Magical Movies Tour: The Black Cauldron

Note: These are the only things I’ve felt like writing for the past two weeks, so I’m going to start posting two a week. I’ve gotten way ahead of myself and want to share my thoughts! Hooray!

Well, that was better than I expected.

Everyone always talks about what a tremendous failure The Black Cauldron is, as a film on it’s own, and as an adaptation of the wonderful The Chronicles of Prydain, and in reality it is perfectly fine as both. The movie takes on the first two books in the series, The Book Of Three and The Black Cauldron, and omits so reasonably important characters, (Wither thou, Gwydion?) but it does an OK job by them.

Taran’s relationship to Hen Wen is perhaps given a bit more weight, (Hen Wen is an oracular pig, in case you forgot.) and Gurgi is given a bit more weight. (To be fair Gurgi is kind of a perfect Disney character.) Eilonwy is pefectly sketched as in Fleudeur Flam (though his true self, a king in his own right, is never revealed). The Horned King is terrifying and clearly the portion of the film the most love was given to.

I’m not saying The Black Cauldron is perfect, and you can certainly see how many of the people working on it moved on to work with Don Bluth, because it reminds me much more stuff like Thumbelina and A Troll In Central Park than anything else Disney’s ever done, but it’s wasn’t the awful mess I was expecting. It got the characters right, at the very least, and inspired me to purchase the books for Kindle. (This was another Quarantine Watch)

Next week, the awakening begins with the light stirrings of The Great Mouse Detective.

In The Shadow of Adaptation: Emma

Emma Woodhouse, clever, handsome, and rich, had lived nearly twenty one years with very little to vex her.

I went into this new adaptation of Emma curious but without much expectation. Emma is far and away my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels, not least because of it’s prickly sometimes silly heroine, who Austen described as, “no one but myself will like much.”

Of course many people love Emma Woodhouse, vexing and silly as she is, and I didn’t put too much pressure on this movie, since I have a lot of affection for 1996 adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow (an Emma if there ever was one) and the 2009 miniseries with Ramola Garai was not to my taste at all, and we have a perfect adaptation of Emma that exists and it’s called Clueless. 

With all of those caveats I was excited for a reason to pick up this book again, and happy to fall back into Emma’s world of matchmaking and new dresses and balls and a true and honest love built on the back of friendship and long held affection. (Mr. George Knightly would destroy that broody Fitzwilliam Darcy chap with one lecture and raised eyebrow and it would be glorious.) and Autumn De Wilde’s new film, with Anna Taylor-Joy in the lead is a delightful trifle of film.

De Wilde makes some choices that I absolutely love, one is that he’s very clear that he’s making a comedy, he leans into the absurdity of the manners and social dances that in a way that Austen’s books nearly always do, and adaptations tend to stay away from. His background as a music video director suits the tableaux that are necessary.

The other decision that De Wilde makes that sets the tone perfectly is cast the always wonderful Bill Nighy as Emma’s mercurial father. Mr. Woodhouse is an absurd character, always nervous about illness and wanting everything is own way. His daughter and her lover are of course happy to oblige him, but the silliness of the character is perfectly pitched here. Frankly, most of the cast is perfectly pitched to the arch and funny tone, and the ball scene is one of the sexiest ways of shooting those scenes (always the sexiest in the adaptations).

I’m odd in my Austen preferences, liking Emma more than Pride And Prejudice is the least of it. I hold Ang Lee & Emma Thompson’s Sense And Sensibility as the high watermark, not the BBC P&P starring Colin Firth (although it is very very good.) Overall, i consider a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite books, that I will most likely be revisiting a time or two.

In The Shadow Of Adaptation: To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

Last year reading To All The Boys I Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You and Always And Forever, Lara Jean  by Jenny Han was one of the great pleasures of my reading project. And Netflix’s adaptation of To All The Boys was a breath of fresh teen rom-com air. Lana Condor and Noah Centino were pitch perfect and Lara Jean and Peter, with a kind of casual and cute chemistry that always makes these kinds of movies better.

I was very excited when it was announced that P.S. I Still Love You was going forward, and even more excited when the adorable John Ambrose McClaren was going to be played by the truly adorable Jordan Fisher, who was in Grease Live and Rent Live and who I’m in a little in love with anyway, so that was going to go great.

Obviously, based on choices made in To All The Boys I knew some changes were coming for P.S. I Still Love You, and some of them I liked. Removing the sex tape subplot’s recurrence was a good choice. There were others that I didn’t like. (emoving the Assasin subplot takes the comic spine out of the story, which exists in the first one by virtue of the screwball fake relationships stuff. Focusing on the emotions was a good call in certain ways, and extending John and Lara Jean’s reunion definitely worked.

As a movie I really enjoyed this, but as an adaptation I wasn’t crazy about it. It took too much of the stuff that I really enjoyed about the book out.

Of course it still gave me Jordan Fisher in a white dinner jacket and Lana Candor in a dreamy fifties ball gown so I can’t be too mad at it.

Apparently, Always and Forever, Lara Jean is coming next year, so we’ll talk about that then. It’s my least favorite of the three books so I’m meh on it, but I’ll be happy to see this cast again, they are completely charming. (I didn’t even touch on John Corbett as Lara Jean’s dad, being totally adorable and stuff.)

The next In The Shadow Of Adaptation will be Emma by Jane Austen which is getting a fancy new movie adaptation and I am SO excited for it.

Magical Movies Tour: Saludos Amigos

When I went to San Francisco & Napa last year, I had one morning that wasn’t already scheduled with family wedding activities or something my dad had already put on the books for us. I decided to use it visiting The Walt Disney Family Museum.

The production of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros (The subject of next week’s column) were well detailed in that museum, produced with funds from the US government to promote understanding with our southern neighbors. I don’t know how well they did that, but they are some fun cartoons.

Saludos Amigos doesn’t hide it’s framing device, and is all the better for it. A group of Disney Animators headed on a whirlwind South American trip to get some fresh inspiration. And wouldn’t ya know it? THEY GOT IT.

There’s four shorts. One is Donald learning about life around Lake Titicaca, one is about a little plane named Pedro who flies mail over the Andes. (I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little obsessed with Pedro, he’s super cute.) There’s one where Goofy learns the ways of the Argentine Gauchos. There are few things in the world I love like a Goody cartoon. (If you’re a Disney+ subscriber, watch “How To Swim” or “How to Ski” IMMEDIATELY. They are GENIUS PERFECTION) and then a samba short about Rio DiJenaero where Donald meets the sauve Jose Carrioca for the first time.

All four are delightful, and don’t overstay their welcome and while I’m not sure how much I learned about South America, I very much enjoyed the samba numbers and primo Donald content. (Big fan of Donald around here.)

Next week, we’ll talk about The Three Caballeros, which means even more primo Donald content. And more of Jose!

Ms. Americana: Pop Songs & Finding Your Power

I love Taylor Swift.

I love her music, I love the way she snuck into the void Madonna left behind while none of us were looking because ten other pop stars were vying for the spot (She is not as good as Madonna, I haven’t completely lost my mind), I love that she’s in control of her image as much as she possibly can be. I love that I grew up with her (Taylor is two years younger than I am, but I’ve always been a late bloomer and she’s kind of a old soul.)

All that said, I don’t know if Miss Americana is a good documentary. Taylor is an vulnerable as she can be, I think, but she’s had walls up for so long, and she seems to be doing the hard slow work of taking them down rather than letting them crash, figuring out which ones are useful and which ones are limiting. That’s probably healthier but not nearly as much fun.

The movie builds a complicated picture of a woman is who is just starting to realize who she is, she notes that she’d been frozen at the age she got famous (16) and had a lot of catching up to do. Which is why her devastation that her political stand in 2018 wasn’t enough reads as sincere rather than ego. She was 27, but closer to 18 in maturity and you think your voice can really change the world then, and to be fair, Taylor Swift actually might be able to move the needle. (Apparently after she started insisting on voting young registration in Tennessee went up like 16% or something).

The film really shines when they show Taylor writing music, and working on music. Chowing down on burritos with her producer, giggling with Brandon Urie in dorky icon perfection, shouting to Jack Antonoff that she forgot the words to “Endgame.” She’s herself in that work, and it’s stunning to see.

I really enjoyed this documentary, but as I mentioned up top, I love Taylor Swift. I’d be curious what someone who either actively dislikes her or is indifferent to her and what they’d think. I think it’s just partly having tracked her life for so long that nothing really blew me away. The eating disorder confession is probably the only new information, but even that I got, “Oh yeah, that tracks.” Also her 2016 sit out was mental health related, apparently. After her final dust up with Kim and Kanye she realized her relationship with the media and the public was toxic and she needed to reset, which is marginally interesting.

Also, you remember the curls and the cat eye makeup? That was a whole thing for a while and I’m really glad she moved on style wise because OOF. (I spent HOURS trying to get my hair to do those curls though.) I also totally spent the rest of the weekend listening to Taylor Swift and watched The Reputation concert again.

Rise, Rey, Rise Up

There’s a lot going on in The Rise Of Skywalker, and I’m actually having trouble articulating how I feel about this movie. I groaned at a lot of it, cried through more, loved it almost completely. It’s thoroughly predictable, and yet manages to satisfy regardless of that.

I’m not a big lover of twist endings, I think they’re often cheap. The predictability of a formula is not something I consider a fault in narrative. Tropes alone aren’t cheap, though they can be employed cheaply. And The Rise Of Skywalker uses tropes that it’s earned and a few that it hasn’t. It’s a mixed bag of a movie.

Like all Star Wars films it lives and dies on it’s performances. Daisy Ridley gives her strongest in this trilogy, Adam Driver gets less to do than the previous two outings. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are a damn delight and here’s something that I never ever expected to write, Anthony Daniels really runs away with the thing.

And the score, as you may have heard is incredible. People are calling it the best Williams has done in the series. I don’t know about that. Empire and Phantom Menace are pretty high marks, but it gets close. (I need to listen to it without the film.) But it’s very good. Rey’s theme and Kylo’s theme both get mixed with The Imperial March and Force Theme’s in ways that are wonderful. Leia’s theme is also pretty prominent.

I really, really enjoyed myself.

Rankings

  1. Knive’s Out
  2. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  3. Jo Jo Rabbit
  4. Frozen 2
  5. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  6. Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker
  7. Avengers: Endgame
  8. Rocketman
  9. Detective Pikachu
  10. Zombieland: Double Tap
  11. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  12. Downton Abbey
  13. Joker

Trailers

The Jungle Cruise: This trailer does not have enough puns. It otherwise looks acceptable.

Onward: I really can’t wait for this. It looks so lovely and fun and kind of scary. Really great.

Wonder Woman 84: GIVE ME YOUR TIME TRAVEL SHENANIGANS AND CHRIS PINE IN A FANNY PACK!!!!

Anway, y’all ready for Spoilers!  THEY’RE HERE NOW

 

 

 

 

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We’ll Always Take Care Of You

I walked into Knive’s Out with a bit of a “show me” attitude. I’d heard it was great. I’d heard there was a sweater. I didn’t want to walk out of the movie feeling like it was overrated.

It’s not.

This movie fucking rules.

Daniel Craig is great in this movie. The Agatha Christie vibes are strong. The main character, Marta, played by the lovely Ana De Armas is so relate able caught up in a viper’s nest of preppy weirdos. And oh, these preppy weirdos. Christopher Plummer is the murdered patriarch, Jamie Lee Curtis is his daughter, Don Johnson her husband (also thanks to Watchmen I was so excited to see Don Johnson), Toni Collette is the widowed daughter in law who stuck with the clan and Michael Shannon is the youngest son. The grandkids, Jacen Martell and Katherine Langford are two of the grandchild, a budding internet Nazi and Smith College Feminist respectively. And then there’s Chris Evans as a beautiful New England prep school asshole for the ages. (He’s the one who wears the sweater. It’s just a ratty fisherman’s sweater. I own five of them. They’re very cozy and yes, Evans looks quite sexy in it. But he looks sexy in everything. I get the hype of the movie. I do not get the hype of the sweater.)

Rian Johnson is a great creator. I loved Brick, I loved Looper, I loved this. The Last Jedi is a movie that I have watched. I’m also, as the kind of person who likes seeing movie stars, excited for what this movie means for both Evans and Craig now that they’re out of their franchise handcuffs. I love them both as Captain America and James Bond but they’re capable of so much more, and this a great way to remind people of that.

Rankings!

  1. Knive’s Out
  2. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  3. Jo Jo Rabbit
  4. Frozen 2
  5. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  6. Avengers: Endgame
  7. Rocketman
  8. Detective Pikachu
  9. Zombieland: Double Tap
  10. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  11. Downton Abbey
  12. Joker

Trailers:

I was running a little late so I didn’t see them all but what I did see:

Uncut Jems: I like when Adam Sandler really acts. He’s quite good at it. And Idina! She’s having a bit of a year. (Her new Christmas Album A Season Of Love is great!)

Bombshell: Oy. The thing is, I love all the women in this movie. And John Lithgow. I just am so tired, you guys, and I don’t think I have the bandwith for a movie about sexual harassment and Fox News. Though Charlize is excellent casting for Megyn Kelly.

The Next Right Thing

If Disney is going to keep throwing out movies where Princesses sing awesome songs and fulfill the hero’s journey, I’m gonna keep watching them. Or watch what I can of them through the tears.

Frozen 2 follows through on the first movies promise in a number of ways. For one thing, Anna and Elsa are front and center, telling their own story, feeling their own feelings, saving each other and everyone around them with the power of their love and bond. Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell are to be commended for the work they’ve done with these characters. The songs are very good. Nothing quite as catchy as “For The First Time In Forever” or “Let It Go,” but “Into The Unknown,” “Show Yourself,” and “The Next Right Thing,” have more narrative power. And hey! Kristoff got a song all to himself. “Lost In The Woods” is delightful but I’d listen to Jonathan Groff sing scales for three minutes so I might be too receptive an audience for that one.

The rest of the movie is very good. It’s visually stunning, and like I said, hero’s journey, for both sisters. I’m into it. There’s also a scene where Elsa sings about embracing your true self and stops the destruction fueled by colonialist lies with a flurry of rainbow glitter.

Which is the gayest shit ever and I’m so happy it exists.

Rankings!

  1. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. Jo Jo Rabbit
  3. Frozen 2
  4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  5. Avengers: Endgame
  6. Rocketman
  7. Detective Pikachu
  8. Zombieland: Double Tap
  9. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  10. Downton Abbey
  11. Joker

Trailers

Onward looks DOPE AS HELL. Seriously. I’m a sucker for “what happens when fantasy societies evolve” as a conceit.

Soul also looks great. I’m down for what’s going on at Pixar these days it seems.

Trolls: World Tour: I am every distracted whenever I see this trailer because I keep trying to figure out if that “Drop Button” is a McElroy. Do we know yet? I believe people thought it was Griffin. (This shows how much I care about this movie. Which is not at all, if there aren’t McElroys.)

There were others but nothing really stuck…

 

You’re Not One Of Them

Jo Jo Rabbit is a lovely movie. It’s trangressive as hell and wildly hilarious in places. (Sam Rockwell is a treasure and somehow knowing how great he is, and knowing how every time people talk about him they’re talking about how great he is, I still think he’s underrated.) There are a few things going on in Taiko Waititi’s satire that I think are worth discussing.

The whole movie is from the perspective of Jo Jo, a sad, lonely ten year old boy in Germany towards the end of World War II (the inevitability of Germany losing the war at this point hangs over the whole film) who idolizes Adolf Hitler and longs to belong, thinking he’ll find that belonging in the Hitler Jungon. Keeping the camera at JoJo’s height, only revealing for sure things that he knows for sure (we, as educated adult viewers can glean more nuance but it’s not in the text, deliberately and brilliantly.) makes the film more whimsical than it could be otherwise.

JoJo, like many kids, has an imaginary friend, unlike many other kids, his imaginary friend is Hitler. As JoJo’s perspective shifts, so do his interaction with Hitler, at first JoJo’s Adolf is a chummy cheerleader, by the end, he’s a bellowing lunatic. Waititi plays Hitler himself and it’s an interesting performance.

And then there’s the matter of Jojo’s ghost. His mother, Rosie (warmly played by Scarlett Johanson, in a role that she’s quite good in. I have mixed feelings on Johanson, who I think can be wonderful when a part suits her, but is limited as an actor) is working with the resistance and is hiding a Jewish teenager in their walls. JoJo learns this and decides rather than turn Else, the girl in, to use her to study Jews, and of course learns that she’s human.

JoJo Rabbit has it’s heart in the right place, is creatively shot, and masterfully performed. It addresses the really important issue of radicalizing youth, and how to break that programming. (While it is not the job of the oppressed to educate their oppressor, it is helpful for young people who’ve been radicalized to interact with those they previously considered themselves above to realize you know, we’re all human and stuff.)

Anyway, I was a big fan of the movie. I’m really looking forward to watching it again, actually, because I’m sure there’s more to analyze here.

Rankings

  1. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. Jo Jo Rabbitt
  3. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  4. Avengers: Endgame
  5. Rocketman
  6. Detective Pikachu
  7. Zombieland: Double Tap
  8. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  9. Downton Abbey
  10. Joker

Trailers

Ford V Ferrari: I am so excited for this movie. I’ve mentioned before that, “well meaning adults who are good at their jobs” is one of my favorite genres, and I have a feeling this qualifies. Also, Matt Damon and Christian Bale getting to play smiling charmers is going to just be a hoot!

Knives Out!: It better be good. I want it to be good. It should be so so so so so good.

Doctor Sleep: Looking forward to this one too. I’m going to try to see it this weekend, but I make no promises.

A Hidden Life: I know Holocaust dramas aren’t always great, in fact they are often maudlin and difficult to watch. This looks kind of like that, but I’ve always enjoyed Terrence Malick’s work and also, I’ve been reading about Franz Jagerstatter in a superficial way since I could read. (Catholic culture can be weird) so seeing this story on the big screen will likely be worth it.

Zombie Kill Of The Century

I love the movie Zombieland. I just like zombie movies in general, actually, and Zombieland also has other things that I like, sarcastic quips, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone among them.

So, I knew I was going to at the very least enjoy Zombieland: Double Tap. And I did. It also includes a few other things that I really like, love triangles and Rosario Dawson. HOORAY!

Zombieland isn’t the best movie ever, but it’s a good one, so obviously it’s sequel is also not a great movie, but an adequate one. It’s fun, funny, the kills are good and it’s final set piece is reasonably impressive, for a midlevel zombie comedy.

There’s also a bunch of Elvis jokes, a dumb hippy kid who tries to convince Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock that he wrote, “Like A Rolling Stone,” which is genuinely hilarious, especially once she reveals that she was only hanging out with him to get away from her suffocating family and because he had weed. “I know who Bob Dylan is you idiot!”

Also, that final set piece? It involes Rosario Dawson running over a bunch of zombies with a monster truck.

I’m sorry, I’m human, that’s just plain wonderful.

Rankings

  1. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
  2. Spider-Man: Far From Home
  3. Avengers: Endgame
  4. Rocketman
  5. Detective Pikachu
  6. Zombieland: Double Tap
  7. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
  8. Downton Abbey
  9. Joker

Trailers

Knive’s Out: My level of hype for this movie is astronomical. It looks so so so so so so good.

Doctor Sleep: After finishing the book, I’m even more excited for this. I like that they’re making Dan and Abra’s first contact seem a little bit creepy.

Charlie’s Angels: This is going to be the gayest lady movie ever isn’t it? Whatever, I’m in for the wigs alone, but the action looks pretty sweet too and is Patrick Stewart Charlie?

The Turning: YOU GIVE ME ALL OF THE GOTHIC HORROR. ALL OF IT. We wants it. The precious. (Evil demon children. Also is this literally a modern take on The Turning Of The Screw? Because that’s awesome. I should read that. I like the James I have read…)

Bad Boys For Life: I am glad Will Smith is back. I’ve missed him. I didn’t see Aladdin and I still haven’t seen Gemini Man, so I get that my excitement may seem less than wholehearted, but it isn’t.

Countdown: No. I mean, it looks fine, just, not for me.