Mini Movie Review (THE BAT)

Last night, I rewatched the wonderful 1959 murder mystery B movie THE BAT, which I first saw around 2005. Agnes Moorehead was grand and full of life as a 50-something mystery writer with her devoted maid and (very likely) life partner, played by Lenita Lane. Vincent Price added more scenery chewing fun to the cast as a shady country doctor. I enjoyed how the main characters were not young and pretty, but, rather, middle aged and colorful. The storyline was simple and unoriginal, about a killer on the loose in a small, rural town. But, Ms. Moorehead, Ms. Lane, Mr. Price, and the men who played the butler (John Sutton) and the detective (Gavin Gordon) all acted superbly to the point of making the story quite secondary in importance. If you like old-time theatrical, chutzpah-filled acting, THE BAT is a great movie to watch on a cold winter night.

Movie Review (AQUAMAN)

The movie AQUAMAN should be re-titled SCHLOCKUAMAN or AQUA SCHLOCK. I saw the film to keep up with the whole story arc of the on-screen DC universe, since I do especially like and care about Wonder Woman and Superman. But, I found this movie covering the back story of Aquaman filled with way too bright and often sloppy CGI, which ended up giving the production an overall kitschy and tacky look. One group of Atlantean soldiers wore plastic-appearing suits that seemed to be taken right from a cheap toy set for children. Yet more kitsch.  Leading woman Princess Mera’s artificial cherry red hair fit right in with the rest of the scenery– all rather irritating.

Pacing was jarring to say the least, frenetic action constantly occurring with little to no meaningful build up of tension and character development. Even the music was uninteresting, being overly-synthed in places and lacking any catchy, memorable tune.  The script was unoriginal and often poorly written. A throw-away line said by Aquaman to Mera (Amber Heard) stands out: “You could have just peed on it.” How puerile and dumb. I’m not a Jason Momoa fan, though I have nothing against him. That said, his character of Arthur Curry/Aquaman is nothing but a muscle head/strong man with interesting tattoos. There is no depth of character delivered via any remarkable acting talent. No one in the story was particularly compelling or endearing to me. Everyone was pretty much two-dimensional.

AQUAMAN was yet another white-washed screenplay in terms of diversity. The only African American characters in the entire movie are a father-son duo of ruthless, cruel villains. As if black men haven’t been portrayed enough already as mainly either bad guys or mere supporting roles in blockbuster movies (BLACK PANTHER still being an exception, as great a film as that is). Okay, so Aquaman’s father, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), is played by a man of Maori and Scottish-Irish background and Jason Momoa himself is half Hawaiian. Randall Park, of Korean American descent, plays a nerdy guest scientist on TV newscasts in a few scenes. But, this small handful of non-white and part-white roles still felt token. Some were “safely” diluted with whiteness (including Momoa), and others were largely stereotyped, namely that of black men being brutish and cruel/evil and Asians being smart and awkward (nerdy). As for women of color, they do not appear to exist in the film– minus a dark-skinned female newscaster in one very brief scene from what I can recall.

I felt embarrassed for Nicole Kidman (as Queen Atlanna, mother of Aquaman) showing up in this expensive piece of trash. Is she that desperate for money and/or exposure these days? I’m wondering if she made sure to ask for extra pay just for having to walk about with matted, semi-dreadlocked hair in one scene. It didn’t work on Ms. Kidman at all.

I did enjoy one of Princess Mera’s court costumes and hairstyles and the underwater seahorses some of the Atlanteans rode upon. These few nice images were like finding bits of gold mixed here and there within a stack of junk metal and plastic. And Aquaman’s eventual costume of green and gold does look good on him. Finally, he cleaned up well, after being rather skanky looking throughout most of the show. At one point, his malodorousness is directly referred to. Lovely.  Hopefully, Aquaman also smelled much better towards the end, when he changed his outfit. However, I’m thinking the leading man’s stench is actually a purposeful reference to the quality of the movie. You never know.

Movie Review (MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS)

I very much enjoyed the movie MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. The script was tightly written with much intrigue. I found the acting impeccable, which is what you can often expect with a cast of largely British Isles raised and trained actors.

I have long considered Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary to be interesting, tragic figures in history. Queen Mary’s dilemma of being an ambitious woman in a time and place governed by men in every sphere was made heart-felt and immediate by the frequent closeups and claustrophobic, dark interior scenes throughout the film. Outside shots of Scotland’s beautiful yet spare countryside underscored the sense of isolation and emotional desolation Mary and her cousin Elizabeth surely experienced during their adult lives as female monarchs in a time of such misogyny and ongoing patriarchy.

Large-scale organized religion is mainly presented in the movie as a means of social control over the masses. Mary, being Catholic and a woman determined to think for herself– as she is portrayed in this screenplay at least– is villainized by Scottish Protestant Reformers, an official leader of them in the film referring to her as a “harlot” and other sexual insults. So while Scotland and England had broken free of the behemoth Catholic Church, another religion simply took its place to dictate human thought and behavior. I thought of American right wing evangelicals of today while watching the fire and brimstone preacher pillory Mary and agitate for revolt. In many ways, modern industrialized societies haven’t changed much since 1600s Britain.

Implications about gender and sexuality are believably explored in the movie, with Queen Elizabeth explicitly identifying more as a man than a woman, given that she chose not to marry (which would mean giving up most if not all of her power), did not bear any children, and lost much of her physical beauty after surviving small pox. She basically becomes a caricature of femininity, a drag queen, with her wearing of wigs, white makeup (to cover facial scarring), and grand dresses and jewelry. Identity-wise, all that is left for her is to be a ruler over a thriving kingdom that takes her seriously, like a king.

On the other hand, Mary’s path is less clear and more fraught, given that she is beautiful, clearly fertile, and enters a comparably less stable kingdom than England to rule. And this after being raised elsewhere (France) in a different culture and religion. The movie conveys that old Scottish culture was stark and had less appreciation for continental, soft, artistic sensibilities, as represented by Queen Mary’s gay, cross dressing Italian minstrel she keeps among her ladies in waiting. Like Mary, musician David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) does not fit in though tries to within such a precarious context. Rizzio embodies and affirms Mary’s own softness, sensuality, and emotionality, her femininity (as understood in the old traditional sense), while she must quickly harden up for a traditionally masculine leadership role over a country. Mary’s complexity is a believable mix of both soft and hard, the masculine and feminine, fluid and so human really, conveyed through her willful determination to have power over others at all costs while also valuing music, spirituality, and close relationships. Aside from ruling, the young queen’s immediate priorities are God via an unwavering Catholic devotion, her treasonous half brother, her handsome but self-serving and sexually conflicted husband, the devoted and talented Rizzio (the only man around who– though a feminine man– seems to truly love her as a person), her ladies in waiting, her cousin Queen Elizabeth, and, finally, her motherhood (albeit brief) to Prince James. He would later be the king to unite both Scotland and England, fulfilling a deep wish for the Queen of Scots. Mary clearly has a lot on her mind at all times, for which a sense of androgyny comes in handy.

Twenty-four-year-old Irish American actress Saoirse Ronan portrays Mary Queen of Scots with deep mastery. Margot Robbie plays the comparably more hardened Queen Elizabeth just as capably. I could not think of a single actor who was less than stellar in this movie.

I appreciated the downplay of blood-letting and lack of overall violence shown throughout. If you are someone who must have gore and battle scenes, this film is not for you. Emotional expression and conflicting motivations are the primary arc of movement over the entire narrative. There is no reliance on extreme displays of aggression except where doing so cannot be avoided in order to further the storyline. Such action occurs with economy and thought, which is hard to come by in a lot of cinema these days. I highly recommend MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, especially if you enjoy period dramas.

Movie Review (SHOCK CORRIDOR)

The movie SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963), starring 1960s B-movie ingenue Constance Towers, is one of those campy flicks with an often shoddy script. However, it’s punctuated now and again with touching scenes of men in anguish over different social and political struggles (e.g., racism, the Cold War, and patriotism) and how these adversely affect one’s sanity and relationships with others. Borrowing blatantly from the earlier cinema genre known as “film noir,” the movie was filmed in black and white, has several night-time scenes, and highlights some of life’s undersides, such as a strip club. It is there where Ms. Towers’ character dances for the gawking fellas, all to make an honest living while her journalist boyfriend goes undercover as a mental patient in order to investigate an unsolved murder.

Trying to be focused and allegorical, the bulk and heart of the movie take place in a locked psychiatric ward. The stark set is believable but the kinds of mental problems the patients have are laughable, due to clinical inconsistencies of actual symptoms and seemingly arbitrary diagnostic labeling. The script writer has people suffer from a hodge-podge mix of PTSD, schizophrenia, and OCD– to name a few of the diagnoses that come to mind. Clearly, he had done, well, zero research about mental disorders. On the other hand, there were far less clinical studies completed by the mental health academe then that have long since been done. Also, other forms of psychotherapy beyond traditional psychoanalysis were not yet very widespread in 1963.  So, I guess I should cut writer and director Samuel Fuller a bit of slack. If you can turn most of your brain off and watch for sheer period piece early ’60s entertainment, the film is sometimes atmospheric and fun, if often, perhaps, unintentionally so. Preview hint: I’m thinking especially of the scene in which a male patient somehow gets trapped in a room full of raving nymphomaniacs. What was the director thinking (other than him clearly being a sexist pig)?? Oh, that’s right, the movie is campy, and we can leave it at that.

Movie Review (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY)

My husband and I enjoyed watching the movie BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.  However, we didn’t think it was great.  The film was sanitized for our tastes, skimming over Parsi-descended, British master singer and performer Freddie Mercury’s gay sex life during the wild 1970s and 1980s. To be clear, we weren’t expecting or wishing for soft porn. However, we found the avoidance of any nudity whatsoever and only strong suggestions of sex occurring to be stilted and prudish.  Sadly, Mercury was not portrayed in a well-rounded way, but only semi-sincerely.  As if allowing two brief, fully-clothed kissing scenes between he and another man should somehow be enough for us in the audience who are not heterosexual or who are and are open-minded, open-hearted, and sex-positive about life.  It seemed that Mercury’s sexuality was ultimately pathologized, made more the means towards a morality play about how he cut his life short from contracting AIDS, even though he and so many didn’t come to know about this epidemic until it was too late.  Such moralizing is old and tiresome and misses some of the beauty of how Freddie chose to celebrate his existence, as dark as some of the choices he made were.

Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek deserves high praise for his portrayal of the band Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. He clearly studied that brilliant performer’s movements and mannerisms assiduously, playing the role with flamboyant gusto. He was a joy to watch, making the best of the material given to him to work with. It also helped that he looked the part so compellingly. The supporting cast was stellar, many if not most of them British, or very believably so.

The 1970s and ’80s rocker hair and clothing were fun to see and, of course, the music and songs from Queen’s recordings were all fabulous.

The script was formulaic in places, which went along with the sanitized prudery already mentioned, rendering this screenplay mediocre instead of terrific.

While watching the movie, a few straight men sitting to my right did not seem to have any clue about what they had come to see. They groaned and huffed during the kissing scenes, which was annoying but did not take away from the movie for us. I did want to turn to them and say something like, “Really, dudes?? Can you get over your homophobia now or at least better research the subject matter of a movie first before seeing it?” This was a reminder to me of the evolution remaining for many to yet accomplish towards  the philosophy of live and let live and celebrating life in all its many colors.  Freddie Mercury sure did.

Movie Review (VENOM)

The Marvel Comics ‘Verse movie VENOM is about dancing in and with one’s darkness, all while learning to have it support the light.

Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a ruggedly handsome, sympathetic journalist based in San Francisco.  His heart is in the right place as he goes about bravely interviewing and exposing corrupt public figures, including a somewhat Elon Musk-inspired Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed of 2016’s ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY).  Drake is a wealthy big pharma. industrialist and researcher who focuses his resources on exploiting the capabilities of dangerous alien creatures labeled “symbiotes,” slimy life forms he has captured via a manned probe sent far out into space before returning to crash-land in the Malaysian countryside.  This is where the movie begins.  These symbiotes must live inside another body or “host” in order to survive.  If the body tolerates the symbiote well without getting drained and eventually killed by the foreign organism, which usually happens, then the match is perfect and a powerful symbiotic relationship of two sentient beings occurs.

While all other characters exist in the film to react to the protagonist and villain, most of them are not particularly multidimensional or interesting, except for Venom as he develops inside of Brock, and, to a lesser extent, Riot, the more power-hungry symbiote who enters Drake later in the movie.  The one exception of a notable, off-beat supporting character is an older Asian female who owns a convenience store that Eddie frequents.  Often largely dead-pan and clearly enduring her lonely existence like a sentinel, she is a caring bystander and brief foil for Eddie as he grapples with loneliness and an encroaching cynicism.

Predictably, our hero ends up becoming a host while he is snooping around Drake’s high tech. facility.  Venom finds Brock’s body a suitable match.  From there, Brock must soon contend with more than his own grief-filled, depressing thoughts.  Eddie’s fiancee had recently left him on the same day he’d been fired from his job for, you might have already guessed it, being too probing of the deeply corrupt Drake while interviewing him for an online news outlet.  Now, Eddie wonders if he is going insane as he hears an internal voice shouting commands at him, such as to eat living flesh.  In a particularly hyperactive scene inside a high-end restaurant, he obliges Venom by jumping into a tank of fresh lobsters and eating one with gusto.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much fun Tom Hardy had doing that and other scenes in this often gritty yet refreshingly campy movie.

Much of the film had me laughing now and again as Drake and Venom get to know each other and negotiate how to function together inside a shared body.  The action scenes, including a prolonged multi-car chase of Eddie/Venom on a motorcycle, are often routine but fun nonetheless.  Venom is basically invincible, except from flames and certain high frequencies of sound.  All this power for down-on-his-luck Eddie eventually, and understandably, becomes appealing to him.  One-liners, such as when Venom mentally calls Brock a “Pussy!” in his deep, mechanically enhanced voice are quick little surprises of patter along with the intense action.  This makes for a clever mix of adrenaline and laughter-induced endorphins for the viewer, a real rush of a film.

It becomes clear that, while Venom has somewhat of a core personality, it gets further developed and tweaked by Brock’s own.  The reverse is the case as well.  Venom’s plasticity of body and, hence, Eddie’s too, make for great CGI.  All black, multi-fanged, possessing huge white eyes like a bug’s or snake’s, and able to grow far larger then a tall human, Venom at first scares Eddie as he looks at his/their reflection.  Getting to know one’s shadow parts is like that at first.

I am satisfied with how Eddie and Venom believably decide to work together to defeat the villain Riot, who intends to return (via his host Drake’s manufactured rocket ship) to his place of origin in outer space and retrieve millions of more symbiotes.  Why does he do this?  Well, to bring back and take over earth completely with his own kind, of course– a cliche of a plot if ever there was one.  Frankly, I didn’t care.  The main characters and creative visuals are all that really matter here.

There is some racism in the film, most unfortunately.  The protagonist and his girlfriend are white, while the villain (Drake) is portrayed by a dark-skinned, albeit beautiful, man of Pakistani descent (Ahmed).  A thuggish store robber is played by a Latino man, very much a stereotype.  When there is more interchangeability of roles in movies, such as where superheroes and their leading love interests are portrayed by people of color and said people of color aren’t relegated yet again to so often playing unseemly stereotypes, the movie industry will have made further progress towards representing real people in the real world more.   This was no ground breaker film by any means like, say, BLACK PANTHER was.  We still have quite a ways to go.

The universal, existential struggle of wrestling with one’s own inner darkness and, if one so chooses, getting to know and work with it for the good is both an ageless myth and reality.  I very much enjoyed this latest telling of it in the dark hero movie VENOM, even though the script is often predictable and unoriginal and racism reared its too familiar, ugly head in places, far uglier than VENOM.  Tom Hardy, who is particularly adept at playing mentally disturbed leading men, successfully carried the film and its deeply relatable premise.

Movie Review (CRAZY RICH ASIANS)

This middle aged queen thoroughly enjoyed the movie CRAZY RICH ASIANS. A believable romantic chemistry flows between the two pulchritudinous leads, Henry Golding as the dashing, wealthy Nick Young and Constance Wu as the pretty, often star-struck Rachel Chu. Tasty looking food is periodically presented amidst a steady stream of luscious scenery, both indoors and outside.

The cast often wore beautiful, stylish wardrobe choices. Clothing indicated character. One particularly obnoxious, sexist individual, a serious partier and old acquaintance of Nick’s, dresses tackily in a heavy gold chain necklace over an open shirt, revealing a chest that I found was nothing to write home about. In the movie, this man, whose name I’ve forgotten, represents the coarse, excessive side of wealth that many succumb to when given such privilege. Then there is Astrid, the second leading woman. This first cousin of Nick’s, like a sister to him, expresses poise, grace, and deep concern about public appearances as she walks like a model across a hotel lobby within a simple (silk?) dress in her introductory scene. While Nick looks great in everything over (and off) his skin, when he dons a tux, he transforms into the ultimate handsome lover. Rachel speaks this thought aloud when she tells him he should always wear a tux no matter what he’s doing. These are but a few examples of how clothes make the person in this movie.

Visual appearances aside, family drama occurs in just the right dose to keep things moving along, albeit predictably, but also pleasantly and poignantly.

Often, the movie has a fun ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s feel to it, enhanced by some fabulous singing and music in a few glamorous party scenes and an incredibly sumptuous, yet tasteful and moving wedding scene. The party music has a lounge sound to it, which I particularly enjoy.

I have always been intrigued by Asian cultures and this film is an interesting window into very wealthy Singaporean Chinese society.  In sum, I got what I signed up for: good, escapist fun for a few hours into a world totally foreign to and different from my own.