Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Day 1837 - Recent Movie Roundup

So... It's been a little more than a month since I last wrote something.  And that last thing was on the election and its results.  I had more people read that piece than anything I've written since I started this second go around as The Critic Wannabe.  Let me tell you, that gives one pause.  I hate politics and the strife that it brings, but let me tell you, there was a tiny part of me that wanted to continue in that same vein.  Thankfully, like gas, it passed.  Instead, you get my thoughts on some of the movies I saw in the last month or so.  It's not going to crush in the views, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

The Handmaiden - Chan-wook Park directed Oldboy.  If you've seen that movie, you know that he's a director who likes to push the audience's buttons.  For good or bad, he wants to get a reaction out of you.  The Handmaiden is no different.  That being said, for its three act Rashoman-like structure, The Handmaiden tells a story that is twisty, sensual, violent, gorgeous, and one of the best things I've seen this year.  Enough time has gone on, that I'm able to think about the "twists" and recognize them as legitimate storytelling devices.  The story follows four people - Count Fujiwara, a swindler who hires a thief, Sook Hee, to be his accomplice as he tries to marry  Lady Hideko before her Uncle Kouzuki can do so. 
Act one is all about the set-up, as we meet all the players, and we have a pretty basic understanding of what each of them want.  Act two goes back, and shows all sorts of scenes from different points of view, as well as additional scenes that reveal more about the characters.  And act three ties it all together as different players realize that they're being played be the others.
This is sometimes not an easy movie to watch.  Uncle Kouzuki is a reprehensible man, and only in the second and third acts do we really see the depths that he exists in.  Sook Hee has never known anything other than being a thief, so any change from that routine is a completely new experience, and we see her transformation over the course of the film, and it's astonishing.
Again, this is a movie that's not for the casual viewer.  I'm happy I got to see it in the theater, because when that happens, you can't be distracted by outside forces. You're forced to either engage (which I gladly did), or not.  It seems that every scene is there to either be beautiful or move the story along (and sometimes both).  Simply great.

Doctor Strange - Ah, the new Marvel movie.  Like the previous Marvel movies, it's simply a good time.  Is it slightly derivative (egotistic know-it-all has it all stripped away and has to rebuild from the ground up - check)?   Sure.  But it's all in the casting and execution, and this movie has that in spades.  The movie is a fun time (love the cloak of levitation/magic carpet), but where it really succeeds is in creating another pocket in the Marvel Film Universe, and showing us where it fits into the larger picture.  And it does it pretty effortlessly.  It rests pretty squarely in the middle of the Marvel Films, and that's really all we want, isn't it?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - The J.K. Rowling-penned screenplay that sets up the magical world pre-Harry Potter is a solid flick.  It takes a little time getting a move on, but when it does, it really starts to work.  My problem with the movie, and I couldn't put my finger on it until I read author Carrie Vaughn's review of it, is exactly what she said - the movie is about the wrong person.  Instead of concentrating on Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander (the wizard), the movie would have been better served if it had focused on Dan Fogler's Jacob Kowalski (the human).  That would have brought a whole different viewpoint to the film, and might have made it a touch more magical (excuse the pun).  (Carrie's pretty great - read her blog here... https://carriev.wordpress.com/ ) And I never believed that I would ever want more of Dan Fogler in anything.  It might be a Christmas miracle.  I still don't care for Katherine Watterson as an actress, but that's my own personal bias (she plays the by the book, eventual love interest to Newt).  And I still enjoyed the film, but I could have watched another hour of Jacob and Alison Sudol's Queenie (the mind-reading sister of Katherine Watterson's character) and been fine.  They were completely charming.  In a wizarding duel between this and Doctor Strange, Strange takes this one down easily, but they're playing to different crowds.

Arrival - Been wanting to see a great sci-fi movie recently?  Here you go.  Aliens come to Earth, and here in America linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is teamed up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), as they try to communicate with the aliens.  It's a complicated process, but they seem to be getting it.  But, while America is cautiously being open about some of the things they've learned, other countries are getting scared and war against the aliens is being planned.  This is a very personal story told on a very large scale, and it posits some very deep ideas about time, honor, and what we do with the information we have (on both a small scale and a large one).  I liked it, and I like talking about the story that it's based on (Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang), and how and why they differ.  If you've seen the movie, I think it's worth it to either read the story it's based on, or see what the major change was.  I think it enhances the experience.

Edge of Seventeen - I thought this was pretty great.  But I'm getting tired, and running out of adjectives.  Great acting, real heart, embarrassing texts, awkward situations all highlight this very smart film.  Exactly what I was hoping for when I saw it.

There you go.

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