I went on a few trips this month, had some very stressful times at work and what with the news being what it is….

Blah blah blah excuses. It’s been over a month since I blithered at you.

I spent the time I was away watching a ton of movies, reading some comics, re-reading a novel I haven’t touched in over a decade, and listening to Dirty Computer obsessively.

Also recovering from a severe case of sunburn from my first real beach trip in a very long time. I should know better. I work in a cave. I have always burned easily. I should go to the beach in kevlar suits with in-built cooling systems. Though that would, perhaps, defeat the purpose.

Here’s what I’ve seen in the time I was away, and (briefly) what I thought of it.

Tag: Lots of genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Some moving ones, too. Popcorny and fun, all-in-all. [cw for pregnancy and miscarriage talk]

Won’t You Be My Neighbor:  Incredible and moving. I cried. If you grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or value public television, definitely worth a watch.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: EXACTLY my brand of cheesypoofs. I enjoyed it immensely. I would love to see the promise of the last 10 minutes played out in the next one.

Incredibles 2: It was really good. I am glad I saw it when it came out instead of 8 years late like the first one. Was really glad we got some character development on the female characters and delighted to see a lot more of Frozone.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Popcorny fun. Did not blow my world away (even though one of my most cherished fannish predictions came true in it). Bonus: tardigrades. Gave me hope for a future Young Avengers flick. (GIVE ME YOUNG AVENGERS YOU FUCKING COWARDS. GIVE ME THE GAYEST SUPERHERO TEAM THAT EVER QUEERED UP THE MARVEL UNIVERSE.)

Hearts Beat Loud: It was described to me as really sweet and heartwarming. It was those things but also almost unbearably sad the way it engaged with huge life changes. The music was pretty damned good and the acting was amazing.

Skyscraper: Reasonably fun and popcorny. I think they were trying to sell it as a nouveax Die Hard but it wound up seeming more like a Die-Hard-flavored San Andreas clone. That being said, I spent a lot of edge-of-my seat time and cried at the scmaltzy ending. I dis-recommend it to anyone who is bothered by heights.

Sorry To Bother You: Fucking amazing indie magical realism comedy film about labor rights, organizing, art, relationships, wage-slavery, actual slavery and corporate hegemony that pulls zero punches. See it. SEE IT. No description would remotely do it justice.

Outside theater-going, I saw Game Night, which I missed while it was in the theater. It was fine. Some genuine laughing moments. A lot more cringe-and-cower moments brought on by people not realizing the level of danger they were in and/or painfully misreading situations. CW for lots of violence, much of which is played for laughs.




Annihilation was one of the movies I was really looking forward to, this year, and I wasn’t disappointed by it. Visually striking and beautiful, which is perhaps to be expected from director Alex Garland. Also thoughtful, interesting and full of characters that are largely better developed than I would expect, given the number of them.

Five different women with their own idiosyncrasies and their own voices travel through a dream-like reality and carry us with them on their journey. As I told a friend just before I saw it, Annihilation is a woman-led ensemble action scifi horror movie, and is therefore what I would like to pump directly into my veins to wake up every morning and keep myself vital.

I know that there were questions of whitewashing the movie. Other people have discussed that with more depth of knowledge than I could. It does, however star five women of different ages, all of whom are portrayed with their own strengths and weaknesses, most of them are scientists. None are sexualized outside of the snippets of actual sex scenes we see Natalie Portman’s character in, and those are well-placed in an emotional context.

So: problematic, yes. But I enjoyed it anyway. I liked seeing women as strong and as intellectual on the screen. I liked seeing them get to be emotional and seeing the ways they dealt with those emotions.

In its treatment of women it was a nice change from the only other of Garland’s films I’ve seen so far, Ex Machina. That bought hard into some deeply irritating sexist tropes. It may have been attempting commentary on them, but I’m not convinced it succeeded.

I keep thinking I should watch Ex Machina again, considering that, unlike the majority of movies I didn’t enjoy watching the first time, it has really stuck in my head and kept me thinking, which I believe is a point in its favor. However, there are so many things on my to-watch list, I don’t know when I’ll be able to make that happen.

But I digress.

Like in Ex Machina, setting is like an additional character in the film, driving the plot forward in the way that setting rarely does. I got a very palpable sense of the the landscape our characters ranged through. And that landscape developed throughout the film, carrying the film’s themes of creative destruction and transformational journeys within itself as well as passing it on to the people moving through it.

It is deeply a science fiction movie, full of ideas and lines of thought that raise many more questions than they answer. The plot doesn’t fully resolve at the end of the film. I don’t know if that’s an artistic choice or because Garland is planning to adapt the other two novels in Jeff VanderMeer’s southern reach trilogy  into films as well. After seeing this one, I hope he does. And I’d like to read the novels themselves, though I understand there are lots of differences between the screen version and the original written one (as there almost always are).

Annihilation is a rich tapestry, with a lot to take in. More, I suspect, than can be absorbed in one viewing. I certainly would be open to repeat watchings to try to take in more of its layers.

It is also very definitely a horror film. Things that happen in the dream-like, ethereal landscape are in hard contrast to the landscape itself. The horrific things that happen (and how they happen) are frequently vital clues for our band of scientists on the screen, moving the plot forward with the information they bring.

In the film landscape, there have been a slate of Big Idea Scifi films over the past several years. And I am in love with them. In love, really with the whole new hard scifi film movement that brought us GravityArrivalInterstellar, and The Martian. I would definitely place Annihilation in this movement as well.

As much as I enjoy a good space opera (a fuckton, for the record) it’s nice to see some science fiction cinema that has a lot more intellectual depth and which sticks a little closer to home. It’s nice to see some bigger budgets invested in Idea Genre Fiction in general.  I hope we’re starting to get past the era of snobbery in which genre fiction isn’t taken as seriously as ‘realistic’ fiction.

All fiction that works deeply for the audience is based more in emotional truth than in factual reality. Science fiction and horror can bring us just as much emotional truth and deeply relevant themes as any random award-seeking biopic or Work of Art.

The upshot of all this is that I enjoyed Annihilation a lot. It was effective as both scifi and horror. It had lots of intellectual badass women characters. It’s beautiful and thoughtful and emotional — pretty meaty as an experience.

The Not-At-All-Awaited Gnatty Awards

Here we are, the final day with 2018 swiftly approaching.

And very good riddance to 2017. Not that some great stuff didn’t happen but I am exhausted and so is most everyone I know.

We aren’t owed anything, god knows, but here’s hoping the new year brings with it some new energy for new hope.

As for me, I achieved my resolved goal of 2017, which was to start writing this blog. Good for me.

It was a pretty good year for films. I enjoyed an awful lot and I found an awful lot to be truly excellent (overlapping, but not unified, circles). And I finally faced the fact that I won’t personally be able to make everyone I think should see them watch all the films I enjoyed. Doesn’t stop me from buying them in hope, though.

Now without further ado, I present the final damned list of movies I saw in 2017 (for the first time, in a theater), and the not-at-all awaited Gnatty Awards. These are awards I award totally on my own recognizance and whim to the people I feel like in categories I made up. (I will be sticking to movies that came out new this year, instead of all the ones I’ve seen.)

Top 3 laughing movies:
3. Bad Mom’s Christmas
2. Lego Batman
1. Thor: Ragnarok

Top 3 crying movies:
3. Lady Bird
2. Gifted
1. Lucky

Top 3 angry movies:
3. Atomic Blonde
2. Hidden Figures
1. I Am Not Your Negro

Top 3 fist-in-the-air triumph movies:
3. Battle of the Sexes
2. Hidden Figures
1. Wonder Woman

Top 3 Action Films:
3. Hitman’s Bodyguard
2. Wonder Woman
1. Atomic Blonde

Top 3 Horror Films:
3. IT
2. Colossal
1. Get Out

Top 3 Scifi Films:
3. Thor: Ragnarok
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 Romance Films: 
3. Call Me By Your Name
2. The Big Sick
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 Drama Films:
3. Lady Bird
2. Lucky
1. Moonlight

Top 3 serious genre films:
3. Colossal
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 lighthearted genre films:
3. Spiderman: Homecoming
2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
1. Thor: Ragnarok

Top 3 surprisingly sweet & uplifting films:
3. Table 19
2. Logan Lucky
1. Tom of Finland

Top 3 things I was looking forward to but which turned out to be huge disappointments:
3. The Mummy
2. Vallerian and the City of A Thousand Planets
1. Dark Tower

Top 3 sex scenes:
3. Call Me By Your Name
2. Atomic Blonde
1. Professor Marston And the Wonder Women

Top 3 films that I was skeptical of but which turned out to be surprisingly good:
3. Baywatch
2. Blade Runner 2049
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Top 3 films that were fucking superb, but which I will never voluntarily watch again (probably): 
3. The Zookeeper’s Wife
2. Dunkirk
1. Baby Driver

Top 3 films I adored that didn’t fit in the above categories:
3. My Cousin Rachel
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage
1. Kong: Skull Island

Here are the superlatives of the year:

Film I am most likely to watch eleventy billion times for the rest of my life: Thor: Ragnarok

Film I am betting folks didn’t see that I am going to forcibly show them: Logan Lucky

Film I am most likely to show to my mother: The Big Sick

Film I am most likely to show to my brother: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Here is the full list of what I saw in the theater (with some duplicates, you’ll notice.)

Hidden Figures, 1/7/2017
Moonlight, 1/16/2017
Arrival, 1/28/2017 (first seen 2016)
XXX: Return of Xander Cage, 1/28/2017
Lego Batman, 2/10/2017
I Am Not Your Negro, 2/11/2017
The Space Between Us, 2/11/2017
Split, 2/11/2017
Cure for Wellness, 2/19/2017
Get Out, 2/24/2017
Moonlight, 3/3/2017
Logan, 3/4/2017
Table 19, 3/12/2017
Kong: Skull Island, 3/12/2017
Power Rangers, 3/25/2017
Life, 3/25/2017
The Zookeeper’s Wife, 4/8/2017
Gifted, 4/8/2017
Fate of the Furious, 4/14/2017
Postcards From The Edge, 4/26/2017
Colossal, 4/27/2017
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, 5/6/2017
Baywatch, 5/25/2017
The Circle, 5/26/2017
Alien: Covenant, 5/26/2017
Wonder Woman, 6/1/2017
Wonder Woman, 6/4/2017
It Comes At Night, 6/10/2017
The Mummy, 6/10/2017
Valley Of The Dolls, 6/14/2017
My Cousin Rachel, 6/18/2017
Baby Driver, 7/3/2017
Spider-Man: Homecoming, 7/7/2017
War for the Planet of the Apes, 7/15/2017
The Big Sick, 7/15/2017
Dunkirk (70mm), 7/20/2017
Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, 7/21/2017
Atomic Blonde, 7/30/2017
Night of the Hunter, 7/31/2017
Atomic Blonde, 8/4/2017
Atomic Blonde, 8/5/2017
Wonder Woman, 8/11/2017
Dark Tower, 8/12/2017
Logan Lucky, 9/4/2017
IT, 9/13/2017
Mother!, 9/17/2017
Kingsman 2: the golden circle, 9/24/2017
The Hitman’s Bodyguard, 9/27/2017
Battle of the Sexes, 9/30/2017
The Mountain Between Us, 10/7/2017
Blade Runner 2049, 10/8/2017
Friday the 13th, 10/13/2017
Friday the 13th: Part 2, 10/13/2017
Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, 10/15/2017
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, 10/21/2017
Suburbicon, 10/28/2017
Lucky, 10/29/2017
Thor: Ragnarok, 11/3/2017
Murder On The Orient Express, 11/11/2017
Thor: Ragnarok, 11/12/2017
Justice League, 11/18/2017
Bad Mom’s Christmas, 11/25/2017
Lady Bird, 12/3/2017
Darkest Hour, 12/10/2017
The Shape Of Water, 12/10/2017
Tom of Finland, 12/16/2017
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 12/20/2017
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 12/24/2017
Molly’s Game, 12/29/2017
Downsizing, 12/29/2017
Call Me By Your Name, 12/31/2017

Thanks for everything, y’all, and I will see you in 2018

Quick Reviews: Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water

[This post contains spoilers in the form of CWs for The Shape of Water – They’re in the very last paragraph if you wish to avoid them.]

Darkest Hour

I have no idea what twists of the tides of fates (or whose design) brought this film out in the same year as Dunkirk. I think it’s unfortunate for this film, though. Where Dunkirk took a well-known story and told it in a new way, bringing both the personal implications and the larger situation into focus, Darkest Hour was just kind of fine.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Gary Oldman played a freaking fantastic Churchill. It was very clear to me he put heart, soul and work into the role. But the story wasn’t told through any interesting framework. We weren’t getting any new perspective on it. The things the film chose to highlight were pretty predictable. It was a solid biopic, but I’d much rather have seen either a story I know less (maybe some later parts of Churchill in the war, or his political fall instead of the rise) or seen the story through someone else’s eyes.

I feel as though a very good candidate for re-centering the film would’ve been Churchill’s wife, Clementine Churchill, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. I feel as though the movie gave her short shrift. I would’ve loved to see more of her perspective and her story.

The framing character was, instead, Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s secretary (played by Lily James). But we learned almost nothing about her except in relation to Churchill himself. The scraps we’re given of her past are not enough to root her solidly in the emotional reality of the film.

The film was overall well put together, but even though I was laughing, crying and being inspired at the right times, it feels bland in my memory.

I predict it’ll make it firmly into the rounds of movies teachers show the day before a holiday and will make no other particular dent on film history.

The Shape of Water

The first disclaimer is that I’m generally a Guillermo del Toro fan. I haven’t unreservedly loved every movie of his that I’ve seen, but I am frequently in love with something about them – the look, the mood, the themes, the surreality…

The Shape of Water I loved. It was a beautiful story compellingly told. The choices made in color palette and repeated imagery were striking and appropriate. The themes were resonant. I suspect when I watch it again, I’ll find more and more hidden things thrumming through it. This is del Toro at his best, I think.

Unlike some other films that are in the ‘best of del Toro’ category (Pan’s Labyrinth) this film was mostly heartwarming and lovely. (Not to say there aren’t awful scary danger parts. There are.) The characters are broad and rich and believable, even though the world they live in isn’t, particularly. Thus the 50s b-movie-style science fiction elements are rooted in deep and genuine emotion and elevated to something greater than one might expect.

It’s a grand romance in a strangely traditional Hollywood style, in spite of its scifi flavor.

I really, really enjoyed it. This is the stuff that keeps me coming back to del Toro’s films even after a few that aren’t so captivating. I know when he strikes it right, it resonates so deeply and beautifully I can feel it in my gut.

I will warn that one pet does die in the film. Also, there is a scene of sexual harassment. Just for y’all’s info.

[I tried to be as un-spoilery as possible, but it’s difficult to review a film without revealing things about it.]

Romance is generally a genre of story that is deeply wedded to its formulas. Not that there aren’t exceptions in romantic films, but a lot of times if you walk into one, you know what you’re getting and it’s what you’re there for. (Like cheesy action flicks.)

Biopics are similar, just in that, if you go in knowing and liking the person the movie is about, you probably already know at least part of the story you’re about to be told.

It’s always refreshing, and somewhat unnerving, to walk into a film about a person you find interesting and know the general outlines and to be not at all sure how the film will handle its subjects or themes.

I was nervous going into Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. I was delighted by the time I came out. The film’s advantages of centering around a non-traditional romance and telling a story about the relationship and their lives instead of the relationship as their lives set it up to break out of any dramatic romance formulae.

It succeded in being very romantic. Also funny, sexy and dramatic by turns. That two of the real-life folks from which whose lives were drawn the story of the film were badass female academics who were allowed to be strong on screen, and angry, and off-putting pretty much guaranteed that the film would be at least half a win for me. But I was blindsided by my investment in the relationship and interior lives of these three people. I didn’t expect to be crying tears of joy for their successes. I did, though.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women almost reads as a fanfic AU – which I mean in the nicest of ways. It explores problems for unusual people who choose an unusual lifestyle without making the narrative into a moralistic or denigrating tale. It does such a fantastic job of painting its characters early on that you feel like you know them well by the time their biggest troubles hit. I know that both the complexities of the story and the ever after that we get to see in the film are taken from real life, but I did not expect them to be portrayed with such interest and sympathy.

My respect for Rebecca Hall as an actress grows in every film I see her in. She shines in this as the mercurial and brilliant Elizabeth Marston. The film gives her room to be all the things she is – wildly intelligent, bitterly angry at the limitations imposed by her gender roles, defensive of her position, insecure and boastful by turns. And she takes all these qualities and delivers a performance of great depth. The film also allows Marston (who, in spite of the film’s name, does not feel like the film’s primary focus) to be unusual in his own way: deeply invested in emotions, communicative, thoughtful and a great advocate for the rights of women. Bella Heathcote, who plays the pair’s lover, has a quieter kind of strength, but is not portrayed as lesser because of it.

I was captivated by Angela Robinson’s portrayal of complex people and the warm lense through which she invited the viewer into their bond. I think it’s rare in film to see a three-way sex scene portrayed with such emotion and connection as in this film. I adored her work and will be seeking out more of her films in the future.

If you’re in this looking for a deep exploration of Wonder Woman and the creative process behind her inception, this movie will only give you a taste of what you want, but if you’re looking for a deep and moving story about unconventional people, you should definitely check it out.