Cinebites #10

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.

Knives Out (2019)

Despite how quick I am to cry at movies, I’m not usually quick to laugh but this film had me genuinely laughing out loud several times. I used to watch Mystery! on PBS which included Sherlock and Miss Marple and Poirot as well as plenty of others who would come in with their big personalities and genius and take me through the twists and turns of murder most fowl so I was always primed to love this movie but Knives Out takes the model mystery story a few steps further than your average pastiche / homage by adding a layer of social commentary on top of a thick coat of tongue in cheek humor making it even better than I had anticipated.

Final Verdict: Rian Johnson is one of my favorite writer/directors out there today and this movie has some fantastic visuals and pitch perfect lines that just let the whole piece sing. I’d recommend this to anyone in a heartbeat. I will say that people who really like twists might not find this movie as satisfying as people who like good story and good characters because the movie is not a modern shock story. Instead I guessed the killer and a fair amount of the plot fairly early on. Like any really good mystery story though the killer isn’t as anywhere near as interesting as the motive and the method. Maybe I’m weird but I kept thinking about Gosford Park while I watched this movie and I think I can justify that movie as a sort of reverse Knives Out? Anyway watch both! They’re both great!

Rocketman (2019)

About halfway into this film I realized that I don’t like Elton John’s music. None of it. Not a single song. You would think I knew this about myself before committing two hours to watching a movie about Elton John but since his music has been a form of background noise I assumed like many other popular artists I am “not that into” that at the very least I’d be ambivalent or there were a few songs that I liked. This wasn’t the case and since Rocketman is less movie and more jukebox musical (with a very. specific. jukebox.) I found it grated on me pretty quickly. As for the content of the movie it has a very good moments but it rests on the laurels of a standard biographic film dressed with some occasionally fun scenes and it just wasn’t doing enough for me to be invested in Elton or his story or the people in his life. Never really saying much or leaving a mark we don’t get to see behind the curtain but instead are treated to the same beats as other artist films until the breaks are slammed in 1983 and instead of closure or thematic resonance we’re shown where everyone is today with a picture montage (as is always the way with these films).

Also Elton isn’t the main singing voice in many of the songs and I like them even less when other people are singing his songs?

Final Verdict: I wish I could say something charitable about the filming in the musical segments but they all felt just as bland as they regular parts of the movie to me. This seems like it wanted to be a stage show instead of a movie and it would certainly work better as one. I don’t like biography films, I’m not a huge fan of the jukebox film, and I don’t like Elton John so absolutely none of this was working for me. Taron Egerton is working so hard but he can’t break out of the box that this movie has made of Elton as a tortured and conflicted man who transmutes his pain into flamboyance and stage show. Since I have never thought of Elton John as popular, cool, or exciting I mostly felt very confused by this movie and its desire to frame Elton that way. Points for not shying away from gayness and friendship though. I wouldn’t bother with this movie unless you love musicals, Elton, or Egerton as an actor because it offers nothing new under the sun.

(Can 2020 be the year that we stop recreating music videos shot for shot in movies? It’s boring as hell when I could just pull up the original on YouTube.)

Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker (2019)

Rise of the Skywalker is bad. It’s a bad movie. The movie is frenetic. It has jarring action, no tension, baffling story and plot decisions, it is loud, strange, and extremely unpleasant to watch. Somehow so much is going on in this two and a half hour movie that when recounting the plot I actually forgot several elements of it – none of which matter to the actual story though. This is what a movie made by a committee looks like and its ugly. JJ Abrams has never been a good story writer, he can push the boat out but he can’t bring it back but even beyond that this movie is all the the worst ideas crammed together along with more studio notes and rebuttals to The Last Jedi than you can shake a stick at. The movie fails from second one as the first really important plot point was apparently eluded to in a game of Fortnight so we simply get one sentence and a character telling us it happened “somehow” and then the movie spends the next two hours falling on its face with terrible dialogue, wooden characters running in circles, and extra characters with no development who serve no function. Thematically void and self-undermining this movie is absolutely everything I hate about mainstream film. This might as well have been a Mission Impossible movie.

Final Verdict: Skywalker isn’t a movie, it’s a bunch of scenes that play out in order that point at other movies you remember liking and hopes that your vague good feelings about those other movies will make you forget that this movie is bad and makes actually no sense. Instead of an emotional and fulfilling end to a story, Disney and a team of writers and directors gave us a story where characters do not have personalities (let alone the ones the previously had) who are doing things only for in the plot or fan service to the detriment of a cohesive story, themes, characters, emotions, or even, a movie. The dialogue is so bad at points it make me want to tear my hair out and the camera jitters so much it feels like they handed it to a child loaded up on pixie sticks.

Skywalker has really put the nail in the coffin for my relationship with Disney as they continue to follow their guideline of “with great power comes no risk and no desire to make decent films”. This movie is lazy and sloppy and sad. It breaks my heart even though I don’t like Star Wars that much and while I could probably talk about it for much longer the truth is that I just don’t care enough.

Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982)

We watched this on Christmas and it was kind of a strange choice. I could relay the plot of this movie to you but I feel like it has to be watched to really enjoy the full strangeness of it. I’m not sure this is the most accessible movie on Earth and there was an English remake of it (Mixed Nuts) which did pretty poorly and was much worse than this but there’s something so oddly charming and off-beat about this movie that makes it kind of bizarrely enjoyable. This is a movie about “average people” who are actually all very bizzare and their strange intersection after a spat of bad luck on Christmas. At times I found myself completely shocked by the movie and at others I laughed in spite of what was happening on screen but there wasn’t a dull moment at least.

Final Verdict: This is a movie that is probably best left on the shelf of time as it contains little that has aged particularly well in today’s social climate but if it’s Christmas time and you want a cynical movie to watch you could do much worse than this. I saw someone call this film “mean spirited” and that’s the actual the only description that fits. The film opens with a man dressed as Santa wearing a sign for a strip club and it somehow manages to get more crass than that with every second it goes on which is not going to play well for everyone but if you hate Christmas this might be something to check out next year.

Eia jõulud Tondikakul (2018)

I know this is an Estonian children’s film so most peoples chances of ever watching it are about zero but this is the first film I have ever watched in Estonian without subtitles and I understood most of the film so I’m going to review it.

If I had to distill this film down to one sentence it is: “Hallmark training wheels”. Filmed in perfect winter vision and full of heart warming family and friends with only the barest amount of tension and plot to string together a series of winter themed activities our main protagonist discovers that following her heart and believing hard enough will solve all of life’s problems. It is a kids movie so I’ll rate that as an acceptable theme and actually I really liked that the main character likes to draw and thus becomes interested in photography and bird watching over the course of the film. She’s encouraged by her family and friends to explore and investigate the world around her which you just love to see in these films too.

Final Verdict: A little heavy on the syrupy sweetness this film is actually not awful. The children actors (especially the main girl) are pretty good and while it’s nothing that is going to blow you away it’s certainly shot and scripted well enough to be cute and generally pleasant. The movie made me want to visit Southern Estonia in the winter (or at least get some snow in Tallinn soon!). I haven’t watched a ton of Christmas films but this one felt more charming and homey than your average film and I liked the conflict didn’t come from the family members hating each other or miscommunication “misunderstandings.” I’d recommend this for young kids who are old enough to read subtitles and have an interest in other languages and other countries! Pretty good stuff.

That’s all for this time! See you next month (hopefully) with 5 or more films!

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