Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dearest Review: Super Troopers


Look, up on the screen... even more superhero movies!

It took three tries, but they finally made a good — no, great — Wolverine solo film. Apparently, all it took was to team ol' Wolvie up with Professor X for a buddy-slash-road movie. Set in a bleak future where mutants are nearly extinct, Hugh Jackman is back for his ninth (and reportedly final) turn as our favorite mutton-chopped, impossibly ripped anti-hero, as is Patrick Stewart, finally able to act in the usually cardboard role of X-Men founder Charles Xavier. They are joined by a young girl (Dafne Keen) with very familiar abilities and tasked with getting her to a fabled mutant Eden called... Eden. Stripped of all the typical tropes of a superhero flick, Logan plays out like a tragic western, one where not all of the heroes get to ride off into the sunset. (8/10) Now streaming on HBO.

"I told you never to bring up Viva Laughlin!"

Spider-Man: Homecoming:
Talk about finally getting it right... This, the third reboot of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in just fifteen years, gives us an age-appropriate leading man (a winning Tom Holland), smartly skips an origin story (are you listening, makers of the next Batman movie?) and, with Michael Keaton as the menacing Vulture (another kind of birdman), even nails the villain (something that remains frustratingly elusive for most superhero flicks in this Marvel age). It also gives Peter Parker a United Colors of Benetton-ish set of schoolmates, but keeps shoe-horning in Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and all the high-tech that goes with him (do we really need another talking super-suit?). Yet it remains refreshingly thrilling with the webbed wall-crawler's boyishly daring attempts at being — and ultimately becoming — a truly super hero. (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the monument...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2:
As a largely unknown Marvel property, the ragtag space crew known as the Guardians of the Galaxy burst onto the screen three years ago in a zippy, action-packed blockbuster that was super-fun. Well, it was fun while it lasted. The cheekily-titled Vol. 2 piles on the quirky characters, garish colors and snarky jokes (they even hold for the laughs this time) proving that, yes indeedy, there can be too much of a good thing... especially when it comes to Baby Groot. The plot has Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finding his long lost dad (the luxuriously locked Kurt Russell) who turns out to be a planet (wtf?) and (spoiler alert?) not that great a father. With its five requisite pre-/mid-/post-credits scenes, Marvel definitively proves here that they don't know when to quit while they're ahead. (4/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. You're frikkin' adorable.

Wonder Woman:
One of the coolest things this year, movie-wise, was how rapturously embraced this first full film foray of the Amazing Amazon was; audiences and critics, even those who don't like superhero movies, loved them some Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot (make that Movie Star Gal Gadot), eschewing the overly-dark tone that has infected the DC Cinematic Universe to date, instead deliver a star-spangled adventure that deftly mixes mythic fantasy with period war epic, plus a refreshing dash or two of romantic comedy. From an island paradise to the trenches of the First World War, the warrior princess Diana joins American pilot/Allied spy Steve Trevor (an utterly charming Chris Pine) in his mission to thwart a chemical warfare plot… oh, and Ares, the God of War himself. To paraphrase the classic theme song of her beloved 70s TV series, “It’s a wonder, Wonder Woman!” (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

This isn't in the movie, but don't you wish it was?

Click here for reviews of the Bat-movies of 2017.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dearest Review: Love and Death

A crowd pleasing romantic comedy, two bittersweet dramas starring three beloved actors and an idiosyncratic tale of the afterlife all offer up their own unique takes on themes of love, life and death.

The Big Sick:
It's one of those so-far-fetched true stories that if it was fiction you would scoff at the prepostoursness of it all. Shortly after aspiring stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani (played by... Kumail Nanjiani) and his girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan) break up (she finds out his Muslim parents wouldn't approve of her), Emily is struck by a mystery illness that puts her in a coma... and puts Kumail in the path of her parents (Ray Romano and a feisty Holly Hunter, terrific as always). The screenplay, by Nanjiani and his wife, the real life Emily, smartly avoids maudlinism, notably since, after all, this is how they met and fell and love. But the real Kumail and Emily aren't afraid to make the reel Kumail and Emily real, flaws and all. (8/10) Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Our Souls at Night:
A simple, quiet meditation on finding a connection long after you thought those were behind you, this adaptation of the Kent Haruf novel stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in their fourth screen collaboration in over 50 years. Needless to say, they still got it; their chemistry is palatable. Fonda is a widow who visits neighbor Redford one night and proposes that they sleep together – platonically – to combat the loneliness of a half-empty bed. After bonding over the care of Fonda's grandson (2017's pint-sized MVP Iain Armitage; see also Big Little Lies and Young Sheldon), their relationship slowly evolves into a true, quite lovely romance, one that shines even more brighter thanks to its legendary stars. (8/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

The Hero:
In a career that spans nearly five decades, Sam Elliott has been a reliably gruff and scruffy character actor who has lately achieved silver fox status thanks to such projects as I'll See You in My Dreams and Grace and Frankie. In The Hero, Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a gruff and scruffy fading star best known for such westerns as The Hero who finds himself facing his own mortality when he is diagnosed with cancer. His bucket list includes dating a woman more than half his age (Orange is the New Black's Laura Prepon), reconciling with his estranged daughter (Jessica Jones' Krysten Ritter) and smoking lots and lots of pot. Elliott is excellent in a role he was made for; unfortunately, the movie surrounding him fails to rise up to the level of his performance. (6/10) Now streaming on Hulu.

A Ghost Story:
One wouldn't expect that a film featuring a protagonist clad in a child's Halloween costume for nearly its entire running time to be moving, let alone profoundly so. Yet, despite its surface whimsicality, writer/director David Lowery has crafted a compelling, entirely unique take on the afterlife. Casey Affleck, as the recently deceased love of Rooney Mara, inhabits the eye-holed bed sheet in his lonely, wordless post mortem existence, silently wandering around the home he shared with Mara even after she moves on. Purposely ponderous, impatient viewers may find it a bit of a slog to sit through, but for those of you who are open to what it has to say it will haunt you more than any traditional ghost story. (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Overly Analytical: Why We Love A Disasterpiece


Our guest writer Nate Cee examines audiences' obsessions with certain “so bad they're good” movies, specifically the notorious The Room, the making of which is the subject of James Franco’s new film The Disaster Artist, opening nationwide this weekend.

Why is it that we love to watch bad movies? What is it about the human condition that compels some people to deliberately watch something so incredibly atrocious like The Room? I find it akin to voluntarily sniffing the carton of questionable contents you found in the back corner of your refrigerator to confirm that it is in fact spoiled.

Vengeful dairy bacteria aside, what is it that pushes some people to do it? I have a theory as to why. I call it “Star Trek Syndrome”. The thing about Star Trek that has caused it to be the massive cult tour de force that it is is quite simple and elegant: it makes the viewer feel intelligent. When watching an episode of Star Trek it will take a seasoned Trekkie a matter of moments to know what to do to fix whatever problem the Enterprise/Voyager/Deep Space Nine/fuck-too-many-to-mention happens to be going through in that particular episode. Even if the viewer doesn’t know the answer off the top of their head they will soon come to understand the problem and agree with the crew's solution. The writers take something complicated (and made up) and simplify it, making it easily digestible for the audience. What this does is it empowers the viewer, educates them, and then allows them to use some of the knowledge gained from previous episodes at a later date.

In a way a god-awful movie can illicit a similar feeling. When watching a movie such as The Room it is easy for the audience member to feel intelligent, empowered and somewhat an authority on the medium they are currently consuming. So when we hear Tommy Wiseau grind out dialogue like “I did not hit her, it’s not true. It's bullshit. I did not hit her, I did not. Oh, hi Mark!” almost everyone watching it has a thought attune to “Oh my god, I can write better dialogue than this guy. This is just terrible, clunky, and doesn’t do anything to help the scene.” Instantly the viewer knows there's a problem and becomes an instant expert in script writing.

The Room is a perfect storm of abysmal. The dialogue, the blocking, the sets, the costumes, the “plot”, all of it. It’s. Just. Bad. I remember the first time I watched The Room a couple years ago. It was so cringy to watch and yet I had to keep watching it; going back to that spoiled milk, I just had to take a whiff. That is what watching this movie was like for me. On a number of occasions I found myself with my palm on my face and rolling my eyes so hard they hurt the next day. I would talk to the screen “What the fuck? What is happening? Who is that? Why are they in this scene? What’s the plot? What about her breast cancer?! What drug dealer doesn’t take cash up front?!”

I instantly felt like I could have easily written and directed a better movie. I started to rewrite lines in my head and tried to find ways to fill the massive plot holes. The movie forced me inward and it had my head racing. I felt smarter than the movie and consequently I felt smarter than Tommy Wiseau. That is what makes an absolutely awful movie completely awesome. When faced with something so ludicrously bad, cheesy, corny and full of codswallop it instantly shoves the brain into high gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s The Room or Troll 2 or After Last Season or any other dreadful movie, it makes you think. Ultimately movies are supposed to make you think, and make you feel something. Great bad movies bring people together on a level that is similar to a badge of honor. “How far did you make it into the movie? How much did you hate it? Can you believe that…”

That is exactly what The Room does. It will make you think and it will make you feel something (probably nausea and confusion, but I digress) and it brings people together. Upon watching this “what not to do when making a movie” movie you will be inducted into a club of others that have endured the same torture as you had, tantamount to the American Legion of Movie Horrors.

Watch The Room if you haven’t done so already and have an absolute blast with it. Enjoy it for how perfectly and beautifully bad it really is. Enjoy all the one-liners you can now exchange with anyone else who has seen it. Have a laugh and toss a football around wearing a tuxedo in a back alley. It’ll do ya some good.

By Nate Cee, who was awfully glad to contribute this piece to Movie Dearest.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Reverend's Interview: A Queer Classic Takes Shape


As a boy, acclaimed writer-director Guillermo Del Toro thought the title monster of his favorite movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the human woman with whom it was smitten should have swum off into the sunset together. Del Toro has now taken a step toward correcting this perceived slight of cinema history. The Shape of Water, opening in wide release December 8th, isn’t only a magnificent mashup of horror and romance. It also works gloriously as a comedy, a political allegory, a valentine to classic Hollywood, a religious parable, and even as a quasi-musical. 

In The Shape of Water, a mute cleaning woman named Elisa (exquisitely played by the Oscar-worthy Sally Hawkins) finds herself drawn to an amphibious being from the Amazon (Del Toro regular Doug Jones) held captive in the government facility at which she works. She hatches a plan to free him with the help of her co-worker Zelda (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer), and her neighbor Giles (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins). They all have to evade the creature’s seriously disturbed captor, played by two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon.

Del Toro, who was born in Mexico, is known for his previous genre-bending films Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, Hellboy and Pacific Rim. “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are,” the director states in his latest production’s press notes, “and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Though set in 1962, numerous themes explored in The Shape of Water are as timely as ever, including racism, sexism, and America’s treatment of its LGBTQ citizens as well as people with physical disabilities. Jenkins’ character is a gay man who has found his job opportunities as a graphic designer limited due to his sexuality. Subsequently, he has had to stay closeted with everyone except Elisa.

Jenkins has given memorable performances in such diverse movies as The Cabin in the Woods, Eat Pray Love, Jack Reacher and The Visitor, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He recently called me to chat about his latest role.

CC: What was your response when you first read The Shape of Water screenplay?
RJ: Truthfully, I loved it from the very first scene. And if you are a character actor like me you start thinking “I hope I don’t die in scene two” (laugh). I loved it from the beginning.

CC: Similarly, what was your initial reaction to the finished film?
RJ: I forgot I was in it. I thought I had a handle on what it would look like. It is so beautiful and so different. Guillermo is such a visionary and he told us how things would look but I had no idea until I saw the finished film. It’s amazing.

CC: You grew up during the era depicted in the film. Were there any particular memories or people you drew from for your character, Giles?
RJ: It wasn’t that so much, although my local pie shop really looked like the one in the film. I loved growing up in 1962. I grew up in a small farm town (DeKalb, Illinois) as a straight, white man. Life was very simple then, which in hindsight was both good and bad.

CC: What was your perception of the treatment of gay people at the time?
RJ: I didn’t know any. There weren’t any gay people in my high school until our 35th reunion (laugh). There weren’t any black people either. Guillermo refers to the characters played by me, Sally and Octavia as “the invisible people” of the time. There is the scene in the film where Giles tries to hold hands with the man who works in the pie shop. Something that is so simple today had to involve such risk back then.

CC: How have you seen things change, or not, for LGBTQ people since then?
RJ: Things do move forward, but at times they take a step back and then start moving forward again. Love is love, so (anti-LGBTQ people should) stop trying to do something to stop it. It’s a whole different world. (Being gay) wasn’t even on our radar. No one talked about it.

CC: What was it like working with the wonderful Sally Hawkins?
RJ: She’s incredible, sweet and fun. She’s my friend now. She is who you see on the screen. We had so much fun together.

CC: It shows. I loved your soft-shoe tap dance scene!
RJ: Thank you. Wasn’t that great? One thing about working with Guillermo is that everything in the film is made with a purpose. Nothing in the film is there by accident. I mean, accidents do happen on a film set but Guillermo often uses those too.

CC: What do you hope viewers will take from this film and/or your performance?
RJ: I hope people get lost in it like I did. I’m not asking anyone to be enlightened by it, although that would be nice.

CC: What are you working on now?
RJ: Nothing. I’ve done two seasons of Berlin Station on TV. I just got back from Germany and now I’m taking a well-earned break. I’m looking forward to it.

Del Toro directing Jenkins and Hawkins on the Shape of Water set.

Not so fast, Richard. I expect the actor will be required to work the awards season circuit of screenings, parties and other events in support of The Shape of Water. Jenkins could well secure a second Oscar nomination for his funny, moving performance as the closeted but ultimately brave Giles. Del Toro could also receive his first, well-deserved nomination as Best Director. He was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth but has yet to win an Academy Award.

Admittedly, The Shape of Water is a hard-to-define movie that may not appeal to all Academy members. It struck me as a sexier, gorier, adults-only update of Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (E.T. and his human friend, Elliott, never had sex though). Some viewers may have difficulty accepting Del Toro’s uninhibited romance between Elisa and her gill man.

And what of the film’s unusual title? According to Del Toro: “Water takes the shape of whatever is holding it at the time and although water can be so gentle, it's also the most powerful and malleable force in the universe. That's also love, isn't it? It doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature.”

All of this is reason for LGBTQ moviegoers to rejoice. If queerness is best defined as unclassifiable “otherness,” then The Shape of Water is unquestionably the queerest movie of 2017. It could also be a cinema classic in the making.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.