When I tell people that my favorite director is Steven Spielberg, I tend to get a lot of eye rolls from fellow movie buffs. He’s considered too popular or mainstream, he plays it too safe and isn’t edgy or artistic enough, he’s too sentimental and melodramatic, his only interest is in spectacle, etc. Cinephiles love to hate on the man who is probably the most successful (critically and commercially) filmmaker of the last fifty years, and are often quick to point out alternative artists who they feel has a similar career but does everything better (Christopher Nolan frequently pops up in these discussions). But from now on when anyone brings up these hackneyed Spielberg criticisms I will simply point them to one scene from The Post and ask them to show me another filmmaker who could make that scene any better.
I’ve always loved the phrase “more than the sum of its parts,” particularly when it comes to film. Like any view on movies it’s an entirely subjective opinion, but it’s a phrase I’ve been known to use. I appreciate the fact that it so easily communicates a quality that can be unique to film, that sometimes a movie rises above the potentially mediocre pieces from which it is assembled to become something more. We all have movies that feel this way to us, that have poor acting, an uninspired story, or other faults, yet still manages to capture our hearts. However, there is of course another side to this coin. Some movies have wonderful individual moments, whether great acting, an engaging story, or beautiful production design, yet they leave you feeling disappointed, as though they’re wasting the enjoyable bits. So despite loving much of The Greatest Showman, including its performances, many of its musical numbers, and its message, I was left feeling like it was less than the sum of its parts.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the film that finally allowed me to be at peace with the new trilogy of Star Wars movies. There was a lot that I loved about The Force Awakens two years ago. I thought the new cast of characters were all compelling, particularly Rey and Finn. I enjoyed seeing the old favorites back, I appreciated the way it tried to honor the films that came before, and generally found it to be both a fun ride and an emotional experience. At the same time, there were a number of things in The Force Awakens that did not sit well with me, which ultimately served as distractions from the experience. I felt its tone was inconsistent and its humor occasionally felt forced or like it didn’t fit stylistically within the greater Star Wars saga. It occasionally felt too much like fan fiction (and I don’t mean that as a compliment), and it tried too hard to try to distance itself from the prequels. It also was far too much of a remake of A New Hope, which is not a huge deal for me the way it is for other people but which felt kind of lazy. Most of all, it bothered me that they were continuing the main series of films without George Lucas, and in fact intentionally disregarding any plans he might have had for them. I understand why they did it, but The Force Awakens did not justify these new uncharted waters they were sailing. (On the other hand, I 100% love Rogue One, even if its characters aren’t nearly as strong as those in The Force Awakens.)
In an effort to cut through the backlog of movies left to review after everything that’s happened the last couple of years, I’m going back to movies I skipped and giving them each 5 Things. These can be things I loved, things I hated, or anything in between, they’re just 5 thoughts I had about the movie. Today I’m tackling Moana, one of my favorite movies of 2016, and probably my favorite Disney animated film since Tangled. I gave it an A+ in my movie log at the time I saw it, and I probably love it even more today than I did then. It’s gorgeous, has fantastic music, and characters I find immensely relatable and compelling. So without further ado, here are 5 Things I Love about Moana!
I’ve never liked the phrase “so bad, it’s good” when it comes to movies, even though I’ve used it myself. The truth is it can occasionally be the perfect description for a movie that is enjoyable not in spite of its badness but because of it. But I don’t subscribe to the notion of film quality as something quantitative that can be numerically measured, even though we all give grades to movies. I especially don’t think that there’s some hypothetical badness line where once you cross it a movie suddenly becomes good again. There are plenty of bad movies that I genuinely like, but also plenty of “equally” bad movies that are just torture to watch with no possibility of enjoyment whatsoever. But beyond this philosophical disagreement with the idea of a “so bad, it’s good” movie, I’m not a fan of movies that intentionally strive to be terrible with the hopes of crossing that imaginary barrier into the “so bad, it’s good” realm. The Sharknado series comes to mind, which works very hard to be bad in order to try to capture an audience that might be out there looking for the next sublime failure. That sort of thing holds no interest to me. “So bad, it’s good” movies are ultimately a very personal thing, just like all movies are. What I might love in an awful movie someone else might find insufferable, and simply having a bad story, bad acting, bad writing, or bad directing isn’t necessarily going to make something likable. Making a great, bad movie is much more difficult than that, but it also requires a very subjective reaction. So when I say that Geostorm is dumb, loud, clumsy, and ridiculous, know that it’s an objectively poor film. But when I also say that watching it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a movie theater in many years, know also that I enjoyed it both because of its badness and because of my own personal preferences when it comes to bad entertainment.
Everyone has their pop culture blind spots. Some people have never seen Star Wars or read Harry Potter or watched an episode of Seinfeld. (All of those are unforgivable and if they apply to you I demand that you take immediate steps to rectify the situation!… Just kidding… sort of.) One of mine is Agatha Christie. I have never read any of her books nor seen any of the film or TV adaptations of her works in their entirety (I have seen part of Witness for the Prosecution). In fact, the most exposure I’ve had to Agatha Christie is that episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor and Donna Noble solve a mystery with Christie’s help and end up fighting a giant wasp. But her legacy of tightly-constructed mysteries, brilliant detectives, compelling characters, and her sprawling influence on books, film, and TV for the last hundred years or so is simply inescapable, and I know that some of my very favorite works owe her a huge debt. So it was that I went into the new version of Murder on the Orient Express without any Christie-related baggage, lacking any devotion to a previous adaptation of the story or to the original source novel. In the end I found it to be fully enjoyable, with a compelling mystery highlighted by a fantastic cast who are clearly having a great time, set against a sumptuous and lavish backdrop, all solidly anchored by director and leading man Kenneth Branagh.
Thor: Ragnarok is a blast. It’s Thor’s best solo outing thus far, and one of the most fun Marvel movies yet. It may not be the most emotional movie in the MCU, nor does it pack the biggest punch despite the two heavy hitters Thor and Hulk leading the way, but it’s stylish, hilarious, and unique. Ragnarok may have been one of the Marvel “Phase 3” films I was looking forward to the least, but it has rapidly become one of my favorites and I can’t wait to see it again. Overall, I’d give it a solid A-, but instead of writing a normal review I’m instead going to give you 5 Things from Thor: Ragnarok that made a difference to me, good or bad. I might work this format into future reviews, or try to use it to take care of some of my review backlog. In this case, I’ve got 4 Things I liked about Thor: Ragnarok and 1 Thing I didn’t like. Read on, and let me know if you agree with any of my picks, or what you liked or disliked about the God of Thunder’s latest adventure.
I really enjoyed Baby Driver. Edgar Wright delivered a tightly crafted, exquisitely choreographed thrill ride of a movie, with a killer soundtrack and some of the best action sequences of the year. I loved the eccentric characters, the chemistry between Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Lily James’ Debora in particular, although at times it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be a Tarantino film, particularly with bits of the dialogue. I’m still amazed by the intricacy of the filming and post production work required to make each moment of the film move in rhythm with whatever song happens to be playing on Baby’s iPod. Baby Driver was a solid A film for me, and I look forward to seeing it again as I know I’ll pick up on many details I missed the first time.
However, I find myself still hung up on Baby Driver’s ending. (Spoilers below, obviously!) Continue reading
What do you think? Should I do more videos like this? Got any suggestions for a better name for the videos? Should I try to post a wider variety of content in the hopes of making myself post more frequently? Have I written too much about Pirates of the Caribbean? Did you enjoy Dead Men Tell No Tales? Let me know in the comments!
It’s been a long time since we had a good Spider-Man movie, 13 long years in fact. Since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, a masterpiece of the superhero genre that still stands up as one of the best of all time, we’ve had several attempts to keep the web-slinger going. Spider-Man 3 was a complete mess, overloaded with villains and led by a far-too-old Tobey Maguire, not to mention the horrific emo dance sequence, while the Amazing Spider-Man pair of films tried too hard to update the series for “modern sensibilities” (whatever that means) and the results were uninspired and extremely dull. I’d come to believe that as long as Sony still held the rights to the wall-crawler, one of my favorite comic book heroes, we’d be doomed to mediocre reboot after mediocre reboot, never again having a Spider-Man movie worthy of the name.
So imagine my surprise when a deal was reached between Sony and Marvel/Disney and Spider-Man wound up being one of the best parts of Captain America: Civil War. And now here we are, with Tom Holland’s first full outing in the famous red and blue spider suit, and the results are pretty impressive. Spider-Man: Homecoming is naturally the best Spider-Man movie in 13 years, although that’s really not saying much. It’s a lot of fun, one of the funniest movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it gets a lot of things right. It’s not perhaps the home run one might be hoping for, but it’s solidly in the top half of MCU films, getting a lot about the character of Peter Parker right, while managing to tie in cleverly with the larger universe of films. Oh, and Tony Stark is in it, getting a little redemption after his last outing in Civil War.