Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Fri Oct 27, 2017 3:06 am

Hilarious, thrilling and visually stunning, Thor: Ragnarok is a contender for best Marvel movie yet. Director Taika Waititi brings his laid-back New Zealand style of comedy to the Marvel universe, giving a pleasantly light touch to the action-packed proceedings. Ragnarok often feels more like a cosmic episode of Flight of the Conchords than a superhero film. The stakes are high but there's very little real drama. You might be expecting a dramatic Shakespearian showdown between Thor and his trickster brother Loki, who has taken over the throne of Asgard. The film throws that drama away quickly, to keep Loki by Thor's side as they take on a greater threat.

That's Hela, goddess of death, played by Cate Blanchett (and curiously sexier than ever at age 48). Blanchett makes a great serious villain, while Jeff Goldblum is funny as the Grandmaster, who forces his captives to battle to the death for the amusement of a coliseum audience. He's decadent and probably a bit kinky, and having fun playing Jeff Goldblum.

The Grandmaster's fighting champion is Mark Ruffalo's The Incredible Hulk, who suddenly has a lot to say for himself. So does Bruce Banner, who is amusingly anxious, lost and confused about what's been going on these past two years - closer to a Curb Your Enthusiasm character than an Avenger. This isn't the Planet Hulk movie you might have been waiting for. Banner is a supporting player, and it's very much Thor's film. The light comedic tone looks good on Thor and any dramatic character revelations are part of his story.

Thor and Loki have a casual brotherly rapport here. Loki isn't the villain he was in The Avengers. The Thor series has gotten a lot of mileage out of the respect and rivalry the brothers have for one another, even as Loki can never stay on the side of good for long. If not for the inevitable moments of betrayal, Tom Hiddleston could be playing a hero here. There's no point where he gets really nasty. That's a big missed opportunity but it suits the film's casual tone, and the fact that Loki isn't the villain here. He's defanged, and we see the team of heroic brothers that they could have been if Loki had less ambition and more self control.

Marvel movies have often been known for weak villains, but Cate Blanchett's Hela is a dominating, powerful threat, so much so that the film holds her back a bit so that the fight can still be winnable.

Thor builds a hero team he calls "The Revengers." That includes Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, whose character also has a New Zealand edge somehow. Taika Waititi himself voices Korg, a comic relief character who is about as New Zealandy as you can get.

Tessa Thompson is very likeable and has good chemistry with Hemsworth and even Ruffalo. She also has a fully fleshed out character arc, even though she doesn't have a lot to do.

Similarly, Karl Urban plays Skurge, getting lots of laughs early on before spending most of the film as the villain's sidekick.

Anthony Hopkins turns up as Odin, playing his part in Thor's hero's journey. Idris Elba gets a true hero's welcome as Heimdall, and it's nice that the film recognizes the importance of a supporting hero. Especially since otherwise the Thor series has lost a lot of its supporting cast. Hogun, Volstagg and Fandral are barely in the film, and Sif is missing - probably for the best, all things considered. The Asgardian heroes were a welcome presence in the other films and are missed here.

Frigga died in the last film, and Darcy and Erik aren't here either. Jane Foster is absent, and very unlikely to return. You have to wonder what went on here that Natalie Portman couldn't be coaxed back to be part of the biggest franchise in the world.

The first Thor film mostly took itself very seriously and it's interesting to see the series change gears here into a full-on comedy adventure. Chris Hemsworth is all charm as Thor and this installment really knows how to use him effectively. He's having fun and so are we. Early on (and again later) we get an action scene set to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, which seems like too obvious a music choice, but the action is good enough that it owns the choice and gets you in the right mood.

The film also makes good comedic use of another Marvel hero who I'd previously found underwhelming. And it's nice to see a film built around Avengers whose absence in other films wasn't even noticed.

There are a few good cameo appearances that I won't spoil.

While humor has always been a part of Marvel's film output, comedy casually dominates the proceedings here. The Captain America films were built around big dramatic beats and emotional moments, and we get less of that in this lighter entry, although Thor himself goes through a journey that changes him.

The Thor: Ragnarok logo leaps off the screen, drawn in full Jack Kirby style. More than any previous Marvel film this feels visually like a tribute to Jack Kirby. The Grandmaster's planet in particular is intensely colorful and its set designs are clearly a pop-art take on how Jack Kirby drew machinery. Visually the film just screams "fun," and everything else about it follows suit, from the comedy to the action to the effects, and the chemistry and charisma of the cast. Flashback sequences to an army of Valkyries taking on Hela are stunning, although I found the white Valkyrie costume to be a weak point in an otherwise well designed film.

Marvel has put out a ton of great superhero films at this point, and there is a real danger that they might all start to feel the same, or play things straight. Marvel lost Edgar Wright from Ant-Man and Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World, and it's easy to wonder whether such strong directorial voices might be lost and made more boring and "samey" when absorbed into Marvel's "house style."

Thor: Ragnarok is nothing like that. It's funny, colorful and weird, and delivers superhero-sized action and thrills while losing none of the awkwardness of Taika Waititi's particular brand of comedy. It has a definite New Zealand flavor - Heimdall's storyline looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, and the messy world of the Grandmaster is a Kiwi fever dream. Much like how Guardians of the Galaxy retained James Gunn's dark, gory, collegiate sense of humor, Thor: Ragnarok is a quirky addition to the Marvel canon that shows that a director's voice can still come through in an Avengers film. Its light tone comes with a casual ease which never feels forced or clunky.

The film doesn't linger on serious or dramatic moments, but it takes Hela seriously as a villain and moves forward Thor's story in a cataclysmic way, tearing apart his entire world as if they don't expect to ever make another Thor film. We'll see about that.

Either way, Thor: Ragnarok is the most fun you'll have at the movies until the next Avengers film.



SPOILERS:

In how it treats Valkyrie, Hela and Odin, the film also hints at a deeper morality and meaning. And the specific way it's handled seems to come from director Taika Waititi's own heritage, his father being indigenous New Zealand Maori. Tessa Thompson's character is a Valkyrie, a line of great Asgardian warriors. When most of that line was wiped out, and she's forced from her homeland, she is introduced as a scavenger and a drunk. This is the "Once Were Warriors" subtext about native and indigenous people in any country. The former Valkyrie does what she has to, to survive, and it's only Thor that recognizes the great culture she came from originally. We also learn that Odin, Thor's father, was not the peaceful, benevolent ruler he portrayed himself as. With Hela, Goddess of Death by his side, he conquered civilizations, conquered worlds, and killed countless people. He was a colonial conqueror killing natives. By the end of the film, after Hela has killed Asgardians en masse, decimating the population, the surviving population of Asgard is on a ship, and they've all become native refugees looking for a new home. So the subtext for the film is a brief history of the horrors of colonialism, of our own history all across the world. I believe that backstory would still have largely been present if any other director had handled this material, but that it wouldn't have had the same feeling, and the same little touches of New Zealand native culture which make it feel genuine. And that really is interesting.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby filmfan94 » Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:44 pm

It's looking like 20th Century Fox may end up being sold to Disney.

https://www.laughingplace.com/w/news/20 ... on-disney/

Update: The talks are now dead.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles ... -cnbc-says
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:23 pm

We don't need further consolidation of media -- what a mess. Although if it resulted in shutting down FOX News ...
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sun Nov 19, 2017 3:52 am

Pixar's Coco won me over. I'd recommend it, although it's a mixed bag.

It's good, and worth seeing.

I am curious how kids will react to this, as a film about Dia de Muertos might not play for the Frozen audience, but clearly they're going for that young audience -- which is basically my one overall objection, as it's all a bit sugary, though it certainly works.

Storywise it is a very standard hero's journey like we've seen before, so there's a definite sense of deja vu. It's cute, and sentimental, and fast paced in a kid-film way, and its focus on the importance of family history is very moving and emotional. The audience including myself were in tears at one point.

I think this could have been slower, more serious, more artful, and had more quiet moments. But as in any animated film for kids that's a hard balance to strike with also pleasing a young audience, and there's a serious and moving film in here somewhere anyway. I'm curious whether kids will really take to it.

The human character designs are fine, if not really to my taste. A bit too cute and hyper, and showing the limits of CGI for this sort of thing. Possibly this is intended as a "Pixar style" rather than a "Disney style." The dog is designed to be goofy in what's becoming a standard Pixar way. Maybe that'll work for you more than it did for me. I ended up preferring the big cat.

The film's land of the dead prefers to emulate the world of the living rather than go for something more mystical or magical or spiritual. Inevitably it trivializes things here.There is a TSA-style checkpoint and a general tone of whiz-bang wackiness, which is a shock at first but it's not hard to get on the film's wavelength for the most part. The spirituality and the magic becomes the subtext, rather than being absent.

It's not explained why Miguel ends up in the land of the dead via this guitar. Although we can guess based on what we find out later, it's not something the film goes back to. The setup of the story - a petal bridge to the world of the dead - suggests a more openly spiritual take on things than what unfolds. The film doesn't explain things, but it doesn't leave us to fill in the blanks either. It becomes like going to Grand Central Station, or the world of Wreck It Ralph. That's a choice - the film taking us on a journey. It's irreverent - the standard story of a kid seeing an unfamiliar adult world. Frida Kahlo is depicted as a comedic figure.

His family's objection to Miguel wanting to be a musician is a bit over the top. For a film about family, the film doesn't try to understand or humanize his family very much. We stay at a kid's point of view, and also with the forgotten vagabond Hector, who takes a little time to warm up to.

A lot of screenwriting structure focuses on the lead character having flaws to overcome, but this is another Disney film where the lead (Miguel) has no particular flaws, so the conflicts to be overcome are all external and caused by others. But then it would be odd to saddle a young kid with character flaws beyond his own impulsive choices. Meanwhile Hector has the general air about him of a very flawed character, looking like a drunk homeless con man who's screwed up his life and his death. But this is basically just appearances. Hector is really a normal (dead) guy fallen on hard times. That's relatable enough.

The villain's story was also over the top for me. Trying hard not to spoil this here. Considering what we find out about the villain's relation to the main characters, we could have had the same comeuppance without the villain purposely doing such an evil deed in the past. I would have personally preferred something accidental or negligent.

But this ties into the hero's journey as well - it's textbook to go that far.

Interestingly for a film about skeleton people they never try to make the villain scary in that way. The skull faces are intended to be cute and cartoony throughout, for all characters, and the film basically gets away with it, as it could have been a darker looking film than it is.

Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez of Frozen contributed the songs, and they're fine but for a film about musicians this never turns into a musical, and never soars beyond the level of someone doing standards onstage at a talent show. Which is fine.

By the end, in hero's journey tradition, we've had a really intense experience, and you won't forget what happens toward the end - a very emotional (musical) scene.

Despite my misgivings the film succeeds in being as moving and interesting as it wants to be.

All's well that ends well, in more ways than one, so I feel like a jackass criticizing it. Like Princess and the Frog, Frozen, and Up, it's an unusual mixed bag of elements which sit a bit oddly together as the end result of a film trying to be all things to all people, but the film (like those films) still works overall. Especially once you've accepted it for what it is.

I'll be curious what others think.

I watched this without the 20+ minute Frozen short, which I think would be a bit much to deal with. Haven't seen it though, so can't comment.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sun Nov 19, 2017 5:22 pm

Oscar screeners: The Lego Batman Movie is a delight, being less of an irreverent take on the Batman mythos and more of a comedic character study of a superhero with a lot of growing up to do.

It can be disappointing when a film is formulaic and predictable, but this film uses formula wisely. We're shown up front what's impressive and great about this version of Batman, and also what's very wrong with him. This Batman, played by Will Arnett, is absurd and ridiculous, a childish jerk who's prone to over the top displays of how awesome and heroic he is. But he's also lonely, with no real friends apart from Alfred. He's pushed the world away and needs to deal with the trauma of having lost his parents as a child and learn that he can't do everything on his own. It's about making friends. I've seen that formula before and it's a winning one, setting up an expectation storywise which the movie then delivers on. In terms of comedy, character, action, parody, references, and animated visuals, this is a movie which tells you what it's going to give you, and then gives it to you.

The film is very chaotic in a ridiculous way, throwing a lot up onscreen with constant action, tons of characters onscreen and throwaway attempts at humor. Centering it around Batman's character arc makes sense of all the noise and makes the movie be about something. This is a spinoff of the first Lego Movie, where Batman was portrayed as an absurd, arrogant romantic rival for that film's lead. Giving Batman more screentime hasn't deepened the character. Will Arnett shrewdly plays Batman as a two dimensional caricature (and parody of his comic book self) who we nonetheless want to see succeed by the end.

Where the film falters a bit is in its "Lego logic." I kept expecting Batman to call in the Justice League to help, but instead at the end, Gotham City is saved in a peculiar way which is only possible in a film starring Lego figurines.

Similarly, Lego as a brand has traditionally been about simply building things out of generic blocks, but has more recently (and lucratively) become centered around making Lego versions of famous characters from as many different franchises as possible, and crossing them over. That was true in the first Lego movie, it's true in the Lego Dimensions video game, and it's true here, which works against the film.

Batman already has a ton of characters associated with him. We briefly see the Justice League and Superfriends, and the Joker starts the film out by invading with what is basically Batman's entire rogue's gallery. These well known Batman villains - including long forgotten, minor and ridiculous villains - are shown working together. It's nice to see them all, but they're not given any real screen time or character development as individuals, although the film bothered to give some of them celebrity voices, even bringing back Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (and retconning Batman Forever in his favor, for about a second of screentime). Besides the Joker and Harley Quinn they're all cameo parts at best.

Instead, the Joker raises the stakes by bringing in villains and monsters from other brands, and it feels like a missed opportunity since this means we see a lot less of the DC villains that you'd really want in a Batman film. Especially one which cared enough to make a Lego version of Michael Keaton's '89 Batman, and other previous incarnations. It's interesting to see a Batman film get laughs by referencing the '66 Batman, which was also trying to get laughs. There's also a gag about Batman taking an interest in Barbara, where it's probably best not to think about how the Killing Joke movie did that for real. Or about how dark other versions of Batman and the Joker have gotten. I prefer a more kid friendly Batman myself.

The stakes are also lower than you'd get in a more serious Batman film. Despite these villains completely destroying Gotham you expect that things will basically be fine at the end, and that Batman can be on good terms with his own gallery of arch nemeses. On a large scale plot level it's all child's play - as if a child were playing and setting the terms of whether Gotham City is going to be all right or not - and the kid says everything's fine, so it is.

The implications of the plot are best to not think about in too much detail. This film isn't be the first to imply that Batman's cast of villains wouldn't exist without him, but it goes in on that hard. With his entire villains gallery given small parts as cameo sidekicks, the film says pretty much outright that a serious police force would be able to get these villains off the streets but that Batman keeps them out there so that he can have his adventures. And it's fine with that. You wouldn't get away with that in a more serious take on Batman which sees them as more of a threat, but then this film's not about them.

It's a light-hearted comedy which parodies the Batman and Justice League mythos, but it's more interested in figuring out who this ridiculous, two-dimensional version of Bruce Wayne really is. It's constantly making fun of Batman but also allowing him to end the film as a better hero than he was at the beginning. That also means that, apart from Wonder Woman, this is the best big-screen superhero film DC has made lately.

It's the sort of unusual idea for a film which should only work once ... That being said, I'd watch a Lego Justice League.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby filmfan94 » Tue Dec 05, 2017 4:11 pm

It looks like the talks between Disney and Fox are back on and they are extremely close to a deal. (shudders)

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/business/dis ... 55199.html
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:57 pm

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing obviously, like everyone else -- this is nearly a monopoly on our media, but it could also fix a lot of things, and break a lot of things. Not just in terms of the big properties but also in our ... society.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:47 pm

I, Tonya is very good. Margot Robbie excellent as the disgraced master figure skater who (despite her skill) was seen as too unpolished and trashy to live up to the Olympic ideal of a skating princess. A very sympathetic, tragic portrayal that Tonya could have used when she was the most hated figure in skating. The film laughs at all its subjects, especially Sean Eckhardt who is seen as a stupidly delusional and comedic figure who plans the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. Sebastian Stan is almost likeable as Jeff Gilooly, despite being a violently abusive dope whose ill-thought-out efforts to "help" Tonya go too far and end her career.

Tonya comes off as a sometimes nasty piece of work, but also a tragic figure who was repeatedly victimized by those around her, and who deserved better than she got. First, dealing with an abusive stage mother, and an abusive marriage, she's surrounded by bad people who make bad decisions. This all fits with Tonya's personality but it's hard to see her as truly to blame. The film, in fact, positions her as almost blameless, but even so, she was part of putting these events in motion. As the saying goes, you can't shake hands with the devil and say you were only kidding.

Oddly, the film never attempts to humanize her rival Nancy Kerrigan, who was seen as good and pure compared to Tonya, and, for the media, the heroine of this arch rivalry. Nancy is barely a character in the film and their rivalry barely registers. Presumably they thought that they would also have to portray Nancy in a very positive way, and that it would pull focus from Tonya's story.

The humor of the piece carries it, but it's essentially a tragedy. The film is sympathetic to how at one time she could have been (and maybe even was, for a very brief time) the greatest figure skater in the world. The credits roll over footage of the real Tonya before her downfall, and a few brief snippets of interview footage which clearly inspired the film.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby Garrett Gilchrist » Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:52 am

Battle of the Sexes - A charming, intense and affecting account of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), the aging gambler and self-described "chauvinist pig" who claimed he could beat any woman. The event was irrelevant in sporting terms, just a sideshow, but it took on mythical status as one of the most-watched events of all time, capturing the zeitgeist of women's liberation versus the old-fashioned idea of male superiority.

The film, too, taps into something much larger and more interesting than the events it depicts, swinging for the fences and playing hard in its depiction of Billie Jean King. King is winningly played by Stone as a tense workaholic just starting to come to terms with her own homosexuality, which she would not express publicly until forcibly outed in a 1981 lawsuit, well after the events of this film. King puts everything on the line to see women tennis players treated with respect, and most of Stone's performance plays out in quiet moments, as she falls for hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) in spite of herself and struggles with the constant pressure and scrutiny she's put under, and the pressure she puts on herself.

While Bobby Riggs was happy to depict himself as something of a cartoon villain in the press, the film doesn't go that far. He was happy to be a loudmouth, stage cartoonish photo shoots, and call women inferior, and it got a lot of attention in the media, whether people agreed with him or not. He brought the circus to town, and Steve Carell plays him much like he played Michael Scott on The Office, especially early on. He's a jokester, a little too loud and too inappropriate for the room, as a mask for his own insecurities. Riggs is a gambling addict, and Riggs' wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) intends to leave him if he doesn't give it up. But why should he give it up, he says, if he always wins? Riggs is getting too old for professional tennis and worried about his own irrelevance, and his chauvinism helps him stay in the spotlight. In real life, World War II interrupted Riggs' early career, and he kept hustling to make back lost time. The film is more sympathetic to Riggs than you'd expect, shrugging his words off as a joke, because it's Billie Jean King's story, and the fact is that he wasn't able to get into her head. She was able to ignore his whole circus and face him on the court, for a hard fought match.

The real villain, the film makes clear, is a lot larger than Bobby Riggs. It's bigger than Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), an old-fashioned conservative. It's bigger than Bill Pullman's Jack Kramer, who blacklists the top women from the LTA and stands in for everything King is fighting against. It's a whole society which didn't (and doesn't) allow for true equality between men and women, and allow gay people to be open about their sexuality without consequence. It's not just about winning one tennis match, it's a whole life of fighting to be who you are.

The film says this outright, and at the end I was reminded of the joke from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace: "I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards." (I, Tonya was similarly direct and on the nose.) But I like that in 2017 it's not winks and nudges and subtext, but rather an overt pep talk from Alan Cumming as Ted Tinling, a gay tailor who - like everyone else - notices that Billie is gay long before she's ready to live that way. The film, throughout, is very straightforward about what it's saying, and leaves us with a compelling portrait of a woman, athlete and activist who finds herself under intense pressure and doesn't crack. It even leaves some sympathy on the table for her blustery opponent.

P.S. The film casts a variety of usually-comedic actors in small parts. There is also archive footage featuring Howard Cosell, Ricardo Montalban, Rosey Grier etc. Howard Cosell was much imitated and impersonated in his day, but feature films love to use footage of the man himself, for that extra period detail. A period Fox logo is also repurposed, and there's an appropriately 70s feel throughout.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Postby filmfan94 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:09 pm

Well, it's official; Disney now owns 20th Century Fox.

https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/walt-d ... ion-stock/
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