Friday, May 31, 2024

Disney Watch: Zootopia (2016)

Watched:  05/31/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  2.5th
Director:  Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Selection:  Joint

Zootopia (2016) is one of the movies I really wish I hadn't missed in the theater.  Yes, yes, the story is actually great as both cop story and metaphors we could learn a lesson from.  But, visually, it's mind-boggling.  And hilarious.  

No, it doesn't have the completely insane experimentation and visual dynamics of the Spider-Verse movies, but what does?  What it does have are a million ideas and gags, a lot of very clever stuff relating to the animals of varying species and sizes.  It's got crazy good design that feels absolutely coherent despite numerous changes of scenery and "worlds".  And, I dig the character design like crazy.  Every single character is a great example of how you take an expressive character doodle from page to 3D.  

I'm sure Michero could weigh in more on what this movie does well visually (the lighting in the jungle sequence is tricky and great, imho), but - if nothing else - pause the movie and look at the backgrounds, look at the DVD covers, have a good laugh at the Disney film in-jokes (I just noticed the weasel is named Duke Weaselton, and that is gold).  

But, yeah, the story has some meat on it.  Alone, Judy's story of "believe in yourself and you can do anything" is *fine*.  I'm not going to tell people, especially kids, that it's not a good 'un.  But Nick's story and how it reflects on the sins of Zootropolis - and what it all says about how we try to live together in urban environments, is really great.  As is the "othering" to claim power that was way, waaaaaay too prescient in 2016 that I think it lands better in 2024 than it did then.

Anyhoo... I also just like the two leads.  They're well-conceived.  I dig that Judy is the eager do-gooder, but still feels like she's that way because she believes in the dream of Zootropolis.  Nick Wilde is fun as the hustler, but they know where to set the dials so he doesn't seem like a cliche - and, of course, has no illusions about Zootropolis.  They're not as dewy eyed as the princesses.  Kids aren't likely to dress up as Nick and Judy, but I think they play as well as any buddy-cop, post-48 Hours duo is like to.  

The writing is solid, and it's dropping some funny stuff beyond the visuals, without relying on so much of what's become the go-to of falls and farts in kid's cartoons.  I will forever enjoy the wee Godfather reference and his bee-hived daughter.  And, man, do they commit to the bit with Flash and the DMV workers.  That's next level.

It just seems like this movie was a hit at the time, but didn't really stick in the US (evidence tells me Asia embraced it more than we did).  It did a billion with 65% of that overseas.  And Shanghai just got Zootopia land, which I think people here would find odd.  

If nothing else, it's got Shakira playing a Gazelle, and that's good movie.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

End of DCEU Watch: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

Watched: 05/30/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  James Wan

So, this poor movie had to come out even knowing that the DCEU was dead, killed by the investment opportunity that was Black Adam (considered a failure at $340+ million).  This movie would go on to make $434 million over a year later, and after it was announced DC was ending this particular continuity and starting over.

Meanwhile, our co-star of the first film had a very public divorce trial in which everyone looked *terrible*.  

I didn't really like the first Aquaman, so I was going to just wait for Max for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023), which I did.  But I thought I'd also treat you to my play-by-play as I watched the movie, as there's nothing to be gained by actually trying to discuss this as a movie.

Here we go:

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Moana 2 Trailer?

So, I did not know this was in production.  I recall vague mentions of "maybe they'll make Moana 2" but then nothing.  

But, like, two days ago I was pitching to Jamie a list of Disney movies I'd like to re-watch and included "hey, I want to re-watch Moana.  I probably need a good, hard cry."*  Like, I love Frozen and other modern Disney and Pixar stuff (need to re-watch Soul and Luca) - it's just a good time for Disney and Pixar animation these days. 

Anyhoo, I think Moana is just top-tier.  So to just log in this morning and see "oh, here's the second one", is kind of stunning.  

*not a Coco level cry, something a bit less intense

Kurosawa Watch: The Seven Samurai (1954)

Watched:  05/28/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

So.  A little housekeeping.

This is our 100th post of 2024 under the Movies 2024 tab.  Good for us.  I'm glad we picked a good one for this milestone.  

Fun fact:  this movie came out in 1954, the same year Toho Studios also released Gojira.  Pretty damn big year for Toho.  But I also am curious how the years since the war influenced this movie as much as it influenced Gojira.

Also:  I've walked around since about 1995 with the belief that I'd previously seen The Seven Samurai (1954).  I think I've even marked it on "what movies have you seen?" quizzes as one I'd watched.  I basically knew what it was about, how it ended in broad strokes.  But began to suspect something was up when I saw the runtime on the movie and said "I don't remember it being this long..."

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Sci-Fi Shrug Watch: Atlas (2024)

Watched:  05/28/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Who knows?  I bet he's named "Brad".  That seems like the name of a schmo who would make this

When I saw the trailer for Atlas (2024), I sent it to Jamie with the comment "this looks like they actually made a movie that would have been discussed in cut scenes on 30 Rock.".  Like, Jenna would have missed out on being in the AI robot movie because JLo stole the part from her, and she really wanted to be in the movie to meet Simu Liu (who would cameo).

Right now, this movie is at a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic has it at a 38.  So it's not wildly critically adored.  But someone liked it.  

I watched this movie for a few reasons.

  • I don't watch many straight-to-Netflix movies and, given the algorithmically driven nature of their business, I was curious what a Netflix movie looks like in 2024.  
  • I like stories about robots and AI.  Probably because I came up on Asimov and Blade Runner, but I have genuine concerns about how we'll deploy robots when and if artificial intelligence makes them useful.
  • I like Simu Liu and think Hollywood has sidelined him in ways I don't understand.  He's a charismatic, handsome guy who works as a lead in action, comedy and drama.*  And I want the algorithm to point producers to Simu Liu as a reason I will watch a movie.  And Sterling K Brown.  That dude is great.
  • I am not angry about a movie's runtime spent with JLo.  There are worse fates in this world.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Dashiell Hammett at 130

Today, according to the internet and the granddaughter of the author, is the 130th Birthday of American writer, Samuel Dashiell Hammett.  

Hammett is probably best remembered as the author of The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon, and - - among crime and mystery fiction fans - put down the foundations for what became the modern idea of a pulp/ noir detective.  Hammett's creations, Sam Spade (Maltese Falcon) and The Continental Op (short stories, Red Harvest, etc...), would be refined into Lew Archer by Ross McDonald and Philip Marlowe by Chandler.  The winding, complex stories would become standard issue for detective fiction, and Hammett's international impact can be felt in places as unlikely as Kurosawa and Leone movies.  

In many ways, we're still chasing Hammett.  

The leg up Hammett had, aside from an astoundingly punchy and economical prose, was his background as a Pinkerton Detective* and his first hand experience.  As well as his time swapping stories with his fellow private eyes.  

Hammett himself was as interesting a cat as they come.  He left his family, was an ardent leftist and anti-fascist, served in WWI and again in his late 40's in WWII in Alaska - despite a lifetime of health issues, and spent most of his middle-age and to his death as the lover of renowned playwright Lillian Hellman.    He served time for his political convictions,  and didn't publish any new original fiction for the last 25 of his life.

I've read all of Hammett's novels and a lot of his short fiction.  My bookshelf at home is kind of a mess of Hammett and Chandler, somewhat to the neglect of other writers.

I'm maybe a little quick to point to Hammett as the source of everything that came after, but that's okay.  I'll be that guy.  In my personal pantheon, he's about as important as it gets.  And I still very much reading my first Hammett, purchased in a used book store - a 1980's hardback collection of his books, starting with Red Harvest.  And it was one of those instances of feeling like you're both entering a whole new world and, also, this is what you've been looking for all along.  

Anyway - pick up some Hammett some time.  And if not that, put on The Thin Man or Maltese Falcon this week, and have a cocktail for Dash.  

*yes, I know the Pinkerton's legacy is complex to say the least

Happy Birthday, Siouxsie Sioux

Today marks the birthday of Susan Janet Ballion, better known as Siouxsie Sioux of the bands Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Creatures.  And, recently, a solo performer.  

We've been fans of Siouxsie since the video for Peek-a-Boo hit MTV.  And we still think Peepshow is a killer album.

Sioux recently did some dates in Europe.  It's unclear if she's thinking of a longer tour or hitting the US.  If not, fair enough.  But it would be great to see her again.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Yikes Watch: Beastly (2011)

Watched:  05/25/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Daniel Barnz
Selection:  Sort of me, but people agreed to this

So, I watched all 4 hours of that Jenny Nicholson video on the Star Wars Hotel ARG thing, and I highly recommend her video essay.  But that's not why we're here, exactly.  My YouTube algorithm - as it manifests specifically through Chromecast - thinks if you watched one video on, say, baby alligators, you will be force fed baby alligator videos for a week.  And 4 hours of Jenny Nicholson convinced YouTube all I need right now is a big-eyed YouTuber analyzing things into atoms.  And so it fed me her discussion of a movie called Beastly.  

I was only a few minutes into the video that auto-played while I was doing other things, and decided "I will watch this movie."

And so, we did. 

Beastly (2011) was made because Twilight existed and someone wanted to make money.  It's also a sort of fairy tale story with some hand-wavy magic about a very normal girl who gets pressed into a relationship with a moody guy who is probably actually a huge fucking red flag.  But instead of draculas, this movie hopes you saw Disney's 1991 hit Beauty and the Beast.  Because this is a version of the fairy tale, and I'm not sure kids really even get fairy tales read to them anymore to get the cultural context.  

Anyhoo...  this is told less from Belle's perspective - in this case, "Lindy", played by a fresh-faced Vanessa Hudgens - and more from the Beast's POV.  In our movie it's a guy named "Kyle KING-SON" (GET IT???).  And he's played by a British actor doing his best American accent so he just sounds off from time to time.  

I'm not going to write up the movie, really.  Watch Nicholson's video.  

But here's some talking points
  • This is the worst makeup I've ever seen in a movie.  It's insane.  My guess is that they needed to make sure you still saw the actor's face so his general handsomeness would still play for the audience under what looks like a Star Trek Next Generation make-up crew tripped and fell on an actor in a bald cap.
  • Told from The Beast's perspective, this very old story sucks.  It feels more like The Beast singling out a vulnerable girl (she's still in high school) and acting out what love might be in a desperate gambit to get his life back.  At no point does he seem pure of motive.  Because he is not.
  • He stalks.  Oh, lord, does he stalk.  He is absolutely a villain.  He creeps on this girl and takes advantage of her shitty situation in maybe the scummiest way possible.
  • The dialog is meant to sound young and therefore funky fresh, but mostly it sounds like people forgetting how to finish words or assemble a sentence. 
  • One half of the Olsen Twins are in this movie.  It's impossible to know if she's bad or not for reasons I'll get into later.  But this was it for Mary Kate.  Apparently this broke her and she decided she didn't need this shit any more.  And I cannot blame her.
  • Vanessa Hudgens' character is a high schooler who loves the bad boys.  Or at least the idea of the bad boys.  There's ample evidence that she does not care about how awful "Kyle" is at the beginning of the film when he's a Grade-A shitheel.  He's cute.  And therefore must be good at his core, all evidence aside.  
  • Poor Peter Krause, Neil Patrick Harris, etc...  who were just going along for the ride.  I can only imagine what they thought if they ever saw this movie.
  • Supposedly national treasure Regina King was in a cut of this movie, but was removed.  I cannot imagine how she fit in.  But Regina dodged a bullet.
  • This looks like an ABC Family week night movie, but was a major studio release.  I don't remember it in the slightest, which is Nicholson's point, but it never blipped for a second.  If you want to know why the studios are mad about box office, this movie no one remembers made $27 million.  Now it would just not be released and written off.
  • Also, in what I would assume is an otherwise mundane world, there's a wizard who can alter reality and no one seems upset by this.  Like, whatever my face looked like, I would be running to my NEWS ANCHOR FATHER to say "a magic lady did this.  MAGIC EXISTS."  And, yet... all of the "I have been cursed" convos seem to have happened off screen, like they were checking in on whether they needed more toilet paper, and it was irrelevant.  Wild.
  • This movie was written and directed by someone who seems unmoored by how people act, how cause and effect work, how movies function or the actual point of the story of Beauty and the Beast, which is not particularly new and exists to perform a function.  And that function is not whatever this movie thinks it is - which is muddled at best.  I've never seen a version of this story where I thought the better ending was the Beast remaining beastly, but this movie should have been that.  But that bad direction and story telling makes everything about every character - including poor Mary Kate - seem insane/ dumb.  
Anyway.  Beastly.  

Kurosawa Noir Watch: High and Low (1963)

Watched:  05/25/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

The Kurosawa journey continues!

So, this was up in my queue when M.Bell wrote to say "if you're watching Kurosawa, you should watch High and Low soon."  So, I *did*.  

I dug this movie.  It's fascinating to see the then-nascent genre of the police procedural from a Japanese perspective and from the eye and hand of Kurosawa.

I've not read Ed McBain's King's Ransom, the novel on which High and Low (1963) is based.  And I doubt this is a 1:1 match for that novel - also, I've never read any Ed McBain, and maybe I should?

The movie stars an army of Toho players, topped off by Toshiro Mifune as an executive with a shoe company that would like more profits.  As we enter the story, he's being recruited by fellow executives to turn against the company president and take over the company.  But Mifune's character has his own plans, and has mortgaged everything against it - and is already millions in debt to make his plan work out.  But, then, his chauffer's son is kidnapped by accident (they intended to take his son, of similar age and build), and Mifune must make the decision to save the boy or himself.