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.


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.


Macbeth (1961)

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database

From the play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

Aaah,  the Scottish Play. With the Scottish Sean Connery. Back when he was seriously young and not well known, a year before Dr. No.

This is one of those 60s television theater productions, with minimal scenery, stark lighting and very earnest actors…and you know, Sean isn’t half bad, although then as now he tended to run his words together almost unintelligibly. There was nobody else in the production that I had ever heard of, but they were all good, probably bright lights of the TV theater scene at the time.

This is a pretty well done production, and worth seeing. Although they don’t cut off Macbeth’s head in the end and parade around with it, for some reason, even though that’s a high point of the play…


The House with a Clock in its Walls

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book with the same name by John Bellairs

A recently orphaned boy goes to live with his uncle and finds out that said uncle is a sorcerer…and the house he lives in hides a secret that can destroy the universe.

So firstly: the book. I loved this book when it came out, and during my years as a children’s librarian would hand it to any kid who was looking for a scary story that was more engaging than Goosebumps. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and (bonus) illustrated by Edward Gorey, which only adds to the creepy factor. After seeing this movie, I reread the book…and did enjoy it, remembering the major plot twists as I read, and vividly remembering the illustrations. But (as many older things are to our modern sensibilities) it had less ‘scary roller coaster’ feel to it than I remembered; although the payoff at the end is still awesome, much of the book is descriptive rather than action. Which I enjoyed, but modern readers (aka kids) might not.

And then there’s the movie. Jack Black is awesome as Lewis’ uncle Jonathan, and Cate Blanchett is the next-door neighbor and Jonathan’s best friend. It was nice to see that the movie kept their relationship friendly without throwing love overtones in it; not every pair of people hanging out together has to be romantic. The story was good and of course the special effects were excellent.

But (and you knew this was coming, right?) But.

And here’s where the SPOILERS come in…

Kyle MacLachlan (or as he’s known Chez Otter, Peggy Waffles) is the evil Isaac Izard, who, with his wife, want to unmake the world even after they’re dead. Which is their whole motivation in the book, and a perfectly good one. But no. Not in the movie. In the movie, Izard wants to start time over again so that his PTSD will go away. Seriously. Not because humanity sucks, not because he lost someone and wants to get him/her back, not because he’s just evil and rolls that way. He’s a whinyboy trying to make all the hurty feelings go away.

As a motive, it really didn’t work for me. PTSD is so prevalant for so many awful reasons that this guy just made me roll my eyes and want to smack him upside the head for a whiner.

And I really get tired of bad guys needing hifalutin reasons for being bad…almost every movie now does this, and I’m pretty tired of it. I’d love to see one about a bad guy who’s just bad because he’s, well, BAD.

LIke, well, Joker…


Aquaman

February 8, 2019

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

A princess of the undersea kingdom Atlantis refuses an arranged marriage, shows up on the doorstep of a lighthouse keeper, falls in love (of course), they have a kid and she has to go back.

There are a couple of SPOILERS below, but really, don’t worry about them, you’ve already guessed what’s going to happen…or won’t care by the time they do…

Oh, DC, why do you keep doing this to me? Why do I keep LETTING you do this to me over and over? It’s the classic abuse pattern- you show me awesome teaser trailers, and I think, this time it’ll be different! This time will be better! THIS movie won’t SUCK.

But it does.

The only exception I’ve found to this was the really good Wonder Woman movie…but the rest? meh. This one didn’t suck as badly as (insert name of any Batman or Superman movie made in the last 10 years)…but that doesn’t make it good.

So yes. I did have high hopes for this movie. They did Wonder Woman right, after all, so now they KNOW HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MOVIE, right? Marvel has practically made a checklist of HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MOVIE, and DC has been studying their movies assiduously, so they get it now, right? They read all the bad press on the last ten years of suck, and they’re not going do do that any more, because NOT doing all that stuff will tell them HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MOVIE, right?

Right?

Well, no.

I do not know what is going on at DC, but Aquaman had all the same flaws as the rest of their movies. There were some things that have been improved, but not nearly enough. What could be improved?

  1. Jason Mamoa is really adorable; not only handsome, but he’s got a personality, and that comes through when he plays Aquaman. What does not come through is any vestige of acting ability. And he mumbles a lot, which for les femmes d’un certain age makes it REALLY hard to care about the interpersonal dynamics because I miss some of the witty repartee that passes for character development here.
  2. Plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through. Things happen by coincidence or just because. Characters find stuff they need to find almost without trying. Things are where they need to be (or not where they should be) because if it happened otherwise the plot wouldn’t move. THIS IS EXTREMELY ANNOYING.
  3. Why can’t someone just, like, die or be gone? His mother is dragged away by her-father-the-king’s warrior minions, and shows up again in this wierd middle-of-the-earth kind of place protecting (what a coincidence!) the very thing he needs to be king himself. That nobody but he has ever been able to fight well enough to reach. Um, okay, sure. WAAAY too much of this movie just has to be accepted on faith. 
  4. The whole air vs. water thing. In the Justice League movie, one of the things that made me roll my eyes was when Aquaman went to his undersea kingdom and he and someone else (might have been his mom then too) had to GET INTO A BUBBLE OF AIR to talk. No, didn’t work. So now the filmmakers have decided that air or water works with no difference for talking or listening or whatever. Except it does, of course. And in theory, he is the synthesis of water and air and is comfortable in either. But so is his girlfriend. And his mother. And the minions sent to fetch her. So why is he special? 
  5. The whole ‘kid who can suddenly talk to animals’ scene, straight from the Harry Potter movies. Which is cute with a kid. But when he’s a grownup and fighting battles, isn’t it WRONG to use your command over all the aquatic species to simply order them to fight for you, and to let you ride them to war where they get killed with no choice in the matter? Really? I hated that.
  6. And finally…the whole DC need for attention. The way the main character strikes a pose, not just once as in the Marvel movies when he/they are about to take care of business, but OVER and OVER and OVER. There were at least 5 times in this movie when Aquaman would stop for just a second, strike a superhero pose, and then go do whatever it was. And he changed underwater armor like Cher in a concert, he had at least three sets of it, finishing up with GOLD LAMÉ … or LAME, as I see it. 

DC has a justly earned reputation of venerating their characters, wanting them to be larger than life, impressive and, well, SUPER. The problem is, THAT IS NOT GOOD MOVIEMAKING. As we’ve seen over and over and over again, the more they try to impress us with how totally cool they are, the less cool the movies are. This one was supposed to do for DC what Iron Man did for Marvel…and it might have, with good writing and character development, two things Marvel excels in right now. 

Sorry, DC. You lose.


La La Land

February 8, 2019

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

A pianist and an actress meet in LA and fall in love.

We chez Otter had gathered for the annual New Year’s Day Videofest, which had as its 2019 theme: Best Cinematography Oscar. Mr. Otter and I had not seen this one, so we were happy when it started off the day of movies (the names of the 8 films we choose get drawn from a bowl so we never know what’s coming up.)

This got a ton of press and awards; the list of Oscars that it won:

  • Best Actress
  • Best Director
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Music, both Original Score and Original Song
  • Best Achievement in Production Design (which I had never heard of and had to look up; used to be called Best Art Direction. Whatever.)

You’ll notice that NONE of these awards have anything to do with the quality of writing or plot. And with good reason. This was beautiful fluff.

Yes, it is a pretty movie. The first number, with everyone dressed in brightly colored clothes, stuck on a freeway onramp, dancing around and on their cars, was awesome.

And it kind of went downhill from there, for several reasons:

  1. Neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone can really sing. They can, as we say Chez Otter, carry a tune in a bucket, and they look really pretty, but neither are really singers.
  2. The plot was so not that good. Two broke wannabes in LA find each other, but then they have to choose between each other and their dreams. Either way, btdt.
  3. The songs were so generic; I literally cannot remember one tune, phrase or song title, even the one that won an Oscar. Just pretty fluff.

And…you know. Blah blah blah, and except for the VERY pretty eye candy all through this movie, that was about my reaction to it. Glad I watched it, never need to see it again, meh.