Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: Downton Abbey

I don’t think anyone goes into the Downton Abbey movie expecting to be changed for life or meaningfully impacted in some way. (At least, if they do, I’d kind of like to talk to them to figure out what exactly made them set those expectations for the film.) It’s been on HBO Max for the last while, and I’ve seen it there, and I always just came up with something else I’d rather watch. Downton seemed very . . . “not now” to me. Something I enjoyed for its time, but which was over.

However, Denisa was a bit more committed, and she managed to get me to agree to watch it. (Full disclosure: I had been excited to hear the film was coming, and I’d intended to see it in theaters. Life got in the way, and my enthusiasm dwindled.) Would I really enjoy returning to the characters for a feature length outing?

Yes. Yes, I would.

The film felt like the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Better yet, comfort food that wasn’t riddled with too much soap (opera), like the show tended to do from time to time. Was the premise a bit of a stretch? Yes. “The king is coming to Downton! But the staff is going to be shoved to the side by the king’s staff.” Will they be able to find a way to serve the king anyway? Of course they will. Will it be believable? Of course it won’t. Will you care? You’re watching a Downton Abbey movie. Of course you won’t.

I thoroughly enjoyed heading back to Downton. It reminded me of all the things I liked about the show. The characters were consistent and well played again, even if the whole thing felt like one long bit of fan service. (Probably because it was, duh.) That said, I will give the show full props for managing to make the elite be both snobbish and likable. That’s a very hard feat to carry off, and I think they manage it by setting out the rules by which these people live their lives. You understand there are constraints, and then you can see that they are good people living within those constraints. It’s a great technique.

In any case, if you’re a Downton fan, you should watch this movie. If you aren’t, you’re probably safe staying away. Let’s just call it what it is: the grownup equivalent of a Pokemon movie. Watch it. Enjoy it. And then maybe go easy on your kids when they want to go watch a My Little Pony movie or something. 7/10.

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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: Greyhound

My new iPad purchase came with a free year of Apple TV+, which meant I was able to catch the new Tom Hanks movie, Greyhound, last night. I’d heard good things, and I’m a sucker for a good submarine movie, so I was looking forward to the experience. Overall, the movie didn’t disappoint. Was it incredible? No. But it delivered a well crafted war movie, and it had an actual rare depiction of a person’s faith as a positive thing, and that earns some brownie points in my book as well. I gave it a 7.5/10.

The film’s premise is very straightforward: Hanks plays the captain of a destroyer, out to protect a group of transport ships from German U-boats as they cross the Atlantic. Surprise surprise: the U-boats actually materialize and are dangerous. It’s up to Hanks to keep it together long enough to protect the ships and get to the other side of the Atlantic.

As far as pacing goes, it was quite thrilling. I really appreciated the way they depicted the strict chain of communication that was in place to keep everything orderly. Coordinating all the different mechanisms that had to be in place in order to keep the pressure on the U-boats (and keep themselves out of danger) was a real dance number, and this movie did a great job of illustrating that. It’s cut together well, so you pretty much always know where the ships are, who’s in danger, and what needs to happen to escape it. That’s not always easy to do, especially when there’s so much chaos happening on the screen.

As I said before, the film also depicts Hanks as a religious man. Better yet (in my book), his religion is a strength, not a weakness. Too often today, religion seems to be a thing people tolerate in a person, as opposed to something to admire someone for. I understand a large reason for that is due to the people who use their religion to justify terrible actions, and I get that many terrible things have been done in the name of religion over the years. Ideally, religion gets us to be better people. (Though the real difficulty comes when you begin to demand a definition of “better.”) I know that personally, my religion gives me strength and guidance in troubled times, and it inspires me to care more for those who are helpless and in need. I don’t want this review to turn into a huge debate about the merits of religion, however. I just want to praise the film for depicting the captain as religious, but not crazy. That really does happen in the real world, people.

The film’s biggest flaw is its brevity, not something I say too often about an action movie. But in this one, they pay a little bit of attention to fleshing out the captain’s back story, and then they dive right into the action. Hints of characterization are provided here and there, but I think it would have been more powerful if we’d had a bit more time to get invested in the characters. Including the captain. As it is, the movie’s just a minute over an hour and a half. They definitely had time available to do a bit more justice to the characters, and that would have made it all more compelling.

But in the end, it’s still what I wanted to get out of a war movie. Thrilling chases. Tense moments. Explosions. Action. Is it worth the price of an AppleTV+ subscription? Sure, for a month or two at least. I still have to see if there are other shows on there that keep me coming back, though. For now, if you’re interested in the movie, go ahead and subscribe for a month and see how you like the rest of the stuff. You’d have paid more than that to see it in the theater, after all. (Though I was watching on my big projector screen. I might feel differently if I’d experienced it on a smaller scale.)

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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: Modern Times

When you think classic, silent movies, Charlie Chaplin is likely an actor that springs to mind. I’m not sure how many people these days have actually watched one of his movies, however. It can feel pretty daunting to be facing a 90 minute movie that doesn’t have any dialogue, after all. It’s black and white, the movement can be pretty jittery and sped up at times, and you might wonder how well the humor has actually aged. I certainly wasn’t sure how Daniela was going to take to it, despite the fact that there are multiple Chaplin movies on her list.

I shouldn’t have worried. We watched Modern Times last night, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. (Even MC, who watched the first bit before going to bed because it was late. She was disappointed she had to leave.)

Of course, Modern Times isn’t actually a silent movie, something I find really fascinating. It was filmed in 1936, just three years before movies like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz would come out, and nine years after The Jazz Singer broke the sound barrier. It was supposed to be Chaplin’s first big movie with sound, and it has sound . . . just very little speaking. It has a very precisely timed orchestral soundtrack, as well as a few actual lines, in addition to many different title cards spread throughout the film.

The plot is fairly straightforward: a factory worker goes crazy from being overworked and goes to jail after assaulting his coworkers. We then follow him through a series of misadventures, from being arrested as a Communist leader to helping rob a department store where he’s working as a night guard. It doesn’t sound like the material for light humor, but it’s slapstick, and so it all works. He also meets a girl he falls in love with, and they do their best to get along in a world that seems set against them.

A few scenes really stand out. The first that comes to mind is Chaplin’s musical number. It might sound at first like he’s singing in a foreign language, but he’s really just singing in gibberish. It’s the first time his Tramp character was going to speak, and it’s fascinating Chaplin had him speak and sing, but had the words still mean nothing.

Then you’ve got the rollerskating scene. (Which wasn’t nearly as dangerous to film as it might look, since they used a matte painting to make it just appear that he was skating on the brink of a broken leg the whole time.)

The whole movie is fun to watch, and if you’ve got some concerns that you’ll be bored, all I can say is to get over them. There’s some really funny stuff here. Think of it this way: Looney Tunes started in 1930. Do you get bored watching Bugs Bunny? Then why be worried that this will be any different?

8/10 for me. Definitely worth a watch, and I’m relieved Daniela had such a good time with it as well. (There are more Chaplin movies to be watched, after all . . .)

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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.

Comfort Movie Review: Pirates of Penzance

There are a few movies out there that, to me, are pure classics, despite the fact that I recognize they might not resonate with other people nearly as well. It’s sort of like how sometimes I would honestly rather eat a bowl of Cocoa Puffs than a nice dinner out in an expensive restaurant. (More times than I should probably admit.) A fine cooked meal is fine and all, but sometimes I just want the chocolately milky crunchiness of that bowl full of cereal.

Pirates of Penzance is like that, but on film. Actually, that doesn’t really do justice to Pirates. For one thing, Cocoa Puffs weren’t made in 1879, and they haven’t stood the test of time for that huge time span. For another, Cocoa Puffs can’t really be analyzed beyond “don’t let then get too soggy.” Pirates is musically complex and has a pretty high expectation from its audience. (I would recommend only watching it with subtitles on, if you want to get the full experience.)

Written by the famed Gilbert & Sullivan team back in the 1800s, and one of their best known works, the film adapts the Broadway production from 1983, complete with almost all of the original cast. (Angela Lansbury was brought in to play Ruth, and she wasn’t from the stage production.) It’s helmed by Kevin Kline, who does such a smashing performance as the Pirate King that it carries the whole production. The movie is this strange amalgamation between a movie set and a stage set. Everything is clearly fake, but well made and consistent with its own sort of style. And somehow, it all works, mainly because the production is so full of campy fun, willing to make fun of itself and throw in physical humor to mix in with the word play of the book.

I saw Pirates of Penzance on the stage, but I can’t for the life of me remember where. I don’t know if it was on Broadway or if it was a touring company or what. I only know it was a long time ago. Long enough that my memory of it is pretty clouded, but it’s stuck with me since, and I’ve seen the Kline version many times. I will happily rewatch it when I’m feeling down. I love the music and humor of it all. And again–there’s something so spot on for me with Kevin Kline. The way he throws himself into the film and seems to be having such a good time throughout it. He won a Tony in 1981 for Best Actor in a Musical for the same role, so it makes sense. It would have been a blast to see him do it live.

Last night, I showed it to the kids, who also really enjoyed it. They were impressed that something so old could still be funny now. I’m not sure how much of that is due to Gilbert & Sullivan, and how much is from the production inserting extra touches of humor. In many ways, it’s like a good Shakespeare production. When they’re done right, the dated language just sort of fades away until you don’t even notice it anymore.

In any case, I was glad to see how much it still works for me. It’s a very Bryce movie, though I realize that might mean it’s not for everyone. The best news is that you don’t have to take my word for it. You can watch the entire thing on YouTube right this second for free. Or if you’re too lazy to look it up there, you can watch it right . . . here:

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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.

Quarantine Movie Review: North by Northwest

At this point, I know what most of you are expecting. Bryce revisits another classic to remind you all just how incredible old movies can be. North by Northwest has all the trappings of old school Hollywood. Cary Grant. Alfred Hitchcock. Nominated for three Oscars (Writing, Art Direction, and Editing). The #100 ranked movie on IMDB. The #4 movie on AFI’s best thrills list. The #55 movie overall. Just sit back and prepare for an awesome experience, right?

Not so fast.

When rewatched it with the fam the other night, looking at it with fresh eyes, it suffered very much from the Citizen Kane effect for me. Citizen Kane is widely hailed as one of the best movies of all time. It certainly plays a pivotal role in the history of film making, and it pioneered many techniques that are common today. But as a film judged by the current standards? It’s not very good. It’s . . . pretty boring.

And so was North by Northwest.

I know. Even typing that makes me want to cringe, just because it’s flying in the face of so much tradition and respect. And I definitely respect the movie for its place in the development of modern thrillers. But if you try to stack it up against the more modern takes on the genre, it just is lacking across the board. The effects are bad. The plot is pretty pedestrian at times and predictable at others. The acting leaves a fair bit to be desired. It has not stood the test of time, and my kids were fairly blase about the whole thing.

In the end, I gave it a 6.5/10. Some of that might be a response to me remembering/expecting it to be incredible, but a whole ton is due to the fact that thrilling films have just moved on. The pacing is much faster now. The plots more dynamic. Compare Inception to North by Northwest. It’s no match. Of course, if you showed Inception to people fifty years ago, I don’t think they’d have a clue what to do with it.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. If you’re looking for a movie that informed later films and helps you understand the context and history of the genre, check this one out. But if you’re looking great classic movie to watch . . . I’d suggest starting elsewhere.

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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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