Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: A Marriage Story

I think one of the reasons I often don’t get to see as many of the Oscar nominated films as I’d like is that so many of them are movies that require a fairly hefty emotional investment. A lot of the time when I’m ready to watch something, I want to do nothing more than sit and be entertained. “Deep thought” is far from my To Do list. “Get depressed” is even further. Of course, that’s not entirely fair. It’s not as if all serious movies are depressing. They just are designed to make you think much more than your average Marvel movie, say.

But at the same time, those Oscar movies are often the best ones I see. I know they’re worth my while in theory. I’m just too lazy to prod myself to watch them in practice, which is why I’m glad I have this goal to watch as many of them as I can. (Goals work best for me when they get me to do something I want to do and wouldn’t do without that goal.)

Marriage Story is a classic example of this. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver portray a couple that’s falling apart. The film depicts the demise of their marriage in all its painful, excruciatingly acted detail. It’s a hard movie to watch, but it’s a very well done movie. (I had no idea Randy Newman did the score, which I felt added a great touch to the whole thing. I should have known.)

Driver and Johansson really dig into their roles, inhabiting them to the point that we feel we know them by the end of the movie. This isn’t a divorce where one person is “bad” and the other is “good.” Rather, they’re both complex, and the marriage fell apart for a number of reasons, with hints of other reasons lying deeper still.

One of the things I appreciated most about the movie was the attention to detail. Driver plays a director, and Johansson plays an actress. When they’re preparing (individually) to be observed by a social worker to report to the judge on their parenting skills, Driver focuses on getting the house just right. He perfects the setting, talks to his son, works on dinner. Johansson, on the other hand, focuses on her performance, practicing through what she’ll say beforehand. Details like that make me want to parse the movie apart further, because they hint at the sort of thought that went into the construction of the movie.

Was it perfect? Not quite, in my book. I gave it a 9.5 instead of 10 for one basic reason: I felt like the movie skewed a bit too heavily toward Driver’s character, slightly favoring him in the divorce’s fallout, and glossing over some of the mistakes he’d made that caused the divorce. It’s nothing glaring, but it was enough to make me keep expecting they’d finally address it in the movie, but they never really did.

Maybe that’s unfair of me. Maybe I should just be accepting of the fact that Driver’s character was a shade nicer than Johansson’s. But it felt off to me, and that held it back from a perfect score. That said, I still loved the movie. Loved how much the real communication between these two people who clearly still had feelings for each other had broken down to the point that the only time they actually communicated, they were shouting and crying. Loved how it led by listing all the things they liked about each other, and how even that led to their relationship’s ruin.

It’s a thought provoking movie, but it’s not one you’re going to leave feeling good about life. (Well, maybe you’ll feel good that your life isn’t Driver and Johansson’s . . .) I would not be surprised to see any actors walk away with awards, but I would be disappointed if it wins best picture instead of 1917. (I’d be surprised if it won, considering the director didn’t get a nod for best director . . .)

Have you seen it? What did you think? It’s streaming on Netflix now for free. (Rated R for language, but a fair bit of it. If that’s not a turn off, I think this would be a good one to watch as a couple, if only to discuss ways you feel their relationship went wrong, and what you can do to avoid that. My takeaway? Communication. It always seems to come back to that for me. If your communication lines breakdown, then your relationship tends to wither away.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: 1917

When I watched the Oscars last year, I decided that this year I wanted to do a better job actually watching as many of the films before the Oscars came around again. So that’s what I’ve set out to do, though there’s not a ton of time before they come (the 9th this year! That feels about 2-3 weeks earlier. Am I wrong?)

First up, I went and saw 1917 when it opened. I’d heard a lot about the movie ahead of time: the tale of a pair of young soldiers in WWI tasked with bringing vital information across the battlefield. If they succeeded, they’d save the lives of 1,600 men. If they failed, those men were doomed. Even more intriguingly (to me), the movie was made to seem like it was one long continuous shot. No cuts. How could I resist?

The movie is a masterpiece. I loved the whole thing. I know some had found the continuous take to be a bit too gimmicky, but it worked wonderfully for me. It made the movie that much more compelling, and I felt like it was a real callback to a simpler sort of film. “This is the story. These two men. That’s all we’re going to show.” When you use that approach, you can’t have a bunch of cheats you usually get to use. No cutting away to a different scene to raise tension. The audience knows and sees exactly what your characters know and see. Because of this, I found some of the action pieces so much more riveting than they might have been had they been told in the standard style.

In many ways, the movie reminded me of Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, which was also a great piece. The acting and plot in this film were great, but I really have to hand it to the cinematographer. It looks amazing, and the tricks they had to pull to make the “one continuous shot” feel real are fairly incredible. It’s telling to me that the film was nominated for 10 Oscars, but not one of those was for acting. That doesn’t often happen, I don’t think. This is not an actor’s film (anymore than DiCaprio’s Revenant was an actor’s film, but let’s not go there). This is all about story and execution. I loved it.

The movie is rated R for language (11 f-words, if you’re keeping exact count) and its grisly depiction of war. (It’s filmed in the middle of trench warfare, and it doesn’t shy from showing exactly what that would have been like.) However, this would be a movie that I’d recommend to just about anyone who’s at all a fan of movies (and is mature enough to handle the gore). I found it completely gripping. 10/10, and I would be pleased as punch to see it rake in the awards.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best (and Worst) Media of 2019

It’s a new year, and I’m back from vacation! (For a bit, at least. I’ll be in Utah starting the end of next week . . .) And launching the new year off, I wanted to do a retrospective of my reading and watching last year. As always, I keep track of what I’ve consumed, media-wise, and I’m here to report in on all the best and worst things I came across. Ready? Let’s go.

Best Reading

In total, I watched 96 things over the course of the year. Some of those things were just movies. Some were entire seasons of television shows. (Still just counts as “1 thing” on my master chart.) Of those 96 “things,” the ones I gave a perfect 10/10 to were:

  • Groundhog Day (naturally)
  • The Americans (season 6)
  • Game of Thrones (season 1)
  • Chernobyl
  • Into the Spiderverse
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Cold Comfort Farm

Movies or shows that got a 9.5/10 were:

  • When They See Us
  • The Rise of Skywalker

And items that got a 9 were:

  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 2)
  • Blackkklansman
  • The Sopranos (season 1)
  • Free Solo
  • Game of Thrones (season 7)
  • Avengers Endgame
  • The Good Place (season 3)
  • Various Game of Thrones episodes (I rewatched key episodes across many seasons
  • Deadpool 2
  • Game of Thrones (season 8)
  • Deadwood (season 2)
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Clue
  • Rogue One

There are some items on there that many people would disagree with me about. I don’t care. I’ve become increasingly tired of the nonsensical need to justify my tastes. As if the entire world has to decide what is “good” and what is “bad.” The Star Wars original series? Good. Prequels? Bad. Sequels? Tons of debate, and people take it as a personal affront if you disagree with them. I love social media and the way it helps bring people together, but I despise the backbiting and nitpicking that happens on it. I love the Hobbit movies. I thought the Game of Thrones finale was great. I don’t feel the need to write a thesis to defend that position, just as I won’t attack you if you say the Hobbit movies are terrible.

Make your own list. 🙂

What about the worst movies and TV I watched? As always, I only review something and give it an official rating if I finish it, and I don’t have a lot of time, so I typically don’t finish things I don’t like, which makes it seem like I like almost everything I review. That said, I still had a couple turkeys this year:

  • Good Omens got a 2/10
  • Murder Mystery (the Netflix Adam Sandler movie) got a 3/10
  • A Wrinkle in Time got a 2/10
  • The Phantom Menace got a 4/10

As for books, I made my goal of reading 52 for the year. Here are the perfect 10/10s:

  • The Reluctant Swordsman, by Dave Duncan
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin
  • The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks
  • The Burning White, by Brent Weeks
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

No book got a 9.5/10, but several got a 9/10:

  • Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
  • The First Book of Swords, by Fred Saberhagen
  • The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

Did I read anything really bad this year? Well, I had two 4/10s, a 3/10, and a 2/10, but as is my typical approach, I will stay mum on which books got those ratings. Professional courtesy. That said, I will say the 2/10 was a book that’s won multiple awards and been on many “best of the year” lists, and it’s taken me quite a bit of willpower to not say why I disliked it so much.

Anyway. That sums things up for me. How did your reading and watching go this year?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker Review (No Spoilers)

DC and I went to the first showing of Rise of Skywalker last night, because I’m a firm believer in making myself as immune to spoilers as possible, and because seeing a movie with a bunch of fans in the audience is a great way to experience something like this.

Heading into the movie, I was a bit worried, since the reviews coming in on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic were mixed. (It’s got a 58% on RT and a 54 on Metacritic. Its imdb score is a 6.9 as of this morning.) Force Awakens got an 81% on RT, and Last Jedi got an 85%, so this was markedly worse. What if I went to the movie and thought it was awful, or (maybe worse) just sort of went “meh”?

To cut straight to the chase, I loved the movie. It was a roller coaster of a ride, full of adventure, intrigue, and fantastic special effects. It brought the whole trilogy of trilogies to a rousing conclusion, and I can’t wait to go see it again. (I’m still thinking about parts of it, and I’d like to see it when I’m not constantly worried “Will I stop liking this at some point? Will they screw it up?)

That said, I recognize that Star Wars movies are polarizing, and you should be aware that I seem to be completely in the new series’ wheel house. I had a blast in Solo, and I loved Last Jedi. If you hated either, it’s very possible we just don’t share the same vision for the series. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry, because it appears my enjoyment of the new movies has come at your expense. (But I’m not *that* sorry, because I just love these movies.)

“They’re retconning Last Jedi,” some will say about Rise of Skywalker. Those objections are misguided, I think. The trilogy was created in a way that demand retconning. No one had a whole vision and arc in mind going into it. Abrams set the table in Force Awakens. Johnson brought out a new course in Last Jedi, and now Abrams has brought out the finale here. It’s an approach that could backfire, for sure, but I think it’s one that succeeds as you take what was left for you from the previous movie and create something that works for you from it. In many ways, it gives the series a soap opera-esque feeling, and that might turn some away. Personally, I loved the twists and turns.

Anyway. That’s about all you need from me for a review on this one. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but I had an absolute blast. As a Film, it’s not perfect, but as an Experience, it’s a 10/10 for me all the way.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

When I heard Peter Jackson was working on a WWI film, I was highly intrigued. The pitch sounded great: in order to show present day audiences what the first World War was really like, he had taken original footage and digitally enhanced it so that it looks more comparable to the kind of film we see today. You know the difficulty with old newsreels. The motion is jerky (due to variance of frame rates and other nuances). The lighting is often so poor that it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the black and white scale. The focus isn’t quite there. So it all looks more than a little Keystone Kops.

Peter Jackson wanted to fix that and show modern audiences what exactly that war was like, taking real life accounts from veterans of the war and placing it over the footage. Denisa and I watched it (it’s on HBO at the moment), and I have to say Jackson did a remarkable job. (There’s a reason the film has a perfect 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

He tied the footage and the stories into an overarching whole. It begins with unedited film, as veterans describe how they found out about the war and how they signed up to go fight in it. As the film progresses, the footage is enhanced bit by bit until you get to the war itself. Suddenly, it’s all so good that you think it must have been a recreation. Once you study it a bit more, you see the details that show you it’s all a bit off. The faces and the hands look too digitized. But it’s worth it. The colors are amazing. Seeing it all through this new lens makes it so much more visceral. Jackson doesn’t flinch back from showing all of it: the wounded soldiers. The dead. The hellacious battlefields. All of it real and deeply moving.

It proceeds to follow the troops into the trenches, adding enemy fire, and eventually going with them as they crossed No Man’s Land to attack the opposite side. Then it looks at the aftermath and finishes with showing what the soldiers came home to.

I’ve always been interested in World War II. Fascinated by the stories that came out of it and the way the war progressed and was fought. World War I was always just a bit too far back in history, it seemed. But after watching this, I think it might have been more that the footage was just not real enough. It seemed more like a story than an event. Even the films I watched that tried to recreate it never managed to connect with me the same way movies like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers did.

This is the first film that bridged the gap, and I’m very grateful for Jackson’s efforts and skill in creating it. Is it perfect? Not completely. It does the best it can with what it has to work with, but in the end it’s a series of audio tracks over a series of old footage. As a documentary, it’s not quite the level of Ken Burns, but it works anyway. I gave it an 8.5, and I highly recommend anyone and everyone watch it. (I’d suggest people be at least in high school, and I’d warn anyone that there are very gruesome scenes. But at the same time, I get so frustrated watching movies like this, where grown men in politics essentially ship off boys to go fight a war none of the boys understand or really care about. I don’t see a way to avoid wars like that if no one’s willing to look at what it actually consists of. The veterans of WWI talked about how excited they were to go to war, and how clueless they were about what it would be like. How (even worse) no one cared to hear about what they’d experienced when they came home. How they couldn’t really talk about it with anyone. That should change.

In any case, if you have a chance to see it, check it out.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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