November 2019 Round-Up

Knives Out(11/22/2019)

I’m going to keep this one pretty short because talking about this movie at any length without spoilers would probably be a pain in the ass, though I’m not sure I have much to add by spoiling it either.  This is not really a movie that was made to be analyzed so much as experienced.  The film is a modern take on the drawing room mystery from writer/director Rian Johnson, who has become a rather polarizing figure after the release of his Star Wars film The Last Jedi.  I wasn’t one of that film’s fans and had never really been won over by his previous films either; the guy is certainly a skilled technical filmmaker but he has a certain attitude and sense of humor that irks me.  He’s part of a post Joss Whedon generation of filmmakers who embrace a certain brand of snark and cynicism and who seem to make movies that riff on cinematic conventions like they’re above it all.  To some extent that’s still the problem here, but before we get into that let’s focus on the positive: the mystery at the center of this movie is very well constructed.  I won’t get into too many details on this but the movie does a fairly clever thing where it reveals things about the central murder earlier than you expect and sort of adjusts what you view as the film’s central question.  So there’s a sturdy skeleton holding the movie together but I’m a bit more mixed about how Johnson chooses to flesh things out from there.  Much of the film is over the top, and to some extent it should be as a slightly heightened tone is necessary in order to make audiences go along with some of the film’s more outlandish plot twists but some of these quirks annoyed me more than they charmed me.  In particular I really did not like Daniel Craig’s character or the ludicrous Southern accent he adopts.  I also thought that a character trait involving honestly through regurgitation was pretty stupid and other elements like the décor of the murder victim’s wacky house didn’t really work for me.  That said, some of Johnson’s jokes do land better than that and I don’t want to suggest that any of this was enough to completely wreck the movie for me as I did ultimately enjoy it quite a bit for what it does right and I suspect I’ll be in the minority about the bits I didn’t.

*** out of Five

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood(11/25/2019)

You know those magazine articles that are meant to be profiles of famous people but instead of just printing the Q and A from whatever interview was conducted for it the writer instead decides to pad the thing out by describing every detail of their meeting with said actual interesting person along with some other naval gazing nonsense about how said famous person’s work fits into the writer’s own life?  I hate that format.  The new movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about the creation of one of those articles and in many ways it also plays out like one of them.  The film is being advertised as a movie about the famed children’s TV personality Fred Rogers as portrayed by Tom Hanks and I suspect many audiences are going to go into it expecting something along the line of a biopic but that’s not exactly what this movie is.  Rather than being a movie that was truly about Rogers the film is about an Esquire journalist with daddy issues who met with Rogers in 1998, skeptical about how interested he’d be in the man, only to find himself won over by Rogers as the TV host Mary Poppinsed his way into the reporters life to solve all his personal problems.

I do understand the instinct to go against a more traditional biopic format for this.  A movie that’s closer to a traditional biopic format would have probably fallen into cliché and the movie also probably would have fallen short of last year’s documentary about the same subject matter  Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which already provided a pretty ideal primer for Rogers’ life and philosophy for those who want it.  So I certainly didn’t want them to do that but the approach they did go with didn’t work for me either.  The reporter in question, played by Matthew Rhys, just did not interest me and I’m not sure that the scenes with Rogers work all that well either.  Tom Hanks would seem to be the natural choice to play Rogers given that he is himself a nationally beloved figure but he’s a bit young to be playing Rogers (who would have been 70 years old in 1998 and about four years away from death) and something about the way he imitates Rogers’ voice is… unsettling.  The audience is clearly supposed to be won over by Rogers’ pleasant ways but much of the film had a slightly opposite effect on me.  It sort of makes Rogers seem like a very strange person who would have been a real pain in the ass to actually try to speak with as an adult.  I’m sure some of that is intentional and meant to reflect the protagonist’s frustrations, but I’m not exactly sure where there’s supposed a switch where his demeanor is supposed to flip from being weird to being charming because it never really happened for me. Ultimately I’m not sure there was much of anything this movie could have done to work for me, last year’s documentary kind of hit the limit of my interest in this guy and a scripted movie on top of that just doesn’t seem necessary.

** out of Five

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