Little Women

February 4, 2020

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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

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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.


Spider-Man: Far From Home

December 6, 2019

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This review has, by necessity, spoilers for Avengers: Endgame…so if you haven’t seen that, go watch it now and come on back to find out what the Otter has to say about Spidey’s latest adventure!

 

No worries, I’ll wait…

 

and I’m waiting…

 

All done? Wasn’t that great? Now, let’s get back to Spidey.

 

Peter Parker goes on a class trip to Europe, hoping to just be a student, but of course Spider-man is needed.

This movie takes place after Avengers: Endgame, and if you recall, the people who disappeared at the end of Infinity War reappeared five years later. Peter Parker was one of them. I really loved that they made that part of this movie, and the fact that all these people (especially young people) are now dealing with having been moved ahead five years while everyone who didn’t disappear has gone on with their lives, and also gotten older…so high school students come back to a school where all their friends have graduated and moved on, and they are still the age they were. Really well done.

There is a world-wide threat, the Avengers are no more (literally, for many of them) and the world expects Spidey to take the lead role, not realizing that he’s a kid (or really caring). Peter is just trying to get on with his life, get a date with Mary Jane, and not be a superhero for a while…but of course is dragged into the mess. There are superbeings targeting different places on Earth, and a guy named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) who shows up to help stop the baddies, and Nick Fury is trying to recruit Spidey, and of course things go wrong on the class trip.

This was a really good and satisfying coda to the Avengers saga, well worth watching. Good, fast-paced and believeable writing, characters that you care about, and some interesting plot twists made this one of the better Spider-man movies. Well worth seeing, says the Otter.


For Me and my Gal

November 15, 2019

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George Murphy, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly are vaudeville performers and there’s a love triangle and Judy’s brother gets sent off to WWI and stuff happens interspersed with song and dance numbers. You know how it goes.

This was a fairly mediocre movie for its time, been there done that. A couple of decent dance numbers, and for once Gene Kelly didn’t pull his hat over his ears…then suddenly they turn it into a huge patriotic spectacle for (in the movie) WWI but of course it was actually for WWII because this was made in 1942. Not only is the change jarring, but it’s eye-rollingly jingoistic and kind of boring, and detracts from any liking this otter had for the movie up to that point.

Not to mention the really clunky plot device they used to keep Gene Kelly from being drafted so he could go out and entertain the troops, find Judy, redeem himself, and be all patriotic and stuff.

Pretty lame, even for a musical of this era. Judy was certainly in there trying to keep it above water, but that was the only thing it had going for it.

 


Joker

November 15, 2019

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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:

 


Macbeth (1961)

November 15, 2019

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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

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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…


Les Visiteurs du Soir

November 15, 2019

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The Devil sends two demons to a castle in the Middle Ages to torment earthly souls.

When I was a young otter, back in the beforetime when movies were only available to watch when the Television Gods scheduled them, one would check the TV listings every week to see what was being shown and when, and plan ones calendar around seeing the things one loved because who knew when- or if- they would ever come back?

This movie was one of my favorites, and I would always stay up til whatever wierd hour it was being shown to see it again. It’s romantic (the demons decide to make two humans fall in love with them and thus destroy them, and you know what happens instead…!), beautifully filmed in black and white, and a treat to watch, even with subtitles. Very quiet and slow-moving by today’s standards, but stately and beautiful and inevitable in its course.

Interestingly enough, this movie was filmed in Vichy in 1942, in Nazi-controlled France; the reason they made a historical fantasy was to avoid censorship…but then they created an amazing gem of a movie.

If you haven’t seen it, find it…and have your box of kleenex handy.

 


Once Upon A Time….In Hollywood

August 3, 2019

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A pretty-much-washed up TV actor and his driver move through 1969 Hollywood, interacting with the movie/TV community and the Manson family…

 

Mr. Otter and I had to vacate the house for most of a day to let our awesome contractor, WonderPaul, do his thing.

I”m going to go see the new Tarantino flick at our local Emporium du Movies, I said. Wanna come?

Hm, said Mr. Otter, I didn’t much like his last couple of movies, and I’m not sure about this one…on the other hand, we have to be out of the house, so okay!

Thus we hied ourselves downtown, managed with help to find the almost-invisible parking garage, and armed with popcorn and coffee for Mr. Otter….were treated to half an hour of previews. Most of which we enjoyed.

But not half as much as we enjoyed this movie.

Bad boy, self-involved asshole, provacateur, annoying git…call Tarantino what you like, the fact is that along with all those things, he is brilliant. He knows his movies, TV shows and Hollywood history. And all of that knowledge makes this story wonderful. There is so much richness here, so many details that are just right, so many things to say Wow! and exclaim over. There are great characters, wonderful settings, good storytelling. A lot of the movie is just people talking to each other, and none of it is dull.

And then there’s the Manson family thing…because Di Caprio lives next door to Roman Polanski, his wife Sharon Tate, and their semi-permanent houseguest Jay Sebring. In 1969. And anyone in the audience who knows anything about the horror that was the Manson Family knows that this is not going to end well. I loved watching this movie. I enjoyed the characters, especially Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. I loved the carefully crafted cameos of well-known Hollywood figures who showed up here and there. I loved the dynamics, the jokes, the look of the movie. And every time the date on the narrative got closer to the end, my fingernails dug into the seat arms. Because even though I knew (from other reviews) that Tarantino, as is his wont, had played a bit fast and loose with the actual events…I was still expecting a bloody horror at the end.

And I will say no more, except that i was right, and it was both awesome and satisfying. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie and can’t wait to see it again.

I know there are a lot of people who are unhappy with the things Tarantino rewrote, but at both the beginning and end he emphasizes that this is a FABLE of Hollywood, not actual truth. And a very good one it is too.

A masterpiece, says the Otter. Go see it right now.

 


Michael Collins

June 22, 2019

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Biopic of one of the major figures in the Irish War for Independence.

Mr. Otter and I had just come back from Ireland, and were watching some movies that had to do with the people and places we’d been…he was surprised that I hadn’t seen this, since Serious Honey Liam Neeson plays the title role.

So we watched it one night, and it was mostly very good. As far as I can tell it was pretty historically accurate; costumes and settings were good. The movie focused as much on Collins’ personal life as it did his politics and various roles in the War for Independence. And Neeson was very good as Colliins, as was pretty much everyone in this movie (there’s an added bonus of Alan Rickman as Eamon de Valera)…except Julia Roberts, who played Kitty Kiernan, who was romantically involved with both Collins and his best friend, Harry Boland.

Which is a great story- a real-life romantic triangle set against the backdrop of nasty politics and the struggle for freedom.

If only Julia Roberts hadn’t been cast…sure, she’s pretty, she can act some…but she didn’t look, sound or act Irish or like a woman of the time. She stood out like a sore thumb in pretty much every scene she was in. If they had tattooed HEY I’M JULIA ROBERTS on her forehead it wouldn’t have been less distracting.

Otherwise? A fine movie, full of all the things that make movies good. But I’m downgrading it one $ for Roberts; I didn’t know she was in it when we started watching it…