Category: movie reviews

Retro Halloween Movie Review: Les Diaboliques

So I’m sick in bed for the third day in a row, which means I’ve actually had some time to watch some movies. Choosing the right movie can be tricky. It has to fit your mood, and ideally be really good. (Because who wants to waste time with a crummy movie?) As I was searching through Netflix and Amazon Prime yesterday, I was bemoaning the rating system now available to me. (Seriously, Netflix. I miss your star ratings so much. The % match thing is almost as worthless as what Amazon uses. It feels like everybody loves every movie on Amazon. Always. Junk.)

In cases like these, I typically turn to IMDB ratings. Crowdsourcing for the win. And I came across Les Diaboliques, an old French horror movie that IMDB has listed as #222 of all time. And I hadn’t seen it? Score.

It was done in 1955, and it focuses around two women who plot to murder a man. The twist? It’s the man’s wife and his lover who team up. (And if that doesn’t sound French, I don’t know what does.)

I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, but it does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension bit by bit over time. You think it’s going to zig, and then it zags. There’s not much in the way of gore and guts, but it still manages to be quite disturbing in its depiction of violence.

I had a great time with the film. A bit slow for a perfect score, but an easy 8 or 9 out of 10. I’d probably settle on 8, since I’m trying to be a harder critic. If you haven’t seen it and want a nice spooky film for a Halloween evening (and don’t mind reading subtitles), then definitely check it out. Horror has come a long way since, but you can definitely see the influence this movie had its descendants.

Batman v Superman: Great on Visuals, Light on Character

I finally got around to watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it about met my expectations, which were pretty low to begin with. I’d heard that the movie was just okay, and I can confirm that verdict.

I think some of this might come down to a difference of opinion between what I look for in a superhero movie and what Zack Snyder, the director, looks for. I’ve seen Man of Steel and Watchmen and 300 and now this. Each one has amazing visuals. Really impressive. But each one also has characters I just don’t care about. At all. The only reason I’m invested in Superman or Batman as characters is because of the history I have with them as characters outside of the films. That’s a real problem.

In Batman v Superman, Batman is a jerk. (Spoiler warning, I suppose, though this movie is old enough that I would think anyone who really cared to watch it and not be spoiled has taken care of that problem a long time ago). The first half of the movie is basically plot acrobatics to try and make a scenario where Batman and Superman will want to fight against each other. And you can tell just how weak it all is by how easy that problem is solved once they’ve had the requisite fight scene.

This keeps coming up throughout the movie. Alfred? We barely know him at all. Lois Lane and Superman love each other. Big surprise. But¬†why do they love each other? No clue. Bruce Wayne misses his parents. Big surprise. He’s got cool cars and stuff. Okay. He . . . likes to brand criminals these days? That’s . . . creepy. And never really explained or explored. Lex Luthor? Just plain nuts (and annoyingly portrayed). Because.

Zack Snyder seems to view characters as pieces he has to move from place to place in order to make cool scenes in his films. The sad thing (for me) is that, while the scenes themselves are cool, the action is less than appealing. There’s a ton of punching. Wonder Woman uses her sword some. Batman has a some actually cool grappling hook sequences, but in the end, the action scenes blend together in much the same way as a Transformers movie. Snyder has a flair for visuals, but he leaves much to be desired when it comes to piecing those visuals into a larger whole.

And can I just complain about how broody the movie is? It’s like DC decided to go full bleak with all of this, ever since Nolan’s The Dark Knight was so acclaimed. It works when done perfectly, but in Snyder’s hands, it just sort of sits there on the screen.

So when I say “expectations met,” that’s actually pretty disappointing. Because this movie could and should have been so much better. It makes me very worried for The Justice League, because right now, I’m resigned to the idea that my idea of “good movie” is just fundamentally different than Snyder’s.

At least I still have Marvel.

4/10 for the film. Visuals are about the only redeeming thing. (And for the love of all that’s good. Why. WHY did they ditch Superman’s theme music? The music in this movie (by Hans Zimmer) leaves so much to be desired. And there lies John Williams’ themes, gathering dust.)

Movie Review: Spiderman Homecoming

There comes a time when you begin to wonder why in the world movie studios keep returning to the same movie over and over again. I certainly questioned the need for the third Spiderman series since 2000. That said, I was also very curious to see what Marvel would be able to do with the franchise without Sony messing around with it. Thankfully, I’m pleased to say that the reboot did a really solid job, though it wasn’t without its flaws.

First off, the things I enjoyed:

  • It wasn’t yet another origin story of Spiderman. Thank you.
  • Michael Keaton’s villain wasn’t just a guy out trying to rule the world. There was an attempt made to make him well-rounded, and while I didn’t feel it was 100% successful (too much time spent away from his character for it to really work), I appreciated the attempt. If you filled in the blanks in your head, it worked.
  • The score was a lot of fun, especially the way it harkened back to the old Spiderman theme. The fact that the new Superman movies ditched the old theme is still something that bugs me. It’s like a 007 movie without the theme. Star Wars without the fanfare. You’ve got such a good thing going. Keep it up.
  • The plot had a few turns that surprised me, and that was a good thing for sure.
  • The acting and characters were a lot of fun. Peter Parker feels like a real person with real problems. I was really rooting for him by the end because I wanted him to succeed, not just because he was wearing the colorful outfit.
  • I loved how it was a mix between a teenager movie and a superhero movie. I felt like it pulled that off very well.
  • The climax of the movie was great. The last third of the film zipped along and did a lot of fun things. Super.
  • Humor, as always, is greatly appreciated.

But like I said, there were some flaws, as well:

  • The first half of the movie seemed to drag. There was a lot to set up, and many moving pieces. While the ending was great, I couldn’t help but think some of that complexity could have been sacrificed in the name of a leaner movie that got where it was going more efficiently. I checked my watch a couple of times. With a good movie, I shouldn’t be thinking about my watch at all.
  • Ironman, honestly, felt tacked on to me. He’d show up now and then as a device, and I found the times when he did to be kind of tiresome.
  • Some of the fights felt repetitive.

Put the whole thing together, and it turned out as a 7 out of 10 for me. (Remember, a movie that’s a 5/1o is a completely average movie in my book. Every point above that means I had that much more of a fun time.) I enjoyed the movie. If it came earlier in the Marvel series, I probably would have rated it higher. But it didn’t. It’s squarely in line with the other Marvel movies, which is a good thing, but not different enough to raise it above all the others.

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

To celebrate the end of school, we had a movie night. Trying to pick a movie that will actually interest all my children (and be appropriate for all of them) isn’t exactly an easy choice. We typically end up watching things that aren’t really great for MC, but keep Tomas’s interest. This time, I decided to go with something that would be good for MC, but which Tomas might not love: the new live action Beauty and the Beast. (I was pleasantly surprised when Tomas expressed enthusiasm to see it, and watched (and enjoyed) it willingly. Yay!)

When I was in high school, animated Disney movies were sort of like Pixar movies were a few years ago. Between The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, Disney seemed to be unable to go wrong. (Until Pocahontas came out and reminded us that yes, they could.) But for a stretch there, it was all awesome. I was (and continue to be) a big Disney fan. Bought the soundtracks. Saw the movies multiple times. The whole deal. Beauty and the Beast is a show I even saw on Broadway.

Still, I was skeptical about how it would turn out. The buzz I heard was all positive, but you never know with one of these productions.

In the end, I really loved the movie. Well acted, well sung, well directed, with special effects that somehow managed to pull it all off. (I bought the non-3D version, but that Be Our Guest number almost made me wish I’d gone for 3D.) Really, the only quibble I had was personal: they excluded two of my favorite numbers from the Broadway musical version (“Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her”). Normally I wouldn’t hold that against a movie, except they made the decision to include the orchestral version of Home for a snippet of the movie. To me, that’s like letting someone smell something delicious, and then letting them know they can’t eat any of it. Why bring it up at all if you’re just going to ignore it? I got all excited, and then . . . nothing. (As for “If I Can’t Love Her.” they went and included a Josh Groban version on the soundtrack. Come on! Put it in the movie!)

(For reference, here are the two songs I wish they’d included)

But really, how good does the movie have to be where my only complaints are about relatively obscure things they didn’t include that I have a personal attachment to? The movie was a delight from start to finish, and it did exactly what it set out to do: adapt the animated version almost note for note. It really made me admire the original all that much more. It’s got an engaging story and characters that are actually well rounded. The live action expands on some of that, but it didn’t need to do much. Casting Emma Watson in the lead role pretty much set the movie up for success right away. And you know the singing is pretty impressive when I waited through the credits to double check if any of the actors were dubbed. (They weren’t!)

I ended up giving it a 9/10.

Pete’s Dragon is a Bad Movie

Not the old version, mind you. The old Pete’s Dragon is great. Lighthearted fun, and drunk Mickey Rooney. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh. And songs. The songs are great too. The original was so good, it makes you wonder why they felt there was a need to update it, other than money.

But I like money, and I can’t blame people for wanting to make some of their own. And some of the live adaptations of Disney films have been really solid, so why not?

The thing is, the end result in this case was pretty bad. What’s worse is that it there were a lot of good things surrounding the bad that made it that much more frustrating. The acting wasn’t terrible. The effects were great. There were pieces of a genuinely good movie and plot in there, so you could see that there might be something really awesome, if it all fell into place.

But it doesn’t.

The ¬†movie is much more serious than the original. It’s got no songs. And it has no drunk Mickey Rooney. I’m okay with all of it in principle, but where it all goes horribly wrong is in the story. Denisa liked the movie, so perhaps some of this is just me being irritated that the plotting and characters were so poorly thrown together, since that’s something I look and try to do professionally.

The big problem: the characters served the plot to an extreme. (There’s going to be spoilers here, so if you don’t want to read those, move on.) There’s a character who’s basically only there to go for the stereotypical “I’m a man! I have a gun! I must shoot things and cut down trees and go catch a dragon!) And he somehow gets his hands on a whole bunch of tranquilizer guns and the darts to go with them, so he and a few friends go out to find that dragon in a place in the woods that took them hours to find, getting lost in the process (but magically finding their way back to their car in about 5 seconds when they needed to).

Fine. Whatever. They want the dragon, so they tranq the dragon up. And then somehow they move that dragon in the space of an hour or two (an afternoon at most) onto a huge truck. I have no idea how they managed to do this. They must have needed to cut down a whole mess of trees to have that happen, but then the trees are all still there when they go back. But never mind that. And never mind the fact that there were some other adults present who should have been telling them to stop.

Nope. They got the dragon back. And then they proceed to be stupid and bullheaded about keeping the dragon. (So they can . . . make money somehow? Unclear.)

The characterization problems aren’t limited to the idiot hunter. Nope, they extend to other characters as well. For example, Pete stays with a family for one evening. During that one evening, the dragon sees him reading a book with the fam, and concludes Pete doesn’t want him anymore. Fine. The dragon’s dense, I guess? But Bryce Dallas Howard also somehow becomes so attached to Pete in that one evening that she’s desperate to keep him. Who knows why.

That just keeps coming up in the movie again and again. Characters do things because that’s what they need to do in order for the plot to move forward. None of the payoffs are earned, but the music swells and the actors pretend they are.

A smaller problem: There’s a subtheme through the movie of evil loggers ruining the forest. But this is just thrown in here and there and not developed at all. This indicates to me that it was a bigger plot point in a different version, but it was edited out almost entirely, which is a symptom of a movie that has been drastically altered from what it used to be. Edited to make it into something else. I would like to see the original version, if it’s out there, to see what went on with it.

You can see this in the way the movie plays out its climax as well. There are three or four different points where it seems the problems are all solved. Three or four climaxes. But the movie just keeps on going. Keeps on having new resolutions. It doesn’t make any sense.

For a movie or book to really work, you need that suspension of disbelief. You need the audience to believe the characters might make decisions they way they’re portrayed. If they don’t, then it all falls apart. That’s what happened to me in this movie. Perhaps some of it was I was disappointed it was messing up a childhood favorite, but I’m usually good at separating myself from that. I think there were just little blips of issues at first, and they made me pay attention to the plot. Start looking at it critically.

By the end, I just wanted the movie to stop. 3/10. Go watch the original and save yourself 2 hours.

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