Not That You Asked: Mini Movie Reviews

So I don’t get to watch new (or any) movies very often. By the time I manage to get to a movie, all the buzz and hubbub is over. But I did watch a few movies lately…usually in 45 to 60 minute portions over the course of two nights. I can’t watch too much tv all in a row, I like to read right before bed, and the time between putting the kids to bed and putting ourselves to bed is rather short in the grand scheme of things.
So here are my thoughts (good and bad) on moves everyone else either decided not to watch a long time ago, or already watched and enjoyed and reviewed! No spoilers.
  1. Kubo and the Two Strings
My husband and I watched this on the recommendation of one of my brothers. He has a good eye for things, and an even better ear–a true music lover. It is no surprise that he loved and touted this fantastic movie about a boy who wields his power through music. And, I’m glad, because I loved it too.
This is a stunning stop-motion film that will have you asking “what on EARTH is going on?” while fully riveted to the screen. Kubo is the son of a mysteriously powerful and troubled woman. He tells the stories about his heroic dad and evil grandfather that she tells him, and he is such a…good-hearted character. In the era of anti-heroes, it is very refreshing. He loves his mother, takes care of her. He relishes telling stories and is full of creativity and joy. He longs for his family to be whole again.
There is sadness in this movie, but it is very beautiful. It may, due the unbelievable visual detail and complexity, make you question the sanity of stop-motion film-makers. Man, you gotta love something bad to put in that kind of time and slog through that much tedium.
But it was worth it, on this end. This is a gorgeous, sweet, weird, fun film.
  1. Dr. Strange
Let’s be plain here: I did not like this one. It was also meant to be a “visual feast” of a film, like Kubo, but a million CGI lights and colors and thingamajigs does not a beautiful movie make. There is usually an inverse relationship between how much CGI a movie has and how much I like it. It’s as if my brain just writes it all off as fake, and therefore doesn’t even register what it is supposed to be. It’s not CGI stuff altogether, but what feels like unnecessary or excessive CGI, like excessive explosions in an action film. It loses its meaning.
Maybe if the characters or storyline had been less generic, then the ultra-CGI-ness of it would not have been so irritating, because that was all that was left. People have mentioned that Dr. Strange is basically a Tony Stark knock-off, and nothing that stands out among the crowd, and I’m inclined to agree. The villain is also “intergalactic uber powerful purple baddie #47” and that just bores me. In Marvel’s attempts to make every single movie apocalyptic, they’ve made the Big Bad’s very, very dull and uncomplicated.
All in all, the movie seemed to rely more on the visuals (for which I did not care) than on characters or interesting plot. So unless you feel you have to watch it to keep up with your MCU cannon or whatever, I wouldn’t bother.
  1. The BFG
This one was a very pleasant surprise, especially since it too relied heavily on CGI characters and visuals. But this one got it right.
I have a weird thing about Roald Dahl. There is a sort of dark, mean, grotesque edge to a lot of his works, and I loathe anything to do with Willy Wonka so fiercely, I do not wish to go within ten miles of that book. My sisters had to but hum the oompa loompa song to send me into a horrified, hands-over-ears rage as a child. I still hate that movie despite my love for Gene Wilder.
But the two Dahl books I have read, I adore. Matilda…and the BFG. For all it’s talk of nasty snozzcumbers and giant blood-bottlers, the story is terribly sweet. I haven’t read it in quite some time so, while watching the movie, I kept questioning whether or not certain things did or did not happen in the book.
Turns out they kept pretty true to the story. The animation of the Big Friendly Giant himself was somehow really rich and humanized, so it just worked. His lumbering movements, and word-bungling were all just spot on, and I honestly didn’t believe that they could have got it right like that. I came in expecting it to be odd, or cringe-worthy, or Tim Burton-ish.
But it was simple, sweet, and lovely. The girl who played Sophie did very well, and it all came together just so. They did change the ending a bit, but all told, I quite liked it. Recommended.
  1. Hell or High Water
I LOVED this movie. I knew the basic premise–two brothers hit up banks in order to pay off debts on their land before the bank can claim it, and two Texas Rangers are assigned to their case. Thematically, the movie makes the point (almost too heavy-handedly) that it’s easy for banks to push struggling people off of their own land. Hard times. Easy, high-interest loans for desperate people. Bail Bonds. Etcetera.
There are a lot of things in this movie that are…just these sad little details: one of the brothers is of a very criminal nature, and does this job for the love of it. He messes things up, he makes it harder, and there both is and is not redemption for him (I cannot explain without spoiling). The two Texas Rangers have this weird, uncomfortable, antagonistic relationship. At first I thought it felt like forced banter, but later it just seemed like the Jeff Bridges character was so lonely and uncertain about his future that he antagonized the Gil Birmingham character, Ranger Alberto Parker, out of sheer desperation. Alberto did not banter back, because he was not lonely. He has a family, and work is not his whole like the way it was for the Bridges character. Just, a little thing, but it stuck with me. An imperfect relationship that never got fully resolved or bettered.
This movie made me like Chris Pine a lot more. He did a very good job in this.
But, now, onto the real reason I loved this movie so much. This movie so fully and viscerally places you in its setting. Now maybe this is just because my dad is from Texas, my mom a Kansas/Arizona mixture, and I’m from Oklahoma, but I could feel blazing hot summer on my skin and hear the bugs cracking, the cicadas humming. I could feel the wind, the open lonely road, the endless longing horizon of flat country, the dusty, half-empty downtowns of small towns. I could feel it so keenly it could almost make me cry.
There was this one scene, at the very end (no spoilers), where two characters are talking on a front porch. Usually in a scene like this, noises that could distract from the very important conversation taking place are deemphasized. Too much ambient sound and it’s going to draw away from the dialogue. Cicada snapping is a LOUD noise. Like little popper fireworks going off. But usually the sound editors wouldn’t allow that to be so loud on screen. They tone it down.
But in that last scene there was all this natural, very real, ambient noise and it was kinda loud. Almost, but not quite, distracting. But it just made the whole thing feel real to me. Homey, but in a sad way, because so much of it is roughed up, lonely, or abandoned. But man, I can just hear those cicadas and feel that warm dusk wind.
Did this film do for those not from my region what it did for me? I wonder. But I really, really liked it.

 

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