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…

 


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…


Little Women

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

 

From the book of the same name by Louisa May Alcott.

The lives of four girls growing up during the Civil War.

I wasn’t a girly girl at all…I didn’t read Judy Blume or Nancy Drew or ANY book called Little Women. I did, however, read Little Men and Jo’s Boys and loved them, as well as a lot of other Alcott books. I didn’t actually read this book til I was in college. And I LOVED it, and read it several times.

I may have seen one of the earlier movie adaptations of this story, but (maybe happily) don’t remember either of them. A friend has told me that the Hepburn version BAD, Allyson GOOD. Maybe sometime I’ll watch them and let you know.

Mr. Otter and I went to see this, he never having read the book and me being very familiar with it, and we both loved it.

Firstly, it’s beautiful. The cinematography is lovely, and evocative, and a joy to the eye. Color, movement, flow, all wonderful.

The actors are all excellent, and it was nice to see Laura Dern playing Marmee with a bit of spunk. Mr. Otter’s Golden Love Object, Meryl Streep, plays Aunt March. And the rest of the cast was very well chosen, including Saoirse Ronan as Jo.

The manners are a little too modern; everyone is too open, too easy with each other, too informal. There is a scene where Jo (living on her own and trying to get published) is dancing in a pub or bar with a group of men. Nothing salacious, and today we’d think nothing of if, but it WAS NOT DONE then. Just things like that were noticeable…but make it a little more relatable to modern audiences.

Overall, this was a fine movie, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

 

 


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

December 6, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A journalist is assigned to do a story about Fred Rogers and ends up becoming his friend.

This was more interesting than I expected. Mr. Otter and I really only went to see this movie because we both think Tom Hanks is the awesome with awesome sauce on top and a side of awesome. I thought, a movie about Mr. Rogers? Isn’t that going to be a little dull? But no, it wasn’t.

I was a little too old to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I’ve certainly seen his show since growing up, and I have to say, Tom Hanks really nailed his voice, movements and slow, friendly cadence. And seeing the contrast between this quiet, gentle person and the brash, conflicted, skeptical reporter really made for a good movie.

A reporter named Tom Junod (renamed Lloyd Vogel in the movie) is burned out from being a war correspondent, has burned bridges with every magazine editor in town, is a bad boy who’s hard to work with and who has big anger issues…and his editor, as his last chance, assigns him to do a short article on Mr. Rogers…which turns into a long article and a lifelong friendship, because that’s just how Mr. Rogers worked.

This movie is well made, charming and heartwarming without being stupid, soppy or sentimental. If you need a bit of ‘up’, it’s a great one to see.


Joker

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Instead of the origin story of a superhero, we get that of a supervillain, the eponymous Joker.

There has been a lot of controversy about this movie, which is basically about the rise of a crazed serial killer; those who oppose it say that this is another example of glorified violence. Personally, I think the movie made the Joker and his life look damn unattractive, but that’s just my opinion. I did think it was brilliant and that Joaquin Phoenix (who is a favorite actor Chez Otter) deserves a damn Oscar for this. He was that good.

And now I’m going to venture into SPOILERLAND, so if you don’t want to find out anything about what happens, stop here.

So wow. I had tried to see this for a month, even attempting to get to a movie theater while on vacation, and it just didn’t work out…then I suddenly found myself with an afternoon free (anomalous for me) and just went ahead and did it…and I’m so glad I did.

This is the slow descent into madness of a serial killer, and Phoenix brings out every nuance of crazy. He is believeable, sociopathic, and scary as hell. I can see why it got huge acclaim at the Venice and Cannes festivals; it’s not about capes or superpowers, it’s just about this one guy and watching him live his life.

The one thing that I found odd was his last interaction with the woman and child he’s fixated on…did he kill them? He just left their apartment, but nothing was shown…I found out later that all his interactions with her were imaginary, from meeting in the elevator onwards; this makes more sense than that she (especially being the mother of a young child) would have ANYTHING to do with him, but I somehow missed that that was going on.

Otherwise (and that was probably my mistake, not the writers’) it was well written, amazingly acted, and dark as hell.

If your taste runs to this sort of dark psychological drama thing, make sure you see it. If it doesn’t, here’s a nice kitty you can look at instead: