Weekly Movie Reviews: Nov 26-Dec 2, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

I’ve been wanting to watch this movie for a long time, especially because I got married unexpectedly young to someone who grew up on the opposite side of the planet and it seemed like it would be somewhat relatable.

Joey Drayton, the daughter of liberal upper-class couple Matt and Christina Drayton, returns unexpectedly early from a vacation with her new fiancé, John Prentice, who is widowed, significantly older, and black. The Draytons have raised Joey to believe in racial equality, but can’t quite wrap their heads around her decision. And just as they are getting used to the idea, John’s parents arrive for dinner with their own set of expectations.

This movie is entirely dialogue driven and it could easily be a play without having to make too many changes. But the dialogue is fantastic – it’s subtle, earnest, funny, insightful, and cuts right to the bone. Katharine Hepburn (who plays Joey’s mom) delivers one of the best monologues in cinematic history. Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Houghton give marvelous perfomances as well, and they elevate the writing even more. The plot’s urgency is a little contrived and seems too quickly resolved, but those are minor nitpicks. Watch it!

Other Movies Watched

Insomnia (2002)

I’m a huge Christopher Nolan fan and this is the last of his movies that I hadn’t seen (I’ve even seen his $6,000 budget black-and-white debut film, Following). I’m not sure what took me so long. I expected it to be excellent, and that’s exactly what it was.

The movie is a remake of the 1993 Norwegian film of the same name (which I have not seen). LAPD detectives Dormer (Al Pacino) and Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to Alaska to assist in a murder investigation in a small town. Their first encounter with the murderer ends in tragedy when Eckhart is shot. Dormer must now solve the murder while dealing with the insomnia caused by the perpetual daylight in the town and his guilt over Eckhart’s death.

Insomnia is a tense and tight psychological thriller with some terrific performances from Al Pacino, Robin Williams (who is terrifying as the killer), and everyone else. Every little detail in the movie – the framing, the pacing, the cinematography – is designed to convey Dormer’s scattered state of mind as his physical condition deteriorates, while preserving the sharp focus and skills that have made him a legendary investigator. And the characters are all realistically nuanced – there is no black and white morality here.

Sucker Punch (2011)

Zack Snyder’s (Watchmen, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman) movies have a unique style to them and it’s been growing on me. I was particularly excited about Sucker Punch since it had a mostly female cast.

Usually my husband and I have pretty similar opinions of movies we watch, but I liked this movie a lot more than he did. I’ve read reviews complaining about the incoherence of the movie and the sexualization of the characters and I’m not going to dispute either of those points (nor my husband’s observation that the fantasy worlds depicted don’t rise above generic CGI). But the movie is incredibly atmospheric – it has a trippy and gothic comic book feel helped by great music. I also found the premise of a young woman being lobotomized against her will reimagining her surroundings and plotting escape compelling.

Sucker Punch is far from a perfect movie, but I can see and appreciate what it was trying to do even if it didn’t fully succeed. And I’d like to watch more original movies, even if they fall a little flat.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife about eight or nine years ago and I liked the writing but was a little creeped out by the premise and some of the scenes. My taste has evolved though, and I’ve been wanting to read the book again and see what I’d make of it now. I may still get around to that, but as a first step, I sought out the movie version.

Eric Bana plays Henry, a man with a genetic condition that causes him to randomly teleport to the past or future. His romance with his wife Claire (played by Rachel McAdams) is rather unusual as most of their meetings take place out of sequence. Even though he meets her when he’s 20, Claire has known him ever since she was a child. This makes for a relationship with unique difficulties, made worse by the fact that Claire cannot rely on his presence since he may disappear at any moment.

The constant time jumps make this hard story to tell in a linear manner but I found the movie very easy to follow. It reminded me a little bit of About Time (another movie where Rachel McAdams plays a character married to a time traveler) but it explores pretty different themes. I can’t think of anything else all that notable (bad or good) about this movie.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Hocus Pocus is one of the classic kids movies that my husband grew up with and he’s been wanting me to see it for a long time. We started watching it once a long time ago but I wasn’t in the mood for campy fun for some reason (I’m glad I don’t take myself so seriously anymore).

On Halloween, three kids inadvertently resurrect a family of three witches burned in the Salem witch trials and must stop them from stealing the youth of the town’s children by sunrise. The kids are helped by Thackery, a 1600s boy turned into an immortal black cat. All sorts of hijinks ensue (it helps that it’s Halloween and everyone in town is in costumes).

As I mentioned, this movie is ridiculously campy. All three witches chew scenery with aplomb, particularly Bette Midler who plays the oldest sister and leader. There’s a lot of comedy from the sisters’ reaction to how things have changed since their death. Doug Jones (of The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Star Trek: Discovery fame) is terrific at playing non-human characters, and he gives zombie Billy Butcherson a lot of character for what he had to work with. The actors playing the kids are fine and the special effects are kind of terrible but in a good way. The script for this movie was meant to originally be a Disney Channel original movie and it shows.

Pitch Perfect (2012)

I knew going into this movie that it would be somewhat dumb but I was interested in the music. It turned out to be a little dumber and crasser than even I thought it would be (such as people puking being used as humor) but it did have fun music so I was satisfied.

Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a freshman at (the fictional) Barden University who reluctantly joins a campus a capella group, the Barden Bellas. Aubrey, the leader of the Bellas, wants to stick to their tried-and-true set list, but Beca (who has a talent for mash-up mixes) pushes them in a more innovative direction. It’s got the usual tropes – a love interest that the protagonist needs to win back, the protagonist finding their place and building self-confidence, etc. It’s a lot like Bring It On, but not as good. Without the music, this would be a terrible movie.

The music is a lot of fun, though. It always amazes me how good a capella music can be, and all the songs featured are fairly well-known. I particularly enjoyed the “riff off” scene where all the a capella groups on campus improvise off of each other’s performances.

Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

I saw Can’t Buy Me Love on a few “classic 80s teen movie” lists and it’s referenced at the end of one of my favorite teen movies, Easy A. I was disappointed by how terrible it was, though. I don’t think it deserves classic status at all (and Roger Ebert agrees with me, so I’m in good company).

The plot involves geeky outcast Ronald paying Cindy, one of the most popular girls in his school, $1,000 to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month. This instantly makes him one of the cool kids and he soon stops hanging out with his old (nerdy) friends and embraces the shallow and superficial lifestyle of the popular crowd and drives Cindy (who has fallen in love with who he was when he was genuine) away. Eventually (of course) he realizes that people’s attention is fickle and goes back to being himself.

This isn’t the most original story but teen movies don’t have to be original – part of their charm is their cheesy predictability. But the cheesiness is earned by idealistic characters who are just discovering certain emotions and testing their boundaries. That requires heart and this movie doesn’t have any. Instead, most characters are callous and materialistic, starting with the protagonist. The happy ending felt unearned and I was actually hoping Ronald would end up alone (and not because of his social status!) since that would have the potential for realistic character growth. But I found the movie to be utterly tone-deaf.

One thought on “Weekly Movie Reviews: Nov 26-Dec 2, 2017

  1. Pingback: Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 1-6, 2018 | Just a World Away

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