Movie Minute: Volume 2

Continue with me as I watch and review older movies!

Inkheart

Inkheart (2008)

Inkheart is in the tragic company of movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. 2005-2010 was not a kind time for book to movie adaptations. But Inkheart, based on one of my favorite books of all time by German author Cornelia Funke, has something those other movies don’t have. A sense of fun.

Inkheart is unintentionally hilarious, and is my ultimate guilty-pleasure junk food movie. I have seen it a few times now, and I will continue to love it unabashedly. There is something otherworldly and magical about seeing prestigious actors in B-level fantasy roles that I will never grow tired of. Helen Mirren riding a unicorn, Jim Broadbent watching on as Andy Serkis is eaten by a mythical shadow-monster, and Paul Bettany talking to a ferret and breathing fire is the movie I never knew I wanted. While I love the better adaptations we’ve gotten, The Hunger Games still has nothing on this.

RAIN MAN

Rain Man (1988)

It’s interesting to watch the commentary on autism Rain Man presents in 2017. On one hand, it is clear we have come further in our understanding of autism in the last 29 years. However, our depiction of autism on screen really hasn’t, making Rain Man an even more outstanding film. When movies do show autism, the characters generally must either be extraordinary, as to justify their existence within the film, or they must be tiptoed around, a beacon of representation without the humanity it requires to be a successful one.

Rain Man takes the bolder route of letting Raymond be a fairly standard autistic man, and making the other characters around him change. Raymond acts how he wants to act, and we as an audience, through Tom Cruise’s’ Charlie, have to adjust our own perceptions, not the other way around. Raymond never has to become a comfortable presence for us. This makes Rain Man a very interactive experience. Not only am I watching a movie, I’m experiencing the frustration that can come with interacting with someone who is different than I am, and am also experiencing frustration at Charlie for not being more sympathetic to Reymond. This push and pull between characters and audience makes Rain Man feel more real than the occasionally uneven screenplay does. While the film is well made, very-well acted, and has a lovely score, the unique experience of the film was my main takeaway. It is a must-see.

miss potter

Miss Potter (2006)

To be honest, Victorian period dramas are not my cup of tea. I’m a little tired of the standard petticoat and British accent award bait films. While not every period piece that comes out is made with Oscar intentions, there is something about actresses getting stuffed into a corset and bemoaning pre-liberated society that makes the academy go wild. Because of this, I was not naturally inclined to like this film.

Miss Potter is about the life of Beatrix Potter, the author known for her Peter Rabbit stories. Throughout the course of the film, she gets published, falls in love, becomes a conservationist, and that is about it.  If that sounds dull to you, then you’re right, it is.

The most important thing the film does is give a wider audience knowledge about Beatrix Potter. And while her story is not particularly thrilling, she is someone people should know about. Beatrix Potter is a role model, and it is because she is ordinary enough to be relatable, but just courageous enough to look up to. She interacts with her world as I think we all do, yet she is able to go the extra mile to become a person whom we can admire.

However, not even a great heroine could sway me to really enjoy this film. My biggest problem with Miss Potter is that it just doesn’t seem to have a point. Now sure, there are some nice messages here. The importance of conservation, telling stories, doing what you love, and moving on after loss. And telling the story of any human life has intrinsic value. But the film didn’t feel like it was directed with urgency, or passion. It does not seem like someone was bursting with the desire to tell the story of Beatrix Potter. It seems like someone just decided they might as well make a movie about Beatrix Potter, and not a particularly interesting one at that.

The-Godfather

The Godfather I&II

I don’t feel like I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about Francis Ford Coppola’s epic masterpiece, so I’ll just say this: it’s mandatory viewing for any cinephile. Or, anybody who just wants to see great art.

okja

Okja (2017)

Okja, a new Netflix original movie, is a message movie. And being a message movie is hard, especially when the message is about food.

Okja argues against GMO foods and the modern food industry, taking aim at pork production in particular. Because it’s a message movie, it doesn’t take a look at all sides. The villains are some of the most over the top and cartoony I’ve ever seen, and there isn’t much room for debate when you bring in Holocaust imagery.

But the saving grace for Okja from being a very on-the-nose movie about heroic animal activists and super pigs, is its direction. Thanks to director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) the film offers up much more.

The standout of Okja is newcomer actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn. She’s not only impressively able to act against a CGI pig with conviction, she’s also a force to be reckoned with against the adult actors and an action star in the making. She does some Tom Cruise level stunts in this film, and pulls them all off beautifully. The supporting cast all get time to shine, too. Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins all have particularly good moments.

In the end, it’s the stylistic direction of Joon-ho that keeps you going through the movie. The film has some clunkier moments, and the message will be grating to some, but at least it has a position, purpose, and drive. It’s a quirky, whimsical and dark fairy tale that may be one of the most unique things you see all year. It is clear that Bong Joon-ho was bursting to make this film, and it shows. That is what makes any message movie work.

-Madeleine D

The Sanctity of Martian Life: The Space Between Us

space-between-us

It’s hard to be a teenager. Gardner and Tulsa would know best. Tulsa’s a foster kid, about to age out of the system. She’s counting down the days until she can be free. The only person who makes her feel less isolated is her email pen-pal Gardner.

Gardner feels the same way. Nobody understands him. He’s stuck in his room all the time. He doesn’t have any friends his age. The only confidant he has is a scientist and a robot. He’s completely isolated. It’s like he lives on Mars.

Wait-

he does… live…. on Mars.

The Space Between Us tells the story of Gardner, who, after his astronaut mother gives birth to him on Mars, is sent back to earth when he’s old enough. When he gets down to Earth, he finds out his body can’t survive on Earth for long. He’s told by the founder of the program that sent his mother into space in the first place, Dr. Shepard (Gary Oldman and his long, luscious locks, possibly the greatest strength of the whole movie), that he has to go back.

So Gardner escapes. He breaks out of the NASA facility and finds Tulsa (who for some unforgivable reason does not, in fact, live in Tulsa), who at first doesn’t believe him. But when she gets pulled along onto his fugitive adventure to find his father and experience Earth for the first time, they both discover what is so magical about our world.

The most glaring flaw in The Space Between Us is its identity crisis. The film is torn between being an interesting blockbuster, a genre-twisting space movie, and a Nickelodeon teen romance with a big budget. One minute, Dr. Shepard is talking about the importance of space and exploration. The next minute, Tulsa and Gardner are making out. Then, in the next scene, Gardner is reflecting on the importance of living life to the fullest and about the beauty around us. Then, the film steals from the Me Before You playbook with an on-the-nose song about mutual pining.

You could say this is brilliant screenwriting. Gardner is torn between what he is. Is he a marvel of modern science, or a boy who just wants to be normal? Maybe there is a bigger, deeper meaning to this flip-flopping picture!

Or, you know, it could just be bad screenwriting.

The film, to its credit, does a pretty good job with both of its identities. The Mars setting, despite shots seemingly ripped straight from The Martian, is nicely realized. The discussion about Gardner and the ethics of his situation are clearly explained. I can understand both sides. It may be a little talky, but creating a dilemma where I can empathize with everyone involved is sophisticated.

The film takes place in a distant future. It’s the optimistic future portrayed in The Martian, and after a few too many Hunger Games and Divergences, I’m happy to say I’d be content if that is where our future is headed.

As for the teen romance/ road-trip-for-freedom movie embedded in here, it’s impossible to dislike, unless you don’t have a heart. Or, you are are a NASA scientist. This is where Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson shine. They take two-day romances and make them feel real. I felt the chemistry even in the stalest of lines. Britt Robertson, in particular, is able to take a role that could have easily rolled into Mary Sue and unlikable territory and keeps it real. It’s what she did in 2015’s Tomorrowland, and she does it again here, and I’m continually impressed.

One of the best aspects of the film is its messages. The tagline of the film- “What is your favorite thing about earth?”- gets repeated several times by the characters. It’s got all the nuance of that pesky feather from Forrest Gump. Except, maybe during a time when a lot of people are feeling anxious and scared, remembering the wonderful things in life isn’t a bad thing.

The other message besides the obvious one is something I think is maybe even more powerful. The Space Between Us has a very compelling pro-life message. It starts right from the get-go. Gardner’s mother knows having her baby is a risk. Yet she chooses to have him, at the cost of her own life. Then the NASA scientists have a choice: risk the boy’s life in order to bring him to earth to do some PR, or leave him up there. Then throughout the whole movie, every single character’s mission is the same thing: Save Gardner.

As Gardner embarks on his road trip, he impacts every person he meets, because he  has a love of life that he spreads. His life is valuable, and so is theirs. I would go so far as to say that Gardner could be seen as a metaphor for special needs children. Life is precious, and it should always be protected. Often people like that are the ones that show it best.

That is a message we need. The film isn’t on the nose, or obvious about it. It may not have even had the intention of it. But a message that is more timely than, remember what is good in your life, is, remember who is worthy of life. Everyone. And we have to band together, like the characters in this movie, to make sure that we protect this right, for every single person around us.

For me, this message, and me being an absolute sucker for so many things in this film (the actors,  finding your father storylines, road trips) make it a lovely movie. Yes, it is flawed. Yes, it has an identity crisis. And yes, it is not the next Citizen Kane. But it falls in the same category as last year’s Now You See Me 2. It made me happy. It made me smile, and I would watch it again in a heartbeat.

So grab your moon shoes and enjoy this space-movie renaissance! See you at Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Alien: Covenant, Life, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Intelligent Life, and many more to come.

-Madeleine D

My Brain Says No, But My Heart Says Yes: Now You See Me: The Second Act

*Warning: major spoilers for both Now You See Me movies

Now-You-See-Me-2

For starters, let’s recap the first movie. Now You See Me, directed by Louis Leterrier, was a surprise hit of 2013, reminding us that magicians are kinda cool I guess, and hey, isn’t that the Hulk? The first film followed four individual magicians who are brought together by something called The Eye, a mysterious magician organization that directs them to do three big magic shows and act as robin-hood characters, giving rich people’s money to the poor. Trying to track them down is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who has enough time in his busy schedule of being a magician mastermind/FBI agent/The Eye correspondent/Avenger/sad little orphan to have an annoying little romance with another FBI agent (Melanie Laurent). Along for the ride is narrator extraordinaire Morgan Freeman playing himself and Michael Caine, who is there to make me think for eight seconds that this is a Christopher Nolan movie.

I despised this first movie. I hated all the “protagonists” and their gimmicks and general mean personas. I hated the plot, which relied on someone being able to plan every move the other characters were going to make- I haven’t seen that in a movie before (sarcasm alert)! I hated magic tricks that were obviously made with special effects- anyone can do card tricks with jump cuts! I wasn’t impressed with anything.

But my friend sure was, and she took me to see Now You See Me 2 (which really should have been called, Now You Don’t). Now You See Me 2 takes place a year after the first film. The Four Horseman are now a bonafide group, with a new lady magician, Lulu (Lizzy Caplan, a million times more interesting and funnier than Isla Fisher), and their own group dynamics. They have been waiting around in secret as fugitives, waiting for their ringleader Dylan Rhodes to give them instruction on their next move. He’s getting his plans from The Eye, who we still don’t know anything about.

Finally Dylan has their next mission. They are going to hijack a big company announcement and exploit the con CEO and tell the audience about how their privacy is being sold. All is going well until the lights suddenly switch off. A distorted face appears on screen, revealing Dylan’s true identity. The FBI start to chase the group down. The magicians jump into a chute that is supposed to get them to safety…

But they wake up instead to find themselves in Macau.

I made a handy little cheat sheet to understanding this movie. I’m pretty sure this cheat sheet was what the writer used to create every scene in the film.

What the…

How the…

Why the…

Go to…                                                hell

In that order, in every scene.

As I was watching the film, I started to feel confused. Wait, I was laughing? No! I’m against this movie! Hold on…I have to admit, that was pretty cool. And man, I love that actor. Lizzy Caplan is great! That joke was perfect. What’s happening?!

NYSM2 does the incredible feat of fixing everything I hated about the first movie, and still making a bad movie. This time around, there is no exhausting setup. The film assumes you remembered everything from the first movie. In this film, the characters are more interesting, but there are way too many of them. The first film had a boring finale, this film has a finale that makes no sense. The first film was slick and empty, this film tries way too hard to have an emotional core and dramatic backstory to give it umph. In this film, Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg get worse lines but better hair.

Now You See Me 2 is sloppy. The plot revolves around a mumbo-jumbo plot MacGuffin and absurd tricks that are clearly CGI and movie-magic. There are some truly cringe-inducing lines. All the characters are given long, drafty monologues about what is going on and what is going to happen in future movies. And the film obviously caters to Chinese audiences, giving us a promising young Chinese character who doesn’t get to do anything in the movie except be available for the press tour.

But despite all this, I was enchanted. I liked the location change, even if I know it’s just for the box-office numbers. The tricks are cool, even though it’s not real magic. The actors have such good chemistry the dialogue is easy to ignore. Having all the characters be unified as a team creates a lot more on-screen interest and development. There are some fantastic jokes that had me in stitches. Once again, Daniel Radcliffe proves his best roles are magic ones.

Now You See Me 2 is not a great film. I cannot recommend you go see it if you didn’t have interest in it already. However, for what it’s worth, I had a smile on my face the entire time. The ensemble factor was wonderful. There were some incredible jokes that landed perfectly. I was in suspense. I wanted this little gang of magician vigilantes to be best friends and conquer the world. And for the movie that it is, I’ll take that.

-Madeleine D