1500 movies later

After watching about 1,500 movies in my life – about half of which I reviewed in public – I was moved by classical music critic Joshua Kossman‘s farewell column in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he says it’s just talking if you say whether or not you like a work of art; it is reviewing when you say why.

 One of the things I’ve struggled with for 55 years is the fact that I always know how the movie made me feel, but often don’t know why. I have the same problem in my book reviews. Why is one great and another just adequate? Like Justice Potter, I know it when I see it even if I can’t define it. Which means that at best I’m a three star reviewer. Or, for Chronicle readers, the little man is sitting in his chair.

Manhunt 1/ At The Deathbed: Cleaned Up Quotes

I was put in mind of this by Apple TV’s Manhunt: The Search for John Wilkes Booth, about the search for Lincoln’s assassin.

In the room where it happened (apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda), “it” being Lincoln’s death a few hours after Booth shot him.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton quotes himself, “Now he belongs to the ages.” As a memoirist, I am well aware that dialog sizzles, prose fizzles. Most likely, Stanton suffered from L'esprit d'escalier as he left, wishing he’d been more eloquent.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet that, more likely, he said something like “Oh hell, Abe’s dead. Passed on. Gone to meet his maker.” I can’t find the quotes attributed to the others in the room that night, but ditto.

Much Ado Updated: Anyone But You

Anyone But You is a rom-com on Netflix which ticks all the boxes. From hate to love. Interfering parents. “Helpful” friends. When I Googled it for running time (103 minutes, only 13 too long) I discovered it is based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing with Bea based on Beatrice and Ben based on Benedick.

I suspect the Shakespeare expert in my family would have noticed immediately. A little too much sex for my taste, which is why it is rated R instead of PG-13. Well, that, and the frequent references by himself and others to the fact that Ben is a Fuckboy.

Review: Upgraded ****

The Amazon movie Upgraded is a cross between The Devil Wears Prada, and any rom-com where the kiss comes near the beginning rather than the last scene. I found it hysterical―the villains were so cartoonishly villainous.  It left Vicki cold, however. Some of the plot twists were a bit much, but as Vicki noted, “It’s not a documentary.” Was that really a swan?


What’s with the rain. Directors love it. Me? Not So Much

Someday, I’m going to give a movie five stars just because the director declined to use rain as a metaphor for dark feelings.

What is it with all the rain? The trope has been worn out for years; even Woody Allen has made fun of it. Hardly a week goes by without me seeing rain in a movie. I suppose we probably owe it to the Swedes , or maybe people who grew up in Oregon. Vicki no longer finds it amusing when I say, “What a surprise. Rain.”

 I assume by this point the effect is cheap, probably even CGI in some cases. Let’s see some creative alternatives; not every serious film needs to look like Gotham city.

Find some other way to express a dark mood. No one pays me enough to figure out what that other method would be. Let’s have a hard-working Writer’s Guild member make the effort.

Meet Cute: Groundhog Day In Drag***

To borrow a bon mot from a recent reader comment, I liked this film better the first time it came out, when it was called Groundhog Day. As it has since its very beginning, Hollywood continues to turn out remakes. But now, instead of honestly giving them the same  name, they remake the film with some minor tweaks.

Meet Cute is not awful; that’s why I gave it three stars. The plot is a time loop; the girl keeps going on the same date in hopes of changing the results. Kind of like the scientific definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Although Groundhog Day wisely failed to show the loop mechanism, this film basks in it. And, while we never learn how many times Phil repeats (Director Harold Ramis once suggested 10,000 years), these characters discuss the number of loops they've done. And, well, OK, their loops are deliberate. Let's hear it for creativity.

This film does stand a time-travel trope on its head. Most travelers attempt to avoid messing up their own timeline. In this film, the timeline is scrambled with glee.

One of the reasons for three stars is the film’s failure to honor a mandatory modern time-travel trope; at no time does any character say, “This is just like Groundhog Day.”

Review: American Fiction *****

This film absolutely deserves its best picture nomination. It is about a black Harvard-educated professor whose books don’t sell very well. He sees that what sells is “da hood,” with lots of dialect and violence. It takes him a while, but he decides to write what he considers a parody of the genre, and gives it to his agent as if it were a “real” book. So, of course, he gets offered a six-figure advance and a six-figure movie deal, even after changing the title to a four-letter anglo saxon term for… well, you can guess.

Every actor in this film is good; Jeffrey Wright is amazing. It is nice to see Leslie Uggams working again. The script is funny and clever, poking fun at disgusting stereotyping without  being preachy. The ending is a clever twist.

I am sure it will be streaming soon, but I recommend you run, don’t walk, to a real movie theater. I mean, it’s not Oppenheimer, which demands to be seen on a big screen; it’s a comedy that deserves to be seen with other people laughing.

One more thing: thank heavens it wasn’t written by a white guy, It’s based on the novel Erasure by African-American author Percival Evertt, and adapted and directed by bi-racial Cord Jefferson. As I used to say to my  daughters, its got your artsy and your fartsy.

Ferrari should win best picture, but that will difficult since it wasn’t nominated.

Review: Storm For Christmas ****

Christmas movies, as you already know, vary widely in their quality. The title of Storm for Christmas sounded to me like a parody of a Hallmark Christmas movie. In another film we watched recently, an actress mentioned she was in a Hallmark film entitled a Christmas for the Holidays. In any event, this movie, like What Happens Next, is entirely set in an airport which, on the one hand, induces claustrophobia, but, on the other hand, requires good dialogue to carry it. While not quite as full of witty banter as the Ryan/Duchovny film, this movie has fascinating conversations and many more interesting people. I highly recommend it.

Review: What Happens After  ****

They had me at Meg Ryan and David Duchovny. A divorced couple are trapped together in a snowbound airport, and the action consists almost entirely of the two of them trading witty banter. It is a cute and sweet two-hander. I liked it enough to give it four stars (yes, I know, I give everything five stars), in part because there is some truth in Vicki’s characterization of the film as “ trying too hard to be cute.”