Emma

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Jane Austen

I recently listened to this on Audiobook; I had read it years ago, but literally couldn’t remember any of the plot other than that she’s a wannabe matchmaker. And in listening to it, I found out why I remembered so little of it…I really didn’t like it. Emma is annoying, very little actually happens, and I found it pretty hard going…if I weren’t driving so much that I’m virtually living in my car at this period in my life, I might not have finished it.

But the previews looked good, and Bill Nighy (an Otter Family Favorite Actor) was in it, so Mr. Otter and I hied us down to the movie house to see it.

And, well. It was a good adaptation, but it’s a book that is seriously improved by editing. The actors were good (and Bill Nighy was totally wasted- anyone could have played the role of her father as rewritten for this movie). I didn’t like Emma any more in the movie than the book, but it was well written.

But still. Compared to Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, or Persuasion, this story is just kind of lame. No sparkling characters or situations that make you turn pages to find out what is going to happen or wonderful dialogue…mostly it’s a spoiled rich girl learning her lesson, and class snobbery in the country.

And the score (which, if you actually notice it, that’s a bad thing) went from delicate early 19th century instrumental to rustic choruses singing pastoral and church songs…which was really distracting, and I guess was supposed to show the class contrast? didn’t work for either of us.

Watch it if you’re an Austen fan, or like movies of this period, or want to see pretty scenery and costumes…but otherwise? meh.


The Call of the Wild

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Jack London

Buck the Dog goes from being a house pet to lead dog on a dog sled in Alaska during the Alaska Gold Rush at the turn of the last century.

If you are the one person on earth who doesn’t know how this ends, there is a SPOILER below. However, the dog DOES NOT DIE. That’s not a spoiler, it’s Otter’s Law of Animals in Movies. I don’t go see movies where the animal dies if I can avoid them.

I went to see this with my friend Dr. Turquoise; neither of us had high expectations, except for the certainty that the CGI dog would be awful, but it was a movie and what the heck.

She was pleasantly surprised to discover that our local emporium du movies had comfy recliner seats; I don’t know how long it’s been since she went to a movie theater…!

The book this movie is based on has been considered a childhood/YA classic for many years; it was London’s first big writing success, and has remained in print since publication. It’s one of those books everyone has heard of, whether or not they’ve read it. And to be honest, I think I read it back when I was a young Otter, but I couldn’t swear to it…probably time to download it to my Kindle.

Anyway. The story takes Buck from being the huge rambunctious family dog in Santa Clara County CA, through being kidnapped and sent to Alaska, where there was such a demand for dogs to pull sleds that this was a common thing on the West coast at the time. He runs into Harrison Ford a couple of times, then ends up with him in the wilderness, where he (the dog, not Ford) meets a pack of wolves and finally joins them.

But what about Buck, the main character/dog/CGI extravaganza?

He was actually damn realistic. I kept thinking, “that’s one well-trained dog…oh, right, it’s CGI”. Amazingly good.

Harrison Ford was also pretty good, and knew enough to NOT chew too much scenery and let the dog take center stage, so that was good.

What was NOT good was the villain. The city slicker (you can tell from his clothes) who does the stupidest things ever and yet DOES NOT DIE. He takes an overloaded team out into the wilderness with his two buddies, and even after Ford has cut Buck, the lead dog, free, the team goes (totally unbelieveable, a dog team ALWAYS has to have a lead dog to follow). After the sled crashes and the dogs “run off” (and his companions, one a woman, are never mentioned again) he manages to find his way back and cause  trouble again. And he does other completely unbelieveable stuff that just had me rolling my eyes, but I won’t give away the rest of the plot. So that’s the weakest part of this movie; otherwise, it was pretty good, and we enjoyed it.

A good kids’ movie that adults can watch without suffering.


1917

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

During one day in April 1917, two soldiers are sent to cross no-mans-land at the front and deliver a message.

Ottersis and I were all over this- the previews were amazing, the movie had great word-of-mouth, and we both love war stories. Mr. Otter was full of reasons why this movie couldn’t have happened the way it did, sight unseen, so we left him at home and had a good time.

April 1917, a message must be sent across no-mans-land to stop an attack that will kill hundreds of men, including the brother of one of the guys carrying the message. The phone lines have been cut and the radio won’t work for (reasons), so they have to carry it themselves. Through trenches, bodies, no-mans-land, the german lines, towns under attack, you name it.

The thing is, the movie is close to real-time; the whole thing takes place in less than 24 hours of screen time. And the camera either follows, looks at, or uses the main character’s own pov the whole time. That alone makes it pretty amazing, especially the first third of the movie which is right up close to them and what they’re seeing and doing; after that it’s more like a regular movie, but that first third is really involving.

The story is excellent- the things that happen to them, the things they see, their talk and their friendship, the events of the war: all of these are really well done. The cinematography is excellent, it’s a beautiful picture, if one can say such a thing when so much of what is on screen is the awfulness of WWI.

If you like war movies or edge-of-your-seat suspense, this is a great choice.


Birds of Prey

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Subtitle: And the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

The aforementioned Harley Quinn leaves the Joker for good and ventures out on a life of crime on her own. Shenanigans!

I liked Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad, and was looking forward to this movie, DC’s track record notwithstanding. And…well…it was okay.

The Joker kicks Harley out, and she decides (finally) that she is not going to go crawling back to him and that they are through for good, and she tells EVERYONE this. Which means that she is no longer under his aegis, and is fair game for everyone she has ever pissed off to take revenge on. And of course she wants to continue her life of crime, so she pisses off more people who want to do her in. And there’s a very valuable diamond that goes missing…and you get the picture.

I wanted to like this. It was written and directed by women, and the only members of the cast who have actual roles (rather than just being thugs and bad guys) are women (although the major bad guy is Ewan MacGregor, that’s nice.) The writing is smart and funny, the fight scenes are great, the plot moves, there’s snappy dialogue and hilarious graffiti-like additions to the action.

And yet. I did like it, but I didn’t give one single damn about any of the characters…not Harley, not Rosie Perez as the policewoman who ends up having to join Harley to do her job, not the cute Asian girl who starts everyone chasing the mcguffin, not anyone. So the ride was fun, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really care, and it certainly doesn’t make me want to see any sequel to this movie…

Otter says meh.


Dolittle

March 3, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Dr. Doolittle sets out (with his apprentice and a bunch of animals) to find a cure for the Queen’s illness.

I have so many things to say about this movie, very little of it positive…so hold onto your hats, kids ! Oh, and there are SPOILERS if anyone cares (and you shouldn’t, really. Trust the Otter.)

Firstly, let me say that I loved these books; I had a collection of four or five of them in paperback that I read over and over and over. Before seeing this movie I reread the first one, The Story of Dr. Dolittle. And enjoyed it, although being a British book of its time, it is not politically correct in any way. So I was ready to see a more modern and less Rex Harrison-y version, and to like it very much. I mean, ROBERT DOWNEY JR? Oh yes.

And I was in the theater with Ottersis. And the movie started…and the opening credits were pretty awesome. They were set against a series of drawings showing the story of how Dolittle had a medical practice, learned to talk to animals, met a beautiful woman explorer, fell in love, she had to go on one more voyage, her ship was wrecked, and she sent Polly the parrot (whose REAL name was Polynesia, dammit!) back to Dolittle with her wedding ring…and he became a recluse.

THEN the movie started with him hiding in his house like Willy Wonka in the shut-down chocolate factory.

And you know what they say about sequels, that they’re never as good as the first movie? It was true in this case too…because the story that was told in the opening credits was AWESOME and would have made a WONDERFUL movie. This, although technically a stand-alone, was really a sequel to that story, and like most sequels…it SUCKED. (Here’s Otter’s list of Sequels that Don’t Suck)

Firstly, it was predictable. Grieving curmudgeon is forced to come back to life by a cute child and His Duty.

Secondly, the animals were way more fun than any of the actors.

Thirdly, Downey was just not at the top of his game. He was so completely phoning it in that I thought maybe he owed a favor to whoever made this damn thing and had been forced to appear in it. I mean, Iron Man. The Avengers. And as soon as his Avengers contract is over, he does…THIS? But no. He was the executive producer. It was his baby.

He must bear the blame. Especially for NOT engaging his audience, a mortal sin in a kids’ movie. Gene Wilder was a curmudgeon but (as soon as the ‘walking slowly out of the factory and scaring everyone’ part was over, he was obviously fun and interesting and engaged with the kids. Downey…was not. Granted, it can’t have been easy doing that much green screen time, since most of the actors in this movie (the animals) were cgi…but he’s done this before and it’s worked. It truly looked and felt like he just didn’t want to be there at all. And after a bit, neither did I. He was so low-key and nonreactive that it was almost painful to watch him…he was certainly not interested in engaging his audience, any more than he was interested in the movie he was STARRING IN…!

Fourthly, the plot was trite and didn’t make sense. The queen is sick, we have to assume Queen Victoria, although she is never mentioned by name. She is played by a 30 year old woman and looks younger than that, but we’ll give it 30. That would mean this movie is set in 1869 or thereabouts, but nothing in the politics or period detail reflect this. But wait, you say, this is a kid’s movie, you are overthinking it! Nope. If a movie has a definite time and place, it has to WORK. This didn’t. And of course there are plots, and one of her advisors is poisoning her with a nebulous poison that leaves her at the brink of death for an unspecified time, which Dolittle goes off on adventures and gets the fruit to make her better and gets back JUST in time to unmask the bad guy and fix ol’ Queenie right up. Shades of The Magician’s Nephew, seriously.

The CGI animals were darn cute, although a little too cute and scene-stealy. The rest of the cast was fine. But the plot…there were other plot problems, which brings me to

Fifthly. More than once, we are told about something amazing and exciting, either because the movie was getting too long or they ran out of CGI budget. There was a point, I think when they reached the island of the guy who was supposed to help them but threw them into prison instead, and the movie literally cut from the ship to them climbing up the ramparts of the castle while the parrot (Emma Thompson) who was also the narrator told us that amazing adventures had happened to get them there. Huh? Then why didn’t you show them to us instead of referring to them so offhandedly? This is just plain bad writing, for whatever reason, and should not have happened.

So yes, I disliked this movie intensely. It was badly written, Downey was awful, and the plot, even for a kid’s movie, was trite and annoying. Why, oh why, did they not make the movie from the beginning credits? I guess we’ll never know…

 


Duck Soup

March 3, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Groucho ends up running a country. Wheee!

Who doesn’t love the Marx Brothers? Well, at least we Chez Otter do! CoyoteRambles was visiting, and movies are a big part of his visits, so we all decided on having some fun and watching this again.

It’s one of my fav Marx Bro movies; the ridiculousness of the plot (Groucho is made the leader of a fictional country that is on the brink of war with another country. You can guess how well that turns out…), the Hail Freedonia song (as well as Hurray for Captain Spaulding), the costumes and settings, the silliness of everything going on…this movie has it all!

Whether or not you have seen it before, or even if you have never seen the Marx Brothers at the top of their game, this is a great one to watch over and over and over…


2001: A Space Odyssey

February 18, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

There is a book with this title by Arthur C. Clarke; he worked on it with Stanley Kubrick while the movie was being filmed, and the book was released after the movie came out with out.

Like I can describe this movie in one sentence. Okay, here goes: Human evolution as enhanced by wierd monoliths, from early man to space travel, and what happens to the first astronauts to go to Jupiter. Hm. Not perfect, but it’ll do.

I saw this movie when it was new, when I was a very young otter indeed, at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, which has an 86 FOOT WIDE SCREEN. It was quite an experience, and I’ve never forgotten the wonder and coolness of that movie, and have seen it many times.

And yet, here it is 2020, and I had not reviewed it…which means that I have not seen it since January 1, 2002, which is when I started reviewing every movie I watch. Wow. That amazed me.

CoyoteRambles was visiting us, and as is our wont, after a good dinner we settled down with some delicious libations to watch a movie or two. This came up in the conversation, and since he had taught it in a class for foreign students, we decided to watch it; one of the best things about watching movies with CoyoteRambles is that he knows so much about movies.

And as I remembered, it was wonderful.

But…there are SPOILERS ahead.

If you are one of the few in the world who haven’t seen it yet, you may want to come back to this review after watching it. Go ahead, I’ve got some free time.

You back? Okay!

So yes, the cinematography is amazing. And beautiful in many ways. We found out from CR that the only reason the makeup artist DIDN’T win an Oscar for the first section, the apelike hominids, was because everyone thought they were really apes instead of people with amazing makeup…wow.

It’s fun, fifty years later, to see the concept of future tech.

On the one hand, video phone calls and recorded video messages. On the other hand, no handheld devices.

On the one hand, computers. On the other hand, mostly keypads or voice commands.

On the one hand, a regular shuttle flight to the space station, stewardess and all. On the other hand, palatial amounts of room and meal/drinks service…not really the travel experience of today for most people, plus for a trip like that economizing on space would be important.

Hindsight is so easy. But the internal logic of how all of it worked together was very consistent, and a joy to watch, either then or now…although seeing it as a 10 year old, the plot didn’t completely make sense to me until I read the book…but I was that kind of kid, ALWAYS read the book.

CoyoteRambles said he had had an epiphany about the movie, even after watching it umpteen times: at the end Kier Dullea finds a hidden recorded message about the government finding a monolith on the moon, realizing that it was sending a signal to Jupiter, and covering that up…and that ‘knowing’ that, having it in his memory but having to lie about it, was what drove HAL crazy. That was an interesting insight!

This is one of the truly great movies. If you haven’t seen it, do it now.

 

 


Cats

February 18, 2020

Internet Movie Database           Movie Reviews

From the wonderful Old Possom’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot

And the stage play by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

A group of cats are waiting to see who will be chosen to be reborn into a new life. Really, that’s the plot.

I am an old enough otter to remember when this show came out; a dear friend had tickets and couldn’t go, so she gave them to me and Mr. Otter, and we sat in the THIRD ROW CENTER. There were cats EVERYWHERE. And I loved the poetry, which I had never read, and got the book, and got the album, and listened to it a lot, and…got over it. Not the poetry, that’s still awesome. And in fact Jennyanydots was my cat, and if you want to hear stories about her I’d be glad to tell them, she was one of the Great Cats.

But I digress.

The thing you have to know is, we Chez Otter DO NOT LIKE Andrew Lloyd Webber. We DO NOT LIKE him with a particular and virulent passion  that we reserve for few other human beings. We don’t play his music, or go to any of the millions of the revivals of Phantom, or anything like that, and when his name comes up we heap SCORN on him. My favorite comment about this show is, yes, but he had a great lyricist…

Although I have to admit I inadvertently tear up whenever I hear the song Memories, so there it is.

So this movie trailer came out and pretty much broke the internets. I think we were all under the assumption that this would be more like a filmed version of the play, with HUMANS in cat makeup. Instead of the weird looking CGI…THINGS… that were on stage. And the movie opened to even more WTF and furor.

I turned to Ottersis. Want to go hate-watch Cats? (yes, this is a thing).

Sure, she said, and we did.

And, well. At least I had seen the trailers and read about what to expect, because WTF was a pretty mild reaction.

They put people in full-body fur suits and CGI’d over them to make them…kinda…look…like…maybe…cats? They more looked like people in tight fur suits, because PEOPLE ARE JOINTED DIFFERENTLY FROM CATS and (as the man says) there’s no doing anything about it. So even thought they tried to look like actual felines, it failed, and looked wierder than if they were just people dancing like people.

The furry ‘suits’ were really odd, the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, they CGI’d the actors’ bodies to look more like cats, but all they ended up being was amorphous shapes…no boobs (hmm, cgi’ing 6 nipples on Taylor Swift might have been interesting…) and of course no boy bits on the boy kitties, although (as I said to my sis) at least they had the good sense to neuter these travesties so they don’t reproduce…! Their fur is fur, but doesn’t really look like cat fur, it more looks like thin soft rabbit fur. This makes the actors even less catlike than they would have been if the feline-ness were just suggested. Didn’t work for me.

And they had them on overlarge sets to make them look like they were cat-sized, but the relative sizes of the stuff around them wasn’t consistent, so it was just wierd as well.

To (I guess) make it more of a story/experience/worth the money, they rewrote it and added a lot of plot that wasn’t originally there…including at least one more song, which was completely MEH. The new (way overwritten) plot was stupid, and there was WAY too much overproduction…more sets, dancing cats, fancy effects, you name it.

At its core, this is a simple musical that shows off Eliot’s brilliant poetry to great effect; all the boom and whango of the movie doesn’t add anything to that, and distracts from it. It would have been SO much better to pick a really good production of the play (or hire the actors to do one) and present that…but no.

I understand that this has already become a cult singalong movie…have fun, kids. I have so many earworms from this show (even as I type) that I don’t dare go see it again for fear my head would explode…

 


Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Review

Um, you know, the good guys need to defeat the bad guys because it’s the last movie.

I am of an age to have seen the original Star Wars movie (which I will forever refer to as Star Wars, NOT ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’, dammit!) in the theaters, and if you have listened to any of us old people go on and on about it, you know what a life changer that was. As were the two sequels.

Then came the travesties that were the prequels, and the less said about them the better. (Episode I came out before I started writing reviews and I’m sure not going back and seeing it again, but here are Episode II and Episode III for your reading pleasure.)

Then Disney bought the franchise, and of course they had to make billions more dollars and put their stamp on it…and the first of their movies, that would be Episode VII, was pretty good. The second, Episode VIII, was pretty good.

Aaaand…here’s the one where they are supposed to wrap all of it up in a pretty bow, and finish it off satisfyingly. And…not so good.

As my daughter, Maid of Awesome, said, it’s okay for a standalone but really doesn’t work as part of the series.

Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan. I can’t tell you who all the characters and aliens and background plot points are. But even I had trouble with some things:

The ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are really hard to tell apart. I don’t mean the individual people- obviously, if they’re wearing black, or look scary, or have British accents, they’re BAD. Otherwise they’re GOOD. The Republic and the Resistance are the good guys (and if they’re a Republic, why do they need to also be the Resistance?). The First Order is bad guys. Okay. But the good guys are presented as scrappy fighters without much of a budget, fighting against the big bad guys…but they always seem to have a nice big army at the end, like this movie, where literally thousands of spacecraft show up to fight the bad guys. Who coordinated that? and how? You can’t just send out one call for help and hope someone shows up…and the bad guys had this amazing fleet of ships on a secret planet, each one with a weapon that could vaporize an entire planet. Why were they sitting there waiting for the good guys to destroy them, instead of being used?

Stuff like that kept bothering me, and to be honest, there were so many characters jockeying for their minute of screen time that I was not even trying to keep track, but just letting it flow in front of my eyes. I was sorry that Rose got shorted in this one, she was a good character. Poe just had the ‘maverick’ label stuck on him, so his major character trait was to go off half-cocked and do whatever he wanted in any given situation…not a good thing in a secret army. I felt like the writers were just coming up with characters, and audience reaction would determine who got a good role in the next movie. Again, not good.

This was okay but not great, and I can’t envision myself ever wanting to see it again. At least (I hope) the series is over; the one-offs seem to have stopped with the abysmal failure of Solo. But with Disney, nothing ever ends…


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book of the same title by Jules Verne.

A group of scientists trying to find out what has happened to a missing ship in the early 1800s finds a reclusive misanthrope who lives in a submarine and takes his revenge on the world by attacking merchant ships and military vessels.

This was one of my favorite books when I was a young otter, and I have to say that Disney cheesiness aside, it’s a heck of a movie. Mr. Otter has loved this movie since he first saw it in the theater, and showed it to me many years ago.

Kirk Douglas is the main character and comedy relief, as a harpooner who is invited to join Professor Aronnax’s expedition to find the missing ship; after they do come across Nemo, they realize they must stop him.

James Mason is wonderful as Nemo, as he on the one hand proudly shows off all his scientific innovations and on the other foams at the mouth when talking about the evils of modern society. Douglas is amusing and well cast, and Peter Lorre is the professor’s much-put-upon assistant. There is also a sea lion mascot, and a giant squid attack. Who could ask for more?

This is just fun to watch, no history or science brain needed.