing financial problems that will cause them to have to leave their house. If only that lost bank deed with the proper signature would turn up to save the day. In the meantime, where is light-heartedness and fun to be found any more?

It's hard to judge this kind of thing as an adult with grown children. The original Mary Poppins was not one of my favorites: I loved the songs, but the movie was mysterious and dragged on on occasion (what the heck was that whole plot about women's votes? (I asked as a child)). This movie was at least as good, with inventive animated sequences and songs that pay homage to the original without duplicating it or being too "modern". On the other hand, maybe modern songs would have been a better idea for modern kids, like in The Greatest Showman?

I liked it.

Like Father - Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer play their charming selves in this so-so romantic comedy without the romance; is there a genre for parent-child relationship movies?

Rachel (Kristen) is an overworking always-on-the-phone bride who is left at the altar by her fiance for bringing her phone with her to the altar. Her estranged father (Kelsey) who left when she was five showed up to the wedding and then again a few nights later. They get drunk and end up on the cruise she was supposed to have gone on with her ex-fiance. They fight, they try to bond, they fight, they bond.

It's all predictable, down to the expected karaoke scene, the just-when-it-looks-like-everything-is-going-well-they-fight fight, and the last minute change of heart. Kristen and Kelsey carry the movie with their talents, and the usual assortment of nice location shots and the not-too-odd irrelevant cruise guests along for backdrop. No surprises makes it a little dull, but there is nothing very wrong with the movie and there are some laughs.

Friday, March 08, 2019

No News is No News

A year ago my manager at work started a game hour on Thursdays for our small group of 5. Between the 2 of us we brought in new games every week for several months that could be played for 5 non-gamers. My manager up and left us last week, but I hope to continue the gaming. Only now we are going to get between 7 and 10 each week. Which makes it more challenging, unless I just bring in 2 copies of Codenames (1 Hebrew and 1 English) each week. That will be the default option.

Meanwhile I haven't touched my book. But I went to South Africa and came back. Pictures on Facebook. I usually tell a travelogue on my blog, and I may still do that. I didn't play much on the trip.

There is something to say about my game It's Alive, which I will say when I can say it.