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.

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.