Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: Newsies the Musical

As a counterpoint to yesterday’s review of La La Land, I thought I’d write up my experience watching the Broadway version of Newsies, filmed and available now on Netflix. I watched the movie a long long time ago in the theater, and I remember making fun of it a fair bit back then, but also kind of liking it. (I was 14. Cut me some slack. And hey–it starred Christian Bale! When I mentioned that to Tomas, he thought it was very strange that Batman was in a movie musical when he was eighteen. That’s actually a movie I’d like to see.)

I’ve been a bit leery about all the Broadway adaptations of movies coming down the pike, and the ones I’ve watched or listened to have been . . . mixed. I enjoyed the music for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and liked the Shrek musical that’s on Netflix now, but each time I watched one, I couldn’t help wishing I was watching something more original. Mean Girls is now starting on Broadway. Mean Girls? And there was School of Rock, and Kinky Boots, and any number of other movies. From what I’ve read, most of them are a fair bit of fun, so why do I have this hangup of wanting to see them? I get that musicals have to make money, and it’s much easier to market an adaptation of a familiar movie than it is to market a new musical no one’s heard of, but still . . .

I’d rather have fresh material than Legally Blonde. Because I have a hard time believing these Broadway adaptations are anything other than cash grabs. It’s not like someone watched the movie and said, “I could do so many awesome things with that, if it were just on Broadway.” In some cases, I’m sure that’s the case, but in most, it’s all about the money.

All that aside, let’s talk about Newsies, which at least was a musical to begin with, so it feels (somehow) less gimmicky to me. I like movie musicals for one thing, and Broadway musicals for another. There’s just so much energy involved in a live production that can’t be captures in a movie adaptation. The movie can be much more refined and convey emotion with a lighter touch, but it’s bound to be a different beast.

The filmed version of Newsies shows this very well. As far as productions go, it was fantastic. The set design is well executed, and the dance numbers were spectacular. The songs are what they are. If you liked them in the movie, you’ll still like them here. Really, my main complaint about the production was the camerawork. They kept going for tight shots, and that came at the expense of showing the stage as a whole. Some closeups are fine, but I kept wanting them to pan out so I could see more of what was going on.

Of course, I was watching it on a 100 inch screen, so perhaps that has something to do with it . . .

In any case, I found it genuinely moving, and I highly recommend watching it. Fun for the whole family. Even Tomas enjoyed it, for the most part, and that’s saying something. I gave it a 9/10 for entirely different reasons that La La Land got the same score. Newsies was held back because it wasn’t the live version. The cameras hurt it.

So where does this leave me? Should I just get over my hangup with Broadway adaptations of films? What say you? And are there any other solid musicals on Netflix I should check out?

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Movie Review: La La Land

It took me an awfully long time to get around to La La Land, mainly because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when watching it. Nothing I’d heard about the movie particularly piqued my interest. I knew it was a musical, but I also knew it was up for a bunch of Oscars. One of the reasons for the noms was (from what I’d heard) it was kind of a tribute to Hollywood itself. I knew it was a movie I’d get around to eventually, but I was in no hurry, expecting it to be mainly a fluff piece.

Yesterday was Denisa’s birthday, however, and she wanted to watch a movie she’d enjoy. This seemed like the perfect time to pop La La Land in.

Having now watched it, I’m still not sure what I think. On the one hand, it didn’t quite work as a musical for me. It takes the classic boy meets girl trope, and it kind of meanders around for a while, leaving me wondering what in the world it’s going to do with itself. Halfway through the movie, it could easily just be done, since the boy has met the girl, and they’ve gotten together successfully. In fact, I even paused the movie then to double check it was only half done.

The second half is much lighter on songs, and it takes that classic boy meets girl trope and then stomps all over it in a manner that’s not very fun for those of us who like the trope. On the one hand, I’m all for breaking out of well worn paths, but on the other, I feel like people generally turn to genres for a certain experience, and when you don’t just deliver that experience, but spit in its face, then you’ve broken an important contract.

This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I’d had a real sense of what La La Land was actually doing and trying to accomplish. I kept trying to figure it out. It’s a classic movie musical done for the modern day! It’s a deconstruction  of the boy meets girl musical! It’s . . . I have no clue.

It was well acted, and I enjoyed the musical numbers and the songs themselves. I really loved a lot about the movie, but I felt like I couldn’t really embrace it. Like it was holding me at arm’s length.

So going into the final section of the movie, I was still really up in the air about the film. And somehow, that final section made it all come together. Spoilers follow with an explanation, but if you want to stop here, know that I gave the movie a 9/10. The ambivalence couldn’t quite be overcome by how much I loved the last section, but it was such a good last section . . .

Basically, I felt like that coda encapsulated an experience I’ve had a few times in my life. Seeing a person or a place years after I’d last seen it or them, and suddenly been whisked away on a journey of “what if.” Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling drifted apart. Took different paths. And then they see each other accidentally, just for a few minutes. And in one great sequence, we see what their lives might have been like if they’d stayed together. It’s touching and sad and thought provoking enough that Denisa and I stayed up way too late talking about the concept and our own experiences with it. (What if we’d taken different classes in Fall 2000 and hadn’t ended up in the same German Phonetics class? What if we’d just sat in different seats in that class? You can quickly come up with a thousand reasons why it would have been so easy for things not to work out with you and your spouse/friend/etc.)

Granted, I realize this has been depicted in movies before. Sliding Doors comes to mind. But that wasn’t nearly as impactful for me, likely because the entire first 4/5 of La La Land is devoted to making that final 1/5 pack as big of a punch as possible.

I don’t have that kind of sequence happen in a movie too often, so when I do encounter one, I take note. To me, it was more like poetry than movie making. The whole film became a vehicle for delivering that final sequence. I’m sure there are other people who didn’t really care for it that much, but for me, it made the whole movie.

Was it all a Hollywood fluff piece? I can see the argument. I can see how it catered to Hollywood and actors. But I felt like in the end, it was much more than that. Because it didn’t really prepare me for what it was doing, I don’t think it was a perfect movie by any stretch. But it’s one I’ll remember for a long time, just for that sequence.

How about you? What did you think of the movie, back when you saw it? I’d love to hear some more opinions.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on 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: Wonder Woman

I had heard great things about Wonder Woman. It was the one non-Batman movie in the DC canon that was actually decent. And having actually sat through the new Superman movies, Suicide Squad, and Batman v. Superman, I was reasonably skeptical. Still, I wanted to give the film a fair shot. I ordered the 3D version and watched it on my home theater.

It’s a decent movie. There were a few scenes in it that I really enjoyed. But in the end, it suffered the same flaw pretty much all the other DC movies have had: it’s so so dark. Gloomy. It’s like you’re stuck in the same room for two hours with Debbie Downer:

(Seriously. I think I enjoy that 5 minute SNL clip more than all of Man of Steel, and it’s not even close. Then again, that’s still one of my favorite SNL skits of all time.)

Don’t get me wrong. Wonder Woman actually had some funny moments and a few times when it lightened up a bit, and I enjoyed those parts. It was a good DC movie. But it wasn’t the savior of the DC franchise for me. For one thing, the action sequences needed some real work. It has one truly great sequence: when Wonder Woman is storming the trenches. (That was was pretty incredible, though it did strain belief.) The arrows vs. bullet scene early on was also impressive. But most of the action devolved into “What heavy thing can Wonder Woman pick up next?” If that were a drinking game, the entire audience would be sloshed well before the film was over. I started looking around the scenes to try and guess what she’d pick up. A tank? You betcha!

That’s a problem with a superhero movie. Once you go full super, it’s hard to try to keep raising the stakes. Marvel typically does it by making its heroes weaker. Taking Iron Man’s suit away. Having Ant Man learn how to use the thing in the first place. Blowing up Thor’s hammer. But DC doesn’t go in for that, a lot of the time. They just have their heroes punch harder. Harder! In the end, it’s hard to really care.

Some of this is likely due to superhero fatigue, as well. It’s getting more and more difficult to really be wowed by a superhero movie. We’ve seen so many. For them to be successful, I feel like they need to focus on the details. Plot. Characterization. Acting. Film essentials. Instead, a lot of them turn into special effects highlight reels.

Am I glad I watched the movie? Sure. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and it did look great in 3D. Perhaps if I’d had lower expectations, I would have enjoyed it even more. But I went in hoping for a 9 or a 10, and I walked away with a 6 or a 7.

Maybe the sequel will be better, but I remain skeptical. Skeptical enough that I don’t think I’ll buy it in 3D. I’d rather just watch it when it comes to Netflix or HBO or wherever it ends up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $6/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

The Last Jedi Review

I took Tomas and DC to see the premiere of The Last Jedi last night. We arrived a full hour and fifteen minutes before the movie started, getting the best seats in the house, because Star Wars. It turned out to be a bit overkill, as the theater was mostly empty when we arrived, but still. You don’t take risks when Star Wars is involved.

No spoilers in this review. And please don’t post spoilers in the comments. I want people to be able to come read this with no fear that anything will be ruined for them.

That out of the way, I’ll say right off: the movie was fantastic. I’m giving it the full 10/10.

Now, that said, I’m sure there are people out there who are going to pick the movie apart. They’re going to start thinking about it and pondering and debating, but I wrote about that yesterday in my renewed review of The Force Awakens. To me, so much of a Star Wars movie is about the experience. It’s why I show up opening night for my first experience of each movie. Because I want to see it with a bunch of other fans. I want to feel the movie. I know that might sound dorky, but so what?

I love that I’m able to bring my kids to new Star Wars movies, and that they can experience them with me at the same time.

Was the plot perfect? Were there holes? Sure. Though a fair bit of that will be people playing armchair quarterback. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Sometimes people make mistakes in the middle of action, and those mistakes might not make the most sense after the fact.

The movie was just incredible, from an experience standpoint. Seeing the way it unfurled. Watching the characters interact. All of it was spot on. Yes, there were multiple times when I felt myself tearing up. The advantage of a series like Star Wars, that I’ve grown up with, is that when these characters do or say things, it can tap into things I’ve felt or thought about since I was a child. With some films (like Indiana Jones 4), that can be a liability. With The Last Jedi, it’s an asset of the best kind.

Honestly, I felt like this was the best Star Wars movie, period. Empire Strikes Back was important at the time because it turned what might have been a one hit wonder into something with real staying power. But when I watch it now, it definitely shows its age, though I know that might seem like sacrilege to some. The Last Jedi was an experience infused with Star Wars from start to finish. It’s funny, moving, surprising, sad. The complete package.

You definitely should go. Now, before you hear anything about it. And in the days and months ahead, feel free to pick it apart some. But never forget the experience of seeing it the first time. For me, that’s the biggest way I rate a Star Wars movie. Did it enthrall me? And this one did it in spades.

The Force Awakens: A Look Back

It’s interesting to me how a narrative can build around a movie. Enough people express an opinion online, and it can warp the way you remember a film or think about that film in general. Some of this explains the general antipathy I feel toward the Star Wars prequels. I haven’t rewatched the second or third, mainly because of the constant reminder from fans about how they’re not good. Prequels = Bad.

The same thing had happened to me, to a smaller extent, with The Force Awakens. I really enjoyed the movie in the theaters. Saw it twice, actually, which is super rare for me these days. And I watched it at home once after I bought it. But the longer I hung out in online geek circles, the more I read the critiques about how the movie’s just a retread of A New Hope. Until that’s what I thought it was myself. I still liked it, but I’d say I wished it had been a bit more original.

Seen from a broad viewpoint, the argument holds water. You’ve got a desert planet. You’ve got a big attack on a huge weapon at the end. The weapon (spoilers!) explodes. You’ve got a novice Jedi learning his/her powers. Fair enough. I didn’t go back to the movie to check and see just how similar it was. I accepted the general argument and moved on.

Until Sunday, when I rewatched the film in 3D on my sweet home theater system, in preparation for tonight’s(!!!) viewing of The Last Jedi.

First off, I can say the movie looked pretty amazing in 3D. There was one shot of a star destroyer that just looked like it was hovering in my living room. That’s always cool. Good stuff.

But beyond that, I have to say the movie is really good in and of itself. People always use Empire Strikes Back these days to gauge how good a Star Wars movie is, and I think that’s not entirely fair. They’re not comparing it to Empire today. They’re comparing it to the memory of Empire, and I’ve blogged before about how that’s a fight no movie can win.

Taken on its own, I loved The Force Awakens. I still found it thrilling, even knowing the direction it would go. The twists it would take. It’s great fun, and not just from a fan’s perspective.

And the accusations that it’s just a retreat of A New Hope? I think they’re bogus. Yes, there are some general similarities that are clearly intentional. But the movie is always putting a new spin on things. Finn’s narrative is totally new. Yes, there’s a “cantina” scene, but it does very different things than it does in A New Hope. Are we really going to get upset that there was a desert planet in the movie? Just how many ecosystems can a planet represent?

The biggest complaint I could see would be the finale, where there’s the huge attack on Starkiller Base. But even then, a lot of the dogfighting is just trim for the story that’s really happening on the base itself. For Finn and Rey and Solo and Ren. The pew pew pew moments help keep the action vibe going. The heart of the film is totally different.

In other words, I was wrong to listen to all that bellyaching about how the film was just a retread. It isn’t at all. Honestly, the experience made me start to question how fandom works in the age of digital. In the era of not just experiencing a movie, but then wanting to talk about it incessantly after you experience it. To pick it apart. To think about it. Debate about it. That’s all fine and good, but I don’t think we should let that process take away from the experience itself.

The Force Awakens is a blast, and I’ll happily defend that opinion to any and all complainants.

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