Film Review: 1917 (2019)

A brown flagIt’s morning and the sky is gray with muted colors. The solders have no villain to blame and the greatest longing of everyone is to go home. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) get called and they take on the mission.

The film’s sole vision of life is a nameless baby in a devastated city. The protagonists have Friendship, Loyalty, Brotherhood and Courage. It isn’t much, but it is what they need to charge past the rats and snipers and barbed wire and dead bodies.

1917 suggests that the audience recall the despair so that today’s challenges are not so oppressive.

Cinematographically, the movie is flowing and continuous. Much of the film is a single continuous shot. Most colors are chosen to have a low saturation. The screen is filled with browns and blacks, tans and grays. The result is a draining sadness.

1917 is full of sadness. The stark beauty of the devastation and the heightened emotions are what make the movie both repulsive and beautiful at the same time. One’s mind absorbs tension and danger from the screen. The bland colors are a muted reminder of how the extraordinary can become ordinary.

The spectacle follows winding trenches and broken walls. As the critical battle is approaching, a soldier is singing an incongruously beautiful song. Then, the urgency is redoubled as the mission might fail despite the herculean journey.

1917 is a really beautiful film. It successfully aspires to be a great work of art.

Don’t go when you want to have fun or to get joy and hopefulness. All I could do by the end was weep in empathy as Schofield looks at his distant family, hoping one day to return. As I listened to the closing credits pass, I was ready for change.

Film Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

A movie reelI believe the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was successful. It led me to think about how I can apply Fred Rogers’ lessons to my life. It showed how I might be a better person, one who is honorable and positive.

This story about the children’s television host Fred Rogers is not biographical. In other words, it’s not a biopic like 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This present film is inspired by an article in Esquire magazine, Can You Say…Hero?, written by Tom Junod and published in November 1998. The movie imagines how Rogers might have interacted with the journalist as Junod researched the article.

Early in his interactions with Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the film’s version of the Esquire journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is cynical. He wonders how much of Fred Rogers is real and whether his kindness is a performance and not sincere. The question isn’t directly answered. Viewers can watch the film and come to their own conclusions. Fred’s persistence in developing a relationship with the writer changes the journalist’s attitude. He ends up writing a positive article that doesn’t match his reputation for writing biting celebrity pieces.

One central conflict in the movie is between Lloyd Vogel and his father Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper). The film follows the Vogels as they develop a relationship with Rogers. Fred Rogers presents the Vogel’s conflict as an opportunity to apply forgiveness. Despite his positive and prayerful attitude, Rogers doesn’t try to force the Vogels to reach a picture-book reconciliation.

In this film, Fred Rogers portrays an alternative view of what it means to be a man. One doesn’t need to be hard and rigid. You can care about other people yet stay true to yourself. Fred Rogers is persistent in meeting with the journalist, but they connect on Roger’s terms. Through that effort, the film shows that the humanity of both of them is worthy of honor.

This movie had many strong emotional moments. It is a film that I want to see again.

Review: Knives Out (2019)

A red knife stabbing downwardKnives Out is a rare movie that has the entire audience laughing as they leave the theater. The film is a whodunit hoping to solve why the prolific mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) was found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party.

Thrombey’s family are all people you would love to hate. They’re self-absorbed and taking advantage of Harlan’s generosity. As the movie progresses, the audience learns that all of the family might have it out for the dead patriarch. Harlan Thrombey’s nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), gets tangled up in the whole affair.

A silent character is a gigantic display of hundreds of knives pointing toward a central hole. The interviews by the police take place in front of the art. It is ominous and adds to the tension.

Angela Landsbury and Tom Bosley from Murder, She Wrote make a quick cameo at Marta’s home—her family is obsessed with watching murder mysteries. When Harlan’s family speculates what happened, they choose different mystery novels as possible analogies to the current situation.

Someone unknown hired the renowned investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate the death. Blanc is trying to find who fits in the center of the whole mystery. The family is initially wowed by his reputation, but no one knows what he’s up to.

This mystery is fun and clever. Any mystery that includes a spider wrangler in the credits isn’t self-conscious about the genre. I should have seen it a few weeks ago when I needed some good, unselfconscious laughs.

Review: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

2019-12-30_3DGlassesJumanji: The Next Level begins the year after the high school students from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had graduated. In college, Spencer (Alex Wolff) had felt apart from the group. They all were getting on with their lives and he felt inadequate. It’s winter vacation and they all head home. Unwillingly, Ashley (Ashley Scott), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) get pulled back into the game to start a new adventure.

In real life, Spencer’s grandpa Eddie Gilpin, (Danny DeVito) is complaining about the aches and pains of old age. He’s visited by his old restaurateur partner Milo Walker (Danny Glover). They land in the jungle wondering whether they were in Florida or had died. Milo gradually learns to appreciate computer games. Getting old doesn’t seem so bad when you’re about to die. Being in a young body helps too!

The movie reprises the characters within the game. We meet Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Other characters from the prior film include Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas) and the guide Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) The expanded game adds a new player, the thief Ming Fleetfoot, played by Awkwafina. The assignment of characters to players was shuffled, to the chagrin of Fridge and Ashley.

Once they’re in the game, all of them get swept along. The experienced characters teach Eddie and Milo how the game works. Each adventure is thoroughly infused with fun. As the players get used to the new levels, they grow into their roles in the game as well as within themselves. By the last challenge, the characters are truly enjoying using their strengths.

The movie had a lot of humor. Perhaps the nerdiest joke was when Dwayne Johnson threw a character in anger and a rock fell on him. Cake too.

I really recommend the movie. It didn’t have the hackneyed theme of saving the world from existential threats like Avengers: End Game and Terminator: Dark Fate.  Thank goodness!

Review: Frozen II (2019)

A paper airplaneFrozen II is a journey from the comfort and joy of home into an alien and dangerous world. The danger centers on broken trust. Elsa (Idina Menzel) learns that she must resolve a betrayal that happened before she was born. In addition, the trust between the sisters is fragile. Anna (Kristen Bell) wants to help magical Elsa against the new dangers while Elsa wants to stride out on her own.

There is a legend about an enchanted forest that is the focus of the film. It has been walled off from the rest of the world with no way in or out. Elsa hears an ethereal voice and remembers a story from her childhood about the North country. To solve the mystery, Elsa explore the North with Anna, Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff).

Memory is an recurring theme in the movie. Elsa goes on a kind of vision quest to learn what a magical river knows about the past. To resolve that past requires Anna’s fortitude when she realizes what Arendelle might need to sacrifice. The friends come to accept the history of their family, even though it is sad and painful.

The classical four elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water are important forces in the enchanted forest. They seem dangerous and hostile, but they are gradually tamed. To understand the mysterious forest requires perseverance from both Elsa and the rest of her friends. They find the truth and liberate the forest so that its people can become part of the greater world again.

From the outset, Frozen II lets the audience know that they don’t need to see the first Frozen to appreciate it. In the first scene you see that Elsa & Anna’s childhood had been revised. The movie doesn’t look back and it stands strong on the new foundation.

Often filmmakers strive to bring out a specific emotion at the close of their film. The producers try to close the story with an exclamation point instead of an ellipsis. Frozen II does that better than most by eliciting an emotion that is rare in films. In the coda, that feeling is reinforced with the joy and freedom that fills the new Arendelle with magic.

Review: Bala (2019)

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Bala is the first Bollywood film I’ve watched. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was entertaining and fun.

A disembodied voice introduces the film, sharing how hair is desired, but that beauty can be fickle. Bala was a popular kid who made fun of the teacher for being bald. Karma, being as it is, Bala (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) lost his hair an unusually young age.

A central theme was the dissonance between promoting beauty products while Bala was uncomfortable with his own appearance. He taped paper over the top of his mirror so that he couldn’t see his scalp. As more and more radical ways failed to restore his hair, he finally settled on a hair piece. His career as a cosmetics salesman was going flat until he became well-coiffed and confident again.

Bala created lots of zany videos to woo Latika Trivedi (played by Bhumi Pednekar). Dating a beautiful actress cemented his fears so he tried to maintain his secret. Eventually, he came close to honesty but repeatedly failed in comical ways. It wasn’t until after the wedding that Latika learned about his baldness. She couldn’t accept him and filed suit to have the marriage annulled.

The keywords for the film are beauty, secrets, romance and shame. Bala kept his baldness secret out of shame. He was enamored with beauty, promoting it to his clients, having an attractive girlfriend and longing for the beauty he had as a youth. When the romance fell apart, he was able to release his shame and leave the deceptive career peddling beauty aids. He couldn’t persuade women who wanted fair skin to feel less-than while he was ashamed of baldness.

I enjoyed the light-hearted movie. With so many blockbusters filling the theater, it might be a while before I can see another Bollywood film, but I like what I’ve seen.

Review: Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

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Terminator: Dark Fate is action packed and intense. The protagonists are always in danger of being killed by a Terminator sent to kill a young woman. She is important in fighting the coming machine war. The Terminator leaves plenty of collateral damage as he strikes out. Fortunately, the target of the assassin has plenty of help to make it through.

Despite the action, there was very little in the movie that was enjoyable. Dealing with a dystopic future can’t be treated as fun. The film shows a future world that would be horrific, but do I really want to be taken there?

There’s enough horror in our potentially dystopic future. We have some people building up the world now, while many others are doing their worst to let it falter. Terminator: Dark Fate starts with a beach covered with human skulls that just inoculates against striving to solve the problems of today.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the bright spot in the movie. He had an acerbic aura that briefly lightened up the atmosphere. Describing himself as being good at telling jokes was one funny break in the movie.

Terminator: Dark Fate ramps up with more and more destructive ways to be killed. After so long, it just gets tiring. One asks: “When is it going to be over?”