I was under the assumption that Hunchback of Notre Dame was worse than lesser Disney, that it was terribly lesser Disney, and that’s just not the case. While it will never be loved the way its contemporaries are (it simply can’t be, it isn’t magical in that same way), it is nevertheless a solid bit of animated adaptation, and a cool musical in its own right the way that not even Disney can often accomplish. Like Pocahontas, done around the same time, it is theatrical rather than cinematic, and while that doesn’t make it wonderful on screen, that still lets certain pieces shine, and we can still find pleasure in that.
The story of Quasimodo is the stuff of legend; the deformed bell ringer, hidden away in the church so that sensitive eyes won’t see him, frightened of the world below because he’s never known its joys. But when Quasimodo sees the lovely Esmeralda for the first time, at the Festival of Fools, he understands that there are some emotions he wants to feel. Helped by the gallant soldier Phoebus, harangued by the evil official Frollo, Quasimodo will have to come to terms with his old life and fight for his new, because there is magic out there, you just have to be brave enough to grasp it.
Hunchback is lower tier Disney, that’s for sure, it’s no Aladdin or Little Mermaid, but it also doesn’t need to be; it’s a musical, not a Disney princess flick, which are wonderful, but that’s not what this movie aimed to be. The blonde hero and the dark-haired damsel are only pieces of the plot; Quasimodo & Frollo are the real players in the play. Especially Frollo, who, my god, steals every scene he’s in like he’s a tractor beam; that character is ridiculously enthralling. He’s so evil, his songs are so good, and he channels a lot of Les Mis, which is fun to watch. Again, this film needs to be viewed as theatre, then it’s not so bad, it’s fairly cool, with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz gesticulating their genius in our faces, as they are wont to do, and love, of course, conquering all.
Director: Michael Showalter
My favorite quote from Captain Fantastic, a movie I absolutely dig, is “We don’t make fun of people. Except Christians.” A better summary of my spirit does not exist; I don’t condone hate, but man do I sure hate Christians. Religion in general is one of the most evil things that exist on our planet, organized religion even more so, evangelical Christianity times ten, and so to watch The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a film that doesn’t quite judge modern Christians, but shows exactly how moronic they can be, how twisted & awful & ugly & dumb, well, that’s right up my alley.
Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker were among the first televangelists in America, walking in the footsteps of & working alongside Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell; the biggies. The Bakkers started humbly, as young ministers with a passion to preach Jesus’ love to the masses, but Jim had the idea that God didn’t want him to be poor, that God had plans for him, that God wanted him to be a wealthy, powerful leader of men; Tammy’s goals with a little more simple. With puppets and song and good cheer, she tried to fit into the lavish existence that Jim was creating, but, of course, got swept away in the greed & drugs & illegalities. Their downfall is the stuff of legend, and a warning to anyone about to believe blindly in a supposed higher power or a smiling face on TV; don’t.
Jessica Chastain, with a wild performance, has perhaps never been better, Andrew Garfield slides right into his bizarre role with the expertise we’ve come to expect, and Tammy Faye fires on all cylinders, if the cylinders you expect are simple; 1-2-3, punch punch punch, smack televangelism/evangelicals/non-denomination church in its fucking face. That people believe this crap is a joke, how they can be taken in is a mystery, and the fact that this pair of Bakker assholes got what was coming to them is just so delicious. We don’t make fun of people except Christians, that’s my motto, and oh was it nice to relish in the mockery of religion over the course of two hours with this film. And it’s not all just low blows; this is what happened, these are the actions of these detestable people, this story is told rather simply over a long period of time, which might not make the film that exciting or that much of a creative accomplishment, but it sure does make it easy to follow and swallow. Never let anyone do this again, dismantle the religion-for-money scheme, learn that from this movie, and it will have done its job.
Director: Sean Baker
Red Rocket is a shockingly spectacular surprise, and it comes from so far out of left field, so far under the radar, that you question whether it was real at all, or just a very vivid, very horny dream. The fact that Sean Baker can direct shouldn’t be a big reveal I guess, remembering his talent with Tangerine and his success with Florida Project, but even then, even with those films as lead-ins, nothing will prepare you for Red Rocket. It’s a disaster you just can’t help watching wide-eyed, a far-too-intimate look into someone’s smutty life that both makes you feel both bitterly uncomfortable and also like an extremely awesome human in comparison.
Mikey returns to his Gulf-side Texas town without a penny to his name and without an ounce of pride, crawling back to his estranged wife’s mother’s tiny house to beg for a couch to sleep on and a clean shirt to wear. He’d been off to LA to make his fortune, but the work he found was pretty bizarre, and now he’s a former porn star. That’s right, a porn star, look up Mikey Saber on YouTube he’ll happily tell you, and then he’ll tell you a hundred lies to explain why he’s in whichever current predicament he’s in. Mikey is a selfish child at best, the worst person in the world more accurately, and he’s accidentally taking every one he knows down with him.
I was shocked that this film was so excellent. I liked Florida Project just fine, that kind of “geographical drama” is interesting, painting us a very specific picture of an area, its people, its poor, its dreams. But that can also be a little too on-the-nose, like I don’t live in Florida in a motel, I don’t want to watch non-actors pretend to be prostitutes, I get the point but no thank you. Red Rocket is different; yes it’s specific to its location and uses some real people to fill its scenes, but it’s also so well written that you’d swear you were just watching one man’s incredibly fucked up life flash by right in front of your comparatively lucky eyes. Simon Rex, known for spoofs and not much of anything else, is so perfect as this sleazeball/salesman/liar/manipulator/dreamer that you’d believe it if he told you he was Daniel Day-Lewis in disguise; he’s that good and that convincing. The story is hilarious, upsetting, frantic, and then boldly deep; it’s a journey through the soul of a seemingly soulless man, to see if there’s anything in there, and in the end we won’t really know for sure. Not a film for everyone, definitely, especially given the subject matter and the high volume of sexuality, Red Rocket is nonetheless one of the best of the year, a beautiful, dangerous firework you didn’t know was being set off right next to your fucking face.
Director: Chloe Zhao
I try to stay out of the debate and the rigmarole that surrounds ranking every Marvel film as it comes out, pitting it against all other MCU movies, pissing off a large group no matter which way you go. BUT, I will say this; Eternals is a very bad movie, and therefor somewhere near the bottom, if top-to-bottom there must be. It’s not the scope, it’s not the director, it’s not the diversity; this film didn’t fail because it decided to be different, because it didn’t fit the mold fanboys wanted it to. No, it’s just bad, and I say that critically, cinematically, and concisely; someone made a crappy movie, a bunch of someones acted crappily in it, and we’re left with a dumb clunker that’s supposed to be an awesome blockbuster but never really even got close.
Long ago, the Celestials, beings with immense, universal power, sent a group of their servants, the Eternals, to Earth to protect human kind, to guide us on our journey through the centuries, and to ultimately allow us, through our mistakes, to learn what it takes to be an advanced society, the good and the bad. Well, the Eternals thought they had done their job, the monsters that plagued us were destroyed and we became an advanced civilization. But apparently that was just the beginning; a new threat has emerged and the Eternals learn that their secret task was much more sinister, leading them to choose between their old masters and their new friends.
It’s hard to know where to start, so I guess I’ll begin with the positives. The biggest plus was the mythology; I loved the backstory of the Eternals, their mission, how they’ve been with us from the beginning, how their presence has shaped our religions, our, myths, our folklore, and it’s all based on them. That was cool, and to see history unfold with them behind it was awesome too, very interesting and a fresh point of view. And that’s about it. From there, the central story took a nosedive down the pooper, and it would never recover. The plot is silly and all over the place, literally, without any way to really ground the action or the conversations, like a base to return to or something familiar to settle down in to regroup. And the characters were just as frantic; no backstories to help us get to know them, and some of the worst acting in any action movie you will ever see, and that’s saying something.
Many of the lead actors had had so much plastic surgery that their faces literally couldn’t move or emote; that’s a bit of a problem when your smallest expressions are meant to convey deep emotion; you know, acting. The dialogue wasn’t any better; one time in a maelstrom one character shouted to another “stop, you’re better than this!” and he just stopped, because, well, I guess he realized in that instant that he was better than that, I don’t know. It was almost juvenile in its attempt to bring across a thousand moral messages, represent everyone on Earth, teach is all to be better humans, and somehow do that without any real heart, palpable feeling, or honest connectivity. Eternals is a catastrophe, as bad as WW84, and nowhere near as good as most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Put it on the bottom of the list if a list you must made, because it deserves to be there: stupid plot, dumb writing, idiotic action, just plain disastrous.
Director: Joe Wright
Had Cyrano had no music whatsoever, hadn’t, in fact, been a musical at all, I might have declared it one of the best films of the year. This musical adaptation of a Broadway musical (which is itself adapted from a play which was adapted from a play; confused yet?) is a triumphant movie from any angle, but not very good vocal theatre. Does that count as too big a strike to overcome, since the film claims to be a musical and yet fails at musicality? Maybe, but don’t judge the songs too harshly; they are performed by such earnest actors that they, at times, fail to be important, succeeding only in distracting us from what it otherwise spectacular cinema.
The tale of Cyrano de Bergerac is as classic as love itself; romance in the face of unbeatable odds. Cyrano is a soldier, a warrior, a killer for his King, but more than that he is a poet, a writer, a wordsmith with the skill to break your heart or make your dreams. All his life he has loved the fair Roxanne, who is penniless and must marry the dreaded Duke for his money, though she loathes him. But Cyrano dare not speak; he is small, he thinks he is ugly, and he knows that he is not worthy of her affections. To make matters worse, Roxanne falls in love with a young solider named Christian, who loves her back more than words can say, literally. Our hero must speak for Christian in letters to Roxanne, all the while pining for her himself, and knowing that these two beautiful people were meant for each other, just as he was meant to be their bridge.
Cyrano really is one of the best films of the year; engaging, endearing, entertaining, enthralling, and displayed to us with an art, grace, and lavish excellence that can only be found in the very best period pieces. The actors leave it all on the stage, with sucht honest and loving performances that your breath is near taken away. Dinklage could win the Oscar, Bennett has never been better, and audiences will swoon for this star-crossed love, even as they know the story from many times before. Where the movie fails is in its adaptation of the play; not in staging, which is great, not in production, which is opulent, but in music, which simply slumps. These are not high quality songs, not at all, and while I give a pass to the vocals (which are forgivable, and relateably unpolished & tender), I cannot forgive the music & lyrics, which are basic, uninspired, and not befitting Broadway. It’s not that I didn’t like the music, I liked it fine, but all finesse was missing, and so was all genius, when musicals dripping with talent are what we’ve come to expect. Watch Cyrano with an open heart and it will fill you up; let the music pass by you like wind and it will hardly bother you.
Category : Thought
A few months ago I posted a list of 30 potential Best Picture Oscar contenders, plus a list of snubbed films that deserved consideration. Since then, I’ve updated the list with reviews as I’ve seen the movies, including any personal favorites that hadn’t previously made the list. As the Academy Awards draw closer, let’s take a look at an updated watchlist, a list that has taken into consideration those undervalued films that have risen up the ranks and those over-hyped movies that have taken a tumble.
This is the Variety ranking of top Academy Award contenders:
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
King Richard must be a magical movie, because it held my attention and my interest even though I despised and abhorred its main character. Or should I say villain, because Richard Williams is not what I would call a hero, not the misunderstood mastermind that this film portrays him as, and not the wonderful father he imagines himself to be. The Williams Sisters signed off on this story; I can only imagine that they are still brainwashed by their bizarre parents and their insane religion, because this isn’t a show of sports legends, this is a cautionary tale, and we need to see it that way.
Venus & Serena are two of the most accomplished, recognized, and stupendous athletes the world has ever seen; their humble beginning makes their rise to success all the more impressive. They didn’t have the money for private tennis lessons, they didn’t have the courts and the club and the sponsorship, they didn’t live in a fancy neighborhood; they had their dad, who drove them to succeed, they had Compton, which was not a place to finish growing up in, and they had the desire to be champions, which was undeniably in their future. This is the story of Richard Williams and how he raised two phenoms, a family going from almost nothing to absolutely everything through the power of determination and relentless hard work.
OK, so there’s a story here. We know the athletes, the Williams Sisters are incredible, their past makes their rise that much more awesome, and they had a father who would not take no for an answer, who forced them through the barriers that tried to block them, and that’s a compelling tale. That’s the part that hooked me and that’s why I liked the movie, but there’s a whole second side to the plot that I detested, and that’s Richard himself. This movie is named for him, yet he was tyrannical, obsessed, belligerent, and a devout follower of a religion that I can’t even begin to denounce; you can research Jehovah’s Witness yourself and come to your own conclusion. That he’s the hero here boggles my mind; these girls succeeded in spite of what I would call his abusive control, not because of it. Men are the superior gender in their religion, and that insanity is echoed in this film, with only small nods to their mom, and only trivial mentions of Richard’s bizarre and extremely unholy behavior. Simply put, we shouldn’t be watching a movie glorifying this man like he’s a god, or, literally, royalty, and the fact that we can like this movie anyway shows that at least someone had talent making it (Reinaldo Green, Zach Baylin), because their subject matter didn’t help, he almost ruined the entire thing.