Random Movies: Best to Worst
The Lego Batman Movie
I didn’t love The Lego Movie as much as everyone else did, and I honestly didn’t expect to like The Lego Batman Movie at all, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It throws a bunch of jokes at you as fast as humanly possible, but many of the jokes are funny, and the central insight about how the Batman persona is just a human man covering up his vulnerabilities is right on.
This movie also drove home the point that NPR’s Glen Weldon is always making, which is that many different flavours of Batman can exist at the same time. I watched this movie during the same week I was blasting tanks in Arkham Knight, and I found that the juxtaposition in tone just made me like both Batmans more. There is room in my heart for both a dark torture flashback hallucination Batman, and a light-hearted joke machine Batman – who knew?
Get Out is a good movie mostly because it clearly presents the thesis “racism is terrifying” in a way that even people who don’t know that already can understand. It’s strongest when it’s a creepy movie about a black man visiting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time and having them act really weird around him (and hypnotize him so he sinks into the floor, which is honestly the scariest thing), and kind of less strong in the blood-and-chase scenes toward the end. It also has that thing that a lot of suspense movies have where, once you know what’s going on, and there’s no subterfuge anymore, the evil characters are all reduced to a Dalek-level focus on annihilation. Other than that, though, I enjoyed it; just not as much as all the hype said I was going to.
The Beguiled is a movie from the 70s that was recently re-made by Sofia Coppola. I watched both versions, because I thought maybe I’d have something interesting to say about the differences between them, but I don’t really. The story takes place during the American Civil War, and concerns what happens when a wounded northern soldier wanders into an almost-but-not-quite abandoned school for southern girls. Basically, he’s a manipulative douchebag and, when they catch on to him, something really bad happens involving a hacksaw.
The trailer for the Coppola version of the movie – which has Nicole Kidman, and Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell in it – basically tells you every plot twist in the whole entire story, but, in some ways, that’s good. Neither version of The Beguiled really knew how to market itself, and it’s a bit of a catch-22, because the only thing that’s interesting about it is that the hacksaw stuff is somewhat unexpected. So, if your advertising doesn’t tell me about the hacksaw, and spoil the only surprise, I’m not going to watch the movie in the first place.
In broad terms, everything about the 1970s version of the film is much less subtle. Whereas Coppola’s version of the film communicates the characters’ feelings and desires through things like body language, gaze, and just-long-enough-to-be-uncomfortable pauses, the original film relies on flashbacks and voiceovers to spell things out in a much less ambiguous way. You walk away from Coppola’s film saying, “Okay, what happened there was complicated, and they were all sort of right when they accused each other of things.” You walk away from the 1970s film saying, “What the fuck did I just watch?”
That’s not to say the 2017 version is perfect. There were a few scenes where I was kind of taxed to believe that three adult-sized women couldn’t tackle a drunk man who’s balanced on one leg. More importantly, there is a strange decision to remove the black slave character from the film entirely rather than try to say anything about race. I was expecting the 1970s version of the film to be really offensive about that, but, to its credit, there’s actually kind of a strong scene where they talk about the war and the slave says flat-out that she doesn’t believe white people on either side care what happens to her – that they’re fighting for their own pride and not her liberation. That’s a surprisingly insightful thing to slip into a movie that also has an orgy in it.
All in all, I was really confused about what I was supposed to take away from any of this, but I appreciate the craftsmanship and the weird left turn with the hacksaw.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I don’t remember anything that happened in this movie except for the central stunt sequence where they’re inside a water tank for a really long time. That’s pretty much my reaction to every Mission Impossible movie, except the first. I remember liking it, though, and particularly liking Rebecca Ferguson in the role of an agent who’s double-double crossing everyone while falling in love with Tom Cruise. Except Rebecca Ferguson is the exact same age as me, which makes Tom Cruise 22 years older than both of us and, at the very least, makes it hard for me to understand the parallel where they’re supposed to be at the same stage in their spy careers.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
After the success of Harry Potter, we’ve seen a mad rush to adapt weird children’s books to the screen. None of them quite work as well as Harry Potter, and Peculiar Children is not the film that breaks that pattern. The central idea – that the main character is special because he can “see monsters” – is interesting, but not explored in a super in-depth way. I also had some serious questions about how the time bubble the children’s home is in is supposed to work, and I was weirded out by the Age of Adeline thing where grandfather and grandson love the same girl because she never physically ages. Like, wouldn’t she be mentally an elderly woman by now and, like, not want to date some fifteen year old kid?
Beauty and the Beast (2017)
It’s impossible to say whether I would think the live action version of Beauty and the Beast was a good film if it wasn’t standing in the shadow of what is arguably the greatest and most acclaimed animated movie Disney’s ever made. I honestly don’t know why they wanted to remake it, because it was a no-win proposition. At least The Jungle Book was telling a different story. This is literally just a mash-up of the animated movie and the musical, but with a camera crew this time.
The exact moment I knew I kind of hated it was when Belle stopped singing “Little Town” so she could give the town librarian a sincere and heartfelt compliment about how she appreciates the work he does – you know, instead of criticizing the villagers for leading uninspired lives. Being kind and sincere and teaching random kids to read is very on-brand for Emma Watson, and I love her for that in real life, but I wanted to hear the disgust in her voice when she tells the baker that he sells the same fucking baguettes each day because that’s what I grew up with.
On a more serious note, doing this as a live action film drains a lot of the wonder and magic out of the story and leaves more room to notice things like how fucked up it is that this woman falls in love with a monster who yells at her all day, just because she’s trapped with him and depends on his kindness to survive. At the time this fairytale breathed into existence, it was very common for women to be sold into marriage to pay off family debts, so a story about a woman who’s forced to live with a horrible monster for the rest of her life, but slowly manages to turn him kind with love and patience, was still absolutely horrible, but also not a huge step backward for women’s rights within the overall cultural context. In 2017, that’s not true anymore, and it makes me wonder if we have outgrown this story.
Certain Women is a group of three completely separate, extremely low-key stories about particular women dealing with day to day problems. One of them is a lawyer who has a difficult client, another is trying to buy stone from a man who kind of doesn’t want to sell it to her, and the best one is a horse trainer who falls in love only to have her heart broken. The third story was the most interesting by far and could have been a whole movie by itself. The other two, I barely remember, except that the lawyer made a comment that was too on the nose about how her clients don’t believe her when she tells them what the law is, but they will believe a man.