Mini Movie Review (DARK PHOENIX)

I enjoyed the movie DARK PHOENIX, the latest X-Men franchise installment from Marvel-Disney. Jessica Chastain made an effective, creepy alien villainess, tromping around in high heels with a vacant stare and pale smooth skin, looking like a well-dressed zombie or animated mannequin. The absence of Wolverine, without even a verbal mention of him, felt like a gaping hole at times for me. But, overall, it was a fun film of action and special effects with mutant superheroes doing what they do best: kicking ass and wrecking stuff along the way.

Movie Review (ROCKETMAN)

I and my hubby very much enjoyed the movie ROCKETMAN. Unlike BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the sexual subject matter in this film about talented gay performer and icon Elton John is not so sanitized.

The film is crafted in such a way as to tell a touching narrative, interwoven with imaginative musical numbers, about a musically gifted gay man born into a working class English family where the father is cold and unable to show love.  This was likely in part due to the father’s being traumatized during WW II, though the movie only hints at this.  The mother presents as self-absorbed and immature.  Only the live-in grandmother provides Reginald Dwight (Elton’s actual birth name) with some nurturance and acceptance of him and his musical genius.

Actor Taron Egerton, star of the 2014 block buster KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, earns his stripes here as a truly mature, competent actor in the title role.  As gay men, my husband and I found ourselves relating to the main character, especially in his childhood years.  The life themes of running away from who one truly is and what one actually feels are presented colorfully and insightfully in ROCKETMAN.  In Mr. John’s case, classic avoidance strategies of heavy substance abuse and being hyper-sexual are creatively explored, with the latter of the two showcased in a long, orgiastic dream-like sequence inside a big discotheque setting.  To my recollection, no full nudity is shown, but the power of the action and message was not diminished for me.  I was prepared for the one intimate sex scene between Elton and his first male long-term partner to be cut down to nothing but, say, a few heavy kisses in a darkened room.  It was pleasantly surprising to see that was not the case.  Having read some months back that a sex scene was going to be cut from the movie, I’m left wondering just how much filmed footage was deleted.  Regardless, at least skin-to-skin passion is effectively, tastefully conveyed within the action that remains in the final product.  It is likely that Elton John himself, acting as executive director, ensured this to be the case.

What moved me to tears is how the movie both artfully and psychologically conveys Elton John ultimately accepting himself, this, of course, being at the very core of his recovery from substance dependence and sexual addiction.  In a clever interweaving of the past and present, the narrative makes use of an effective psychotherapy approach I myself utilize called Internal Family Systems (IFS).  Other therapies employ similar techniques, but I credit writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher for  integrating these inner healing steps so naturally and believably in the film.  And all done with Elton John’s blessing.

The quest to find and accept one’s true self as a means of achieving full mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity or health is a timeless story, told in many ways over and over again.  ROCKETMAN does well by this ancient narrative, keeping it fresh, creative, and imaginative yet rooted in reality all at once– no small feat.  This is a fun, sometimes painful to watch, but ultimately uplifting movie.

Movie Review (ALADDIN)

The live-action, semi-musical movie ALADDIN was a lot of fun, with some songs that fell flat. However, much beautiful spectacle, settings, and visual effects were effectively delivered. Will Smith made a cute, entertaining Genie. Given that “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” is my favorite fairy tale and I’ve always really dug genies/djinns, I had to see this film. It resembles very little of the original story from 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. Still, I’m one to enjoy a big cinematic, colorful show and that’s what this Disney production was, its overall look often harkening back to fantastical Hollywood movies from the 1920s through the 1940s. Generally, this was an example of great visual cinema with the script writing being predictable and comforting, unsophisticated. I was glad to see the requisite empowerment of the princess, even though there are plenty of feminist scholars/learned folks out there who I imagine would readily deconstruct such a presentation as lacking/still wanting. And they would be right, though I appreciate any signs of progress wherever I see them nonetheless.

I did enjoy the cross dressing gender play that Will Smith’s character briefly did in a particularly theatrical, festive scene. Male to female crossdressing is an element of ancient theater in Britain and Japan (to name just a few countries/cultures), so it was nice to see a nod to this in a Disney film. Also, a bit of genderqueer being visible– however brief– in such a big mainstream production points to a societal acknowledgement of the realness and validity of the non-binary, even though the ethos of the movie is otherwise heterosexual and gender binary. Genies, being otherworldly beings that they are, can leave such boundaries of convention while the human social order is left predictably “intact.” Will Smith’s Genie seemed sexually “fluid” at first, pleasantly ambiguous for his initial few scenes during some flirtatious moments with Aladdin, but then the writers (and probably the actor) played it safe by reeling him back in, soon providing him with a female love interest. Hmm, a powerful genie/djinn with a love interest? News to me. Heterosexuality as the ultimately correct way to be in the world is affirmed yet again. Ah, well. Yawn. Please pass the popcorn.

I saw possibilities where even more stretches of the imagination could occur, but Disney always plays it safe, incorporating more diversity and options (though still limited), finally, only after enough on-the-ground people in the general culture have pushed the envelope further for a good while. For me, that company’s productions are like springboards or doorways toward or into more exquisiteness that my own and other viewers’ minds can then envision. And that’s okay. So, ALADDIN, with all its color, sparkle, and pizazz stayed within the confines of a conventional, pleasant, family film, without stretching forth into being a more expansive in vision, truly great film.

Mini Movie Review (DUMBO)

DUMBO was dark and dreary in overall look and tone, which is typical of director Tim Burton. Apart from some beautiful Art Deco inspired sets and, at the very end, lush jungle imagery, I did not find this movie memorable. Strong emotional connections between the characters were lacking. Eva Green as the leading lady, a French acrobat, was lovely in her feather-filled outfits. But, no-one else stood out as particularly interesting to me, not even Dumbo.

I have seen some impressive, compelling CGI beings up on the big screen, but Dumbo wasn’t one of them. His facial expressions, movements, and twitterings were cute but a very limited repertoire. The whole film smacked of unoriginality, with its stock/two dimensional characters, derivative script writing, and a tired, over-used ending.

Movie Review (CAPTAIN MARVEL)

I’d give CAPTAIN MARVEL a strong “B” for “bueno”– not particularly great or deeply compelling emotionally, but filled with color and action-filled fun. Some of the villainous characters were interesting.  Samuel Jackson as Agent Fury portrays a pleasant mix of gritty and humorous, stealing almost every scene that he’s in.  His character is more developed here than in any of the previous Marvel productions.  I was glad to get to know his back story and what makes him tick as a person.

The editing is rather choppy in places, fitting in a lot in a little over two hours.  It took a second viewing (this time with my husband) to follow the whole story more clearly.  Also, the ending was anti-climactic, fizzling down into an almost comical, very brief fight for Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel against a powerful man who had deeply deceived her.

I’ve never seen a house cat used so creatively in a film before, so that was something extra entertaining.

I am heartened to see another comic book movie about a super heroine, and one who was originally created as a male no less.  It’s important to keep switching up things in favor of showcasing more powerful, heroic women– so long overdue. But, for my personal taste, I find other Marvel and DC super heroines thus far portrayed on screen to be much more charismatic than Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow come readily to mind.  However, I give Ms. Larson an “A” for effort, even if she often did not feel like a gripping, dynamic character to me.  She lacked some edge and emotional depth.  Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel was very much in the Americana trope of ordinary-seeming, “apple pie” wholesome, someone I could more readily envision surfing the waves in Southern California rather than fighting off heavily-armed aliens and spaceships.   

Frankly, other people came to mind as a more believable Captain Marvel.  I would have preferred Lashana Lynch, who plays the lead’s best friend, in the title role.  But, Ms. Lynch’s being African American relegated her to a supporting player, I guess– at least this time around.  I so wish the two characters for the actresses had been reversed, though even that change may have only partially worked better for me.  Interestingly, after we’d watched the movie, my husband said he imagined the singer and occasional actress Pink (Alecia Moore) being great in the part, although she is now ten years too old to play it.  I definitely could see a younger Pink as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, for she’s definitely a woman with some chutzpah and believable emotional intensity.  

These super heroine/hero movie roles have big boots to fill.  It’s disappointing when casting is off the mark for any of them, like Ben Affleck as Batman has been.  Same goes for Brie Larson in this latest Marvel blockbuster– though, to be fair, not quite that disappointing.  All said and done, I will be okay with watching her in the upcoming AVENGERS: ENDGAME.  Perhaps Ms. Larson will grow into her role more, particularly with such an ensemble of comparative heavy-weights for her to have to mesh with.  There is possibly that.

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.