Random Movies: Best to Worst

The Favourite

The Favourite is a courtly intrigue where the three main players are in a lesbian love triangle that each of them tugs on as they struggle for power. The power struggle is super interesting, even if it’s a little bit confusing, and it illustrates something kind of timely about the trade-offs between having the power to force your will on others and having the power stop other people from forcing their will on you.

There’s this really didactic scene about half way through that explains how Emma Stone’s character values safety above all else because she’s used to being beaten and abused, whereas Rachel Weisz’s character, who’s always been relatively safe, is willing to risk her safety to gain more influence. The way things actually play out is messier than that, but the tension between wanting safety and wanting influence is something exists in all of us and that also exists in political systems – which is why it makes sense that this story is taking place in a royal court.

It’s really, really interesting, and Olivia Colman gives an insanely good performance, and, now that I’ve had time to think about it, I can’t wait to watch it again.

Sorry to Bother You

I wish I hadn’t known the ending before I watched this. The main character is a black telephone sales agent who gets advice to speak with a white-sounding voice so that white people will buy from him. Changing his voice is step one of a Faustian bargain with white capitalists that has more and more extreme, disastrous consequences at every stage, until things take a magic realist/horror movie turn right at the end.

It’s super original and super political and Tessa Thompson has very, very cool, photogenic styling in it.

What We Do in the Shadows

This is a really well-known mockumentary about a group of vampires who have a flatshare in New Zealand. There are plans to make a spin-off TV series, so people have been talking about it again. The reason I hadn’t watched it until now is that I like my vampires serious, but I have to admit that a lot of the jokes are really funny.

Avengers: Infinity War

This was a lot more watchable than I thought it was going to be, mostly because of the jokes. I kind of wish the whole movie had been from Thanos’ perspective instead of jumping between a frillion different characters and plot lines. I kind of wonder what it’s like to be part of the cohort of actors who have all played some kind of super something in a comic book movie. I kind of wonder why Doctor Strange couldn’t just destroy the time stone and save everyone at the very beginning. DON’T EXPLAIN IT TO ME.

Beast

This is a much different movie than I thought I was getting into, but I like it more because of that. Beast kind of presents itself as if it’s a love story between a timid church girl and the misunderstood outsider who sees how special she is, but, as it goes on, you slowly realize that it’s actually about why women, in particular, end up feeling like they have to forgive men for doing really awful things.

It’s partly because of casual day-to-day misogyny (which is dramatized pretty well), and partly because of a black-and-white morality that creates false equivalency between any two people who’ve ever done anything wrong, no matter what they actually did. The church girl has been raised to believe that she’s a bad person – and she can point to one specific thing she’s done that genuinely does sound bad – so she decides she has to forgive her shitty, abusive outsider boyfriend for all the bad things he does, since she’s no better than he is.

It’s hard to explain what’s so interesting about that without giving spoilers, but Beast is saying something I’ve never heard a movie say before. It sometimes says that thing in a clumsy way, but it deserves some points for originality.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

This is a well-made film, but I don’t think I’m the right audience for it. The story is about a teenage girl who’s sent to one of those awful degayification schools, and the central argument the film’s trying to make is that it’s abusive, in and of itself, to teach gay kids that they’re bad people because they’re gay. Which… I already wholeheartedly agree with. I didn’t even realize there was a debate.

However, what I’ve realized is that, because I’ve never been part of any organized religion, I really don’t know what it’s like to be part of a hate church and suddenly realize you might be the thing your church hates. And I feel like the movie might speak more to people who have had to struggle with a conflict between their religion and their morality at some point.

It’s not bad. It just seems obvious to me. And it also has the thing I hate most, which is the thing where the characters start singing and dancing along with the radio in the middle of a Serious Important movie, so we can understand that they have fun. If I had more time on my hands, I’d make a supercut of all the times I’ve seen that just in the past three years.

Bird Box

The concept of Bird Box is really scary, but not something that lends itself to film, so the actual movie is kind of a mixed bag. Basically, there’s a demon wandering around, and looking at it makes you go insane and kill yourself. That means that the main characters have to make sure they can never ever see the demon that’s trying to make them kill themselves, so they all walk around with blindfolds like it’s Nier Automata.

That’s really creepy, and it probably makes sense in the book this movie is based on, but it also creates a problem for the movie in that the audience always necessarily has to have a better view of what’s happening than the characters do. Even though we don’t see the demon, we see everything else scary that’s happening while people have their eyes closed and, instead of building the suspense, it often calms things down. At the same time, it’s not an option to have a total blackout when the characters are blindfolded, because they’re using tactile sensations to give them information about the world, and it doesn’t seem like it would be possible to communicate that information to us if we couldn’t see it.

That said, there are some really good scenes in this film, mostly involving future!Sandra Bullock and two blindfolded kids she’s trying to lead down the river. The way we’re slowly taught to understand their situation, and the reality that Sandra Bullock’s planning to kill the kid she likes least in order to save the one she likes most, is masterful storytelling. It’s really tense and uncomfortable, and the very best part of the movie.

Bad Times at the El Royale

I feel like this might have been an interesting play, if it were being performed live, but it’s kind of a boring movie. The idea is that a bunch of strangers check into a weird hotel where the concierge is spying on them, and they all have some kind of Big Secret that comes out one way or another as the night goes on. For example – and this is something the trailer reveals – Jeff Bridges’ character is a criminal impersonating a priest.

I really like the idea. I think it’s absolutely delicious to get a bunch of shady, secretive strangers together in a weird hotel and have murder and mayhem ensue. Just, for me, the slow-paced pulp/noir execution doesn’t work. Though, again, I do feel like, if you had a group of actors in the room with you, and they were doing the exact same things, at the exact same pace, it would feel more urgent.

I Feel Pretty

This is not as offensive as it seems like it’s going to be, based on the trailers. The premise is that Amy Schumer’s character gets hit on the head and wakes up believing she looks like a model. The advertising pitches the movie as if the main point is that she thinks she looks better than she does, and, while there are a few scenes that play that way, mostly the point is “She forgets to hate herself.”

It’s not executed perfectly – like, for some reason, her big discovery that she looks good enough the way she is is used to help her sell makeup – but it’s touching on something that’s real and vulnerable and sincere – we hate ourselves, and we hate the way we look, and we’ve been taught to do that our whole lives, and wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just stop?

The Spy Who Dumped Me

I don’t really remember this very well except that it wasn’t as funny as I wanted it to be. It also seemed like it was occupying this really specific awkward, relatable spy genre, where the most obvious comparison is Spy, and that reminded me that Spy was a funnier movie. It also occupies the genre where yelling makes something a joke.

Image: The Favourite; Fox Searchlight | January 30, 2019