Welcome to my mini movie review series. I watch a lot of movies and I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on some of the things I’ve watched.
These are all SPOILER FREE reviews so you can enjoy these films at your leisure.
Up front: I have not read the original James Baldwin novel. I certainty liked how director Barry Jenkins set the film, frames the characters, and draws us along a road to revealing the truths and and twists of life in 1970s America for black people. The best part of the film is probably the love story between Tish and Fonny that flourishes despite the weight of injustice piling up all around them, but at the most emotional points in this movie the actors all seem directed to be as wooden as possible, filling their conversations with unnatural, stilted dialogue which kept taking me outside the movie. It feels like some of this might have been because of a slavish recount of every inch of the novel and not feeling free to create an adaption (for lack of a better term) which holds the movie back from reaching as high heights as I wanted it to.
Final Verdict: Despite a lot of things to love about this movie, especially some of the acting, I found the movie pretty heavy handed and difficult to really love. In a way that’s how many of Baldwin’s novels read so I suppose the translation from page to screen is complete. Jenkins is a fantastic director with a knack for setting a scene in a way that slowly reveals the nature of itself to you but unfortunately for a film that moves at such a slow pace and has very little in terms of story beats and character growth, it all ends up a little bit saggy. I also hated the voice over (likely added to make it more like the novel). I would be really on the fence recommending this to anyone, I’d probably suggest they go watch 13th or When They See Us instead.
I am begging you, please stop putting pop music in kids movies that has no relation to the goddamn movie. Hearing The Heavy sing about infidelity in the cutesy Christmas movie did not improve my feelings on Klaus. Also, while we’re here: actors are NOT voice actors. You need to hire and train people to be voice actors, you cannot just sit a regular actor in front of a mic and assume that is a skill they have. Other than that this movie is highly watchable but treats children as if they cannot understand any complexity. While there are two major plots in this movie, they are so barely connect that at one point I actually believed they’d forgotten about the B plot. This is an exceptionally middling kids movie despite the interesting visual style but it never hits the lows of Rise of the Guardians despite the fact that it has all of the same problems of that movie (just to a lesser degree).
Final Verdict: Ultimately this is a kids film with a decent enough message but it aggressively talks down to kids and simplifies the world to a point of nonsense that I’m not sure how much anyone over the age of 7 could really glean from it. For a movie that wants to be about good will and treating each other kindly it strangely goes out of its way to insult, belittle, and demean characters. Probably the main problem with this movie is it undermines itself at every point by making up ideas on the spot without having planted them first. That plus the utterly paint by numbers story beats make this movie a chore to get through. If you’re looking for kid based Christmas cheer I’d suggest Arthur Christmas which isn’t going to blow your socks off if you’re over 13, but it is significantly better than this.
I read a bit of this manga when I was back in high school but I apparently remember none of it.
I’ll get this out of the way for people who are impatient: I hated this movie. I thought I was poorly constructed as a script, poorly acted, and poorly thought out. I think it was miscast. I think it was several rewrites away from an actual script. I think it has Amazing Spiderman 2 / The Mummy syndrome in which the movie only serves to set up another movie (which it promises will be good!) instead of telling a story in the movie you’re already watching. A future Alita movie could be good, but this movie is not because this movie is an exposition dump. At the 55 minute mark of the movie I checked my watch because we were well into the second act and people were still explaining the world to Alita. The worst part was none of this information ever became relevant. I joke that this movie is not Lord of the Rings, it’s the Silmarillion and maybe that’s some peoples cup of tea but I sat down to watch a movie and I got a lecture in an uncanny valley of almost movie but not quite.
Final Verdict: At no point in this movie did I acclimate to Alita’s look. I know people love this movie a lot but it’s got so many stumbling blocks that talking about the visual choices for Alita’s character barely crossed my mind but it does contribute to why I didn’t like this film. This is a film with too many characters, too much exposition, actors not emoting because their lines are so bad they’re impossible to deliver or they’re acting against nothing and cannot accurately judge the emotion of a scene, and the cardinal sin for me: repetition. This movie was probably the worst movie I’ve seen in 2020 so far and might be the worst I see all year. This is basically Avatar all over again, nonsense visual fluff. Rodriguez is not bad at what he does but the tone, visuals, and script fight each other to make an incoherent mess that doesn’t even end. Most of the film it felt like a 2000s kids flick except people kept saying naughty words making it even more cringe somehow? If you’re a person who doesn’t care that the script makes no sense you can come for the fighting robots and the distressing dimorphism that is Alita’s body and stay for the bad optics of killing all the POC characters and refocusing a story about revolution and dystopia into a love story.
(Also Christoper Waltz is so miscast in this film, don’t @ me.)
My one regret is that I wish I saw this back in 2012. 8 years on this movie is still poignant in some ways but I’ve moved on from the place in my life where this would have really resonated with me, now all I can see are the holes in the fabric of reality and the heavy privilege all the characters fail to see. Frances is a dancer who has trouble getting work in her chosen profession and spends most of the movie picking up odd jobs, screwing up her life, and making bad decisions as she becomes increasingly distant from the people around her who are growing up closer to societal norms. Except that Frances’ world is that full of rich people and her yard stick for failing is only because of that, a point the film never addresses. The best part of the film is the relationship between Sofie and Frances which feels real and alive but despite being woven through the film it isn’t strong enough to make me like the whole product.
Final Verdict: I feel like this is Garden State for 27 year olds. At the end of the day the film is lovely to look at, wonderfully acted, and has some scenes that I really liked but I couldn’t get over how boho New York it was. Frances is “homeless” the way that if I decided to travel for three months, I would also be “homeless” and it hamstrings whatever the story was trying to say about being a confused, career-less, untethered 20 something. Except Frances isn’t EVEN those things making the themes are just muddy water. I came out of this one with a pretty bad taste in my mouth despite liking quite a lot of the film and I don’t really know how to reconcile that.
Almodóvar is so famous for his “cinema of women” I was actually shocked when I realized that this movie was focused on men. There is so much to love about this film especially Antonio Banderas as Salavdor. Like most of Almodóvar’s films the centerpiece of the film are the strong connections to places and people that Salavdor has made throughout his life. This film is intensely well structured and so quiet and slow building that I almost got completely drowned by the wave of emotions when they hit. Reflective in a way that is never overly sentimental or cloying but feels more like being with an old friend who is telling you a story. Unlike his previous films there’s almost no bombast to this which makes it difficult to settle into but no less passion filled or interesting.
Final Verdict: There’s something so achingly human about this piece of work. Despite being a fairly serious reflection about ones life (and a meta textual commentary on the director to boot) this was a really amusing film in the way that life is a mixture of happy and sad, strange and familiar, funny coincidences, and absurdities. Once Salavdor’s former working partner Alberto appears and they have a terse conversation that gives way to excessively polite drug sharing I was unable to tear myself away from this movie. This film lives up to every inch of its title and is a must see especially for people who create. Beautifully filmed and even more wonderfully acted and scored this is a film that will stay with me for a long time.
That’s all for this time! See you next month (hopefully) with 5 or more films!