Friday, June 30, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Moana

2016, Ron Clements & John Musker (Aladdin, Treasure Planet) -- download/Netflix

A co-worker has an animated GIF of Maui yelling "You're Welcome!", which he tosses at me every time I thank him for doing a good job. He knows it will spin off the song as an earworm in my head for the rest of the day. But thankgawds, something came along to replace "Let It Go" in the collective lexicon. Maui's song is bloody catchy, and I love the segment it is used in, as he dances around Moana explaining just how great he is, in a weird 3D animated on top of retro 2D animation backgrounds scene that harkens back to humans being green-screened onto animation. Brilliant.

P.S. The coworker regularly does good work.

I love this movie. It's not a Disney princess movie, and yet it is, despite Moana's protestations. She may be the chieftain's daughter but she ain't no princess. And she doesn't need any rescuing. Moana sees the plight of her people and heads into the open sea to seek the aid of demi-god Maui, to return the heart of Te Fiti, the island goddess from whom he stole. So, a guy was a jerk and its going to take a teenage girl to fix it. Good message.

But the message is not what makes this movie so charming. The two leads do. Auli'i Cravalho is incredible, her voice acting not only spot on, her little giggles and shocked sounds so genuine, but she lives the character. She is the character. Meanwhile Maui is a massive, super-deformed demi-god version of a person, bigger than life and played perfectly by The Rock.  Dwayne plays both cherubic and heroic perfectly. And doesn't sing half bad either. The movie is about how these two play off each other, how a teenage girl influences and eventually surpasses a hundreds of years old demi-god. That is what faeries tales should always be about.

Friday, June 23, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Hidden Figures

2016, Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) -- download

The current state of race relations in the US is tragic. So many white Americans are so busy patting themselves on the back for being progressive, they are turning a blind eye to what is going on now, right now, right this minute. But that cannot discount that there was progress made in the past. The funny thing is though, that's not what the movie is about. Hidden Figures is not about some white men helping their downtrodden black coworkers succeed. Oh, that is in the movie, but its not the focus, its not the purpose of the movie. The purpose is to show that anyone could be the most impressive person you will ever know, even the friendly, affable housewife.

In case you don't know, the movie is about a small group of black American women who worked as computers for NASA. As in, they computed things. Before machines were embraced, they needed powerful minds to calculate intricate things such as fuel consumption and trajectories. Katherine Johnson, along with her two close friends,  Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson not only succeed at their roles, but contribute greatly to the first major rocket flight in the US. The movie takes great liberty with history for the sake of palatable, Oscar worthy drama, but that doesn't degrade the impact.

The movie is cringe worthy -- that's pithy for it having many scenes that one should be cringing at, as it establishes the social injustices of the era. But even without the grand, sweeping changes we have experienced its not like we have complete progress. Women still make less and are looked down on, black people may be allowed to use any bathroom (doesn't just having to say that sound wrong?) but that doesn't stop them from being shot at traffic stops. But even putting these messages aside, the movie just has some great performances. I will never stop being a Taraji P. Henson fan, but Octavia Spenser won me over as her character learns FORTRAN, my first computer language. And Janelle Monáe, is stunningly beautiful, even beguiling as she takes on the role as the engineer. Its a Hollywood movie, glossy, pretty, skillfully toned to have exactly the right impact, but damn I liked it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The BlackCoat's Daughter

2015, Oz Perkins (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House ) -- download

We probably should have saved this for October; it was a worthy entry for the horror movie viewing season. This movie written & directed by Oz Perkins, yes the son of Anthony Perkins (Psycho) fits into that indie horror genre that has risen of late. And by 'of late', I mean ... the last decade? One thing I have noticed as I get older is that periods of time, which internally seem rather short, are much rather stretched out than I recall them being when I was in my 20s. That said, this style choose to reflect another age, not just the age the movie was set in, but directing & mood choices that were common in the era, the 70s this time.

The tone and temperament of The Blackcoat's Daughter is creepy tension. Two stories are playing out. One has Kat and Rose forced to stay at the isolated Catholic school over a winter holiday, the former because her parents never showed (why? what is the backstory there?) and the latter because she basically doesn't want them to come. Kat is a nervous, rather creepy wallflower; Rose is the vixen, who may be pregnant by her townie boyfriend. The other story has Joan (Emma Roberts) making her way back to an unknown location, looking like she just escaped a hospital. We know the stories are connected, but not how.

Its not about the plot that keeps our attention. Its the tension. From the expected fear filled, empty, dark halls of the school to Joan's evasive conversations with a nice, religious man who wants to just help her get... home (?), we feel on edge. Something is going to happen, something is going to be revealed. And when it is, we are not entirely surprised, but what a ride! The understated style that Perkins goes for, that genre element I mentioned earlier, works well here. And while not a movie for the jump-scare horror movie crowd, it left me satisfied, as it elicited an emotional reaction, which few do these days.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

2017, Chad Tahelski (John Wick) -- cinema

Chapter 2 picks up a few hours after the first one, as John tracks down his car, the one Iosef stole when he killed John Wick's puppy in the first movie. He ends up in front Peter Stormare, a face that I didn't realize was perfect for this franchise until I saw him in it, and then it made perfect sense. This gangster also understands the tale of Baba Yaga and does not argue when John comes to his desk. The funny thing is that John destroys his car while recovering it. That's just John. He drops the car with Aurelio and intends to return to his retirement, re-sealing the guns n gold in the basement, even refusing to do a job for the man who holds his marker, the man that helped him get out of the business. That's the mistake that makes a sequel.

This movie is less about John and more about the mythology of the world he lives in. This is truly a mythological world of high class assassins, who have such vast numbers that when John gets a bounty put on his head, almost an entire public park checks their phones. If there are so many assassins, who is left to kill but each other? What overall purpose do they serve besides the death of these ruling families, that are mentioned?

We are drawn to Italy to see this world in its full glory, as John is forced to do "one last job" getting the sense this is where this organization, this world, got its start. And what a world it is, from the unsurprising tailors of incredibly high quality (and beauty) tactical suits and sommeliers to provide your favourite weapon. The families who run everything, have rules to follow but are first to break said rules. The working men, the John Wicks, are the ones who take the fall.

It leads John to break Ian McShane's cardinal rule, no business on Continental grounds, and thus he gets a massive hit placed on his head. We saw the consequences of such an act in the first, but this is Baba Yaga. All others are his lesser, including the wonderfully sexy androgynous (and deaf) Ares (what a NAME!)  played by Ruby Rose. The action is again a beautiful ballet of ultra violence. From the sideways way John holds his gun as he confirms head shots, to the choreographed combats in stunning locations, the movie does not shirk on style. If anything, this one goes higher, more over the top as the underground of NYC is replaced by the decorated ruins and streets of Italy, and then back again to NY. Man, this movie looks beautiful.

And they don't get the chance to kill  his dog this time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: The Great Wall

2016, Yimou Zhang (Hero) -- download

AV Club said, "is a stupidly awesome eyeful." The Telegraph said, "One thing The Great Wall gets absolutely right is the walliness, because watching it feels like repeatedly banging your head against one. The LA Times said, " 'The Great Wall' is poised to take a great fall, creating the kind of mess not seen since Humpty Dumpty sat on a similar structure." There were a lot more fun bad reviews in the first week, but those are now buried under the weight of the Top Critics of the Internet.

The Great Wall is a silly movie with a silly premise, more made for D&D playing adolescents than anyone. Long ago, a meteor crashed into a mountain and the Great Wall was built to protect Song Dynasty China from the monsters that emerged from the crater. So, 5500 miles to keep out a valley full of creatures that are pretty much the beasts from After Earth or Outlander. But it's not just the wall, but the trained units of soldiers, all with their own specialties (and colours!!), that help protect the land beyond. Two Europeans, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) come blundering along, while on the hunt for fabled black powder. They are caught, but after some rescue antics, where they prove their mettle, they are allowed to go. But William has grown a conscience and wants to help protect China. Tovar wants to steal the black powder and run. And then everyone notices that the monsters have a bad reaction to William's magnetic lodestone; and no, that's not a euphemism.

So, washing aside (*ahem*) the critics of this movie, William is a rather amusing character. Starting off as a dirty European with a hint of some accent (Irish? Welsh? Proto-American?) he does so fancy bow & arrow tricks to bring him up in the eyes of the Chinese soldiers. Once washed, the new general (a woman!) actually likes him. But Damon plays him as a straight up cardboard hero, lots of wry comments, heroic looks and a grim look constantly on his face. This was more cosplay than character.

Zhang's previous movies have been such bombastic, well crafted pieces of Chinese cinema. It's a shame that this one is just a low rent Lord of the Rings mixed with classic wuxia and (?!?) The Power Rangers. Little of the movie makes sense. Things are done just because they look cool, plot happens to encourage action, characters never say much of import. But really, do most big budget American action movies ever reach further? I liked this movie, not loved, but I will not be amazed if the Blu-ray joins The Shelf.