November 2016 Movie Preview: Part Deux

E: Sorry for the delay, friends — after a fraught election week and all, we’re belatedly bringing you the rest of November’s movie offerings. Also, all three siblings have gone since last we wrote — and you know what?  Despite my dread, Trolls was pretty enjoyable.

M: And C and I separately saw Doctor Strange, which is not the best Marvel movie ever, but despite that is quite entertaining.

E: As with November’s first week, there are some pretty fine offerings to be had.  If you’re looking for a distraction, your multiplex can definitely accommodate you for a few hours.

C: There’s also a fair bit of random garbage, but yeah, some strong contenders too — one of which I already have tickets for. And if you all don’t know that’s Fantastic Beasts, you don’t know me.


November 11 – Arrival, Almost Christmas, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Shut In, Elle

November 18 – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Bleed For This, Edge of Seventeen, Manchester By The Sea, Nocturnal Animals, Life On The Line, A Street Cat Named Bob

November 23 – Moana, Allied, Bad Santa 2, Rules Don’t Apply, Lion, Mifune: The Last Samurai

November 11

Arrival (wide)

E: This is an extraordinarily cool- and original-looking first contact story, starring Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker and especially Amy Adams as a linguist tasked with understanding an alien language before the whole world collapses into chaos after the arrival of 12 ships (roughly the shape of Russell Stover chocolate Easter eggs, the big ones that are flat on one side).

C: I love the specificity of that comparison, E.

E: Well thanks, sis.  It’s a very specific shape.

M: Mmmmmm, chocolate eggs.

C: And yeah, this looks cool.

M: We siblings are sci fi fans, and definitely fans of highly intellectual high concept films like this. This has me very excited, hoping that we can get some good, intelligent sci fi movie making that’s not just a shoot-em-up with lots of CGI.

C: Hoping it’s one to add to the recent tradition of quality stuff like Gravity and The Martian.

E: I hope so too!  The mysterious alien ships hover silently over major cities around the globe.  What do they want?  How do we communicate with them?  Can the various nations of the world work together to — well, we don’t know quite what. Convince the aliens that we’re not a threat?

C: Convince them not to threaten us?

M: That part was a little derivative, as that’s been done so many times over (both where the aliens want us to work together and overcome our squabbles, and where they want us to nuke each other and produce a winner). Given the look of the rest of it, though, I don’t mind so much.

E: Since of course you asked, Amy Adams is on this year’s Oscar shortlist for her role here as America’s foremost linguist.  I quite love the way she says “now that’s a proper introduction” when the alien tentacle sucks onto the transparent wall in the trailer.  Very, very cool.

M: Totally. Also, it’s a big end of the year for Forrest Whitaker, between this and next month’s Rogue One.

E: Absolutely.  He’s the sci fi king of late 2016.

C: But hopefully not the Last King of Sci Fi… 😉

M: Well played!

Almost Christmas (wide)

E: It’s so not almost Christmas.  I’m so not ready for it to be the Christmas season. Heck, it’s still October as I write this.  (It was.  It took us a long time to get through this preview, as you can tell.  I’m in less denial now.)

M: Since I’ve already seen stores decked out for Christmas and several new Christmas albums (including Pentatonix!), I’m unfortunately there with the “almost.”

C: It’s definitely not almost-this-movie-o’clock, though. It looks like a lot of very tired, retread jokes to me. I can’t remember the last good “the family comes home for Christmas” movie.

E: The plot, as C hints, is that that three generations of a large family come together for their first Christmas without their beloved, lately deceased matriarch.  All Danny Glover wants is for everyone (Mo’nique, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Omar Epps, Kimberly Elise, Nicole Ari Parker and – John Michael Higgins?) to get along for five days, but would there be a movie in if they did?  In that sense, it feels similar in concept to family comedies like Dan in Real Life or The Family Stone (big beautiful house, simmering resentments played for laughs).  Except with less subtlety and more slapstick. And a shot gun.

M: I’ll give you less subtlety. I’d even give you that the cast is stellar (and I mean stellar this time). I won’t give you slapstick, though, because not a single thing I saw in the trailers for this was funny. Not. One. Thing.

E: I didn’t say it was funny; I just said that was the style they were going for.  Big, broad, side of the barn attempt at slapstick.

M: I’m going to take a moment to take the un-PC road (shocking, I know), and complain about Glover’s character’s racism. I mean, if you had a white family in the trailer, and the patriarch saw an African-American man coming to the door at the end of the introductory montage and said “Who is this black man?” think about the firestorm that would kick off. It’s not okay just because the races are reversed.

C: You’re not wrong, though I think “firestorm” is an overstatement. But I think people would find it troubling because it would feel potentially violent and tap into a history of racial exclusion. Here though, saying “who is this white man” is more about emphasizing that the characters share a minority identity and a specific subculture. Think about how the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding talk about non-Greeks. That doesn’t make it a great line, but without any context, I don’t think we can assume the movie itself validates negative racial judgments.

E: I’ve been thinking about race issues when it comes to this movie and others like it, because I hardly ever feel interested in going to see most all-black comedies (think anything by Tyler Perry).  I feel bad about disliking an entire subgenre, but I very rarely like humor that broad.  I don’t feel bad about not liking slasher flicks, but considering that African Americans aren’t well represented in the theaters, I hate to write off movies that do represent them.  And yet, here we are.

M: Like we’ve said many times over about Christian movies, I think the need is for more high-quality, well-written films.

E: It may be true of comedies in general, actually; we all know (particularly from the television previews) that I’m quite picky.  Perhaps I just don’t feel guilty about it when the casts don’t feature actors of color.

M: We were similarly uninterested in movies like Four Christmases with all white casts, and have compared the Madea movies to the old Ernest movies. Crossover appeal for any subgenre requires good acting, good stories, good jokes, whatever. I think you’ll be plenty open to it if it strikes you as creative and funny or is really sharply written (perhaps something adapted from last year’s award-winning book The Sellout).

C: This maybe goes broader, to the fact that “comedies marketed toward African-Americans” or “comedies featuring an African-American cast” shouldn’t exactly be a subgenre (in the sense of having a specific, limited set of stories and sensibilities). Which isn’t to say that Black culture shouldn’t have its own movies (and to heck with whether our family finds them funny or not); just that ideally, there would be more range.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (wide)

E: Is it wrong that the trailer looks so cheeseball that I can’t believe Ang Lee made it?  War hero Billy Lynn relives his most traumatic battlefield experience during a glitzy, over the top halftime show purporting to honor him.

M: No, I don’t think that’s all wrong, though I will argue that the halftime show part looks insanely cheeseball while the flashbacks look more like typical Ang Lee.

E: Maybe?  I don’t know, I thought his vision of America was more nuanced than that.  I can’t quite imagine even a professional football game turning a veteran’s welcome home into something both that schlocky and that PTSD-inducing.

C: I feel like it’s too hard to tell from the trailer, what the real tone of it will be.

M: See, my guess is that over-the-top corniness is intentional on Lee’s part. Maybe this is the cynical part of me, but I tend to feel like lots of Hollywood folks, especially the more independent/art film types like Lee, consider that schlock to be exactly what “fly-over” country, and the people who live in it, like and want. And this is his was to give it it’s comeuppance.

C: Let’s not forget that Lee is the director here, not the writer; also, this is based on a novel, which is described by Wikipedia as being about “brotherhood, the commercialization of war, and what it really means to support the war when the real costs are barely felt by the majority of U.S. citizens at home.” I’m not a soldier, and I’m not close to any current/recent soldiers, so I don’t feel comfortable asserting that they don’t feel their experiences are commercialized in troubling ways, though I’ve not heard of events like this.

E: Just to give Lee his due, I’d like to think that the man who made the beautifully spare Brokeback Mountain has a more nuanced vision of America than that. Woody Harrelson’s character, who insists that Lynn’s experience belongs to the American people now and not to him?  I’m not saying that everyone out there is nice.  There are people that insensitive and selfish, of course, but it sure makes him sound like a cardboard villain, and I don’t find that very interesting.

M: Yeah, that was very President Snow of him.

E: Basically my take is that I love Ang Lee, and I’m curious to hear the reviews, because I find the trailer to be pretty patronizing.

C: Current reviews are mostly praising the film’s artistry but critiquing the screenplay as flimsy, so you may both be right in a way.

M: Sounds about right to me.

Shut In (wide)

E: Just because Halloween is over, you didn’t think we were done seeing women in peril on the screen, did you?

M: Or jump-out-of-your-skin scary movies?

E: Naomi Watts does her Nicole-Kidman-y best as Claire, a mother carrying for her 18-year-old catatonic son at home.  But when she’s not feeding or washing her son (Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton) she’s a therapist who brings home strange, stray Thomas (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), who then runs away and disappears into the wintry night.

M: Not before he proved to be horror-movie-child creepy. Don’t forget that.

E: Oh, I won’t.  He was super creepy. But now, he’s presumed dead. Poor Claire can’t sleep, her guilt and distress and loneliness are so great — and she might not be able to tell the difference between reality and her nightmares anymore.  She sees things.  And feels them.  Shudder.

M: Things like Thomas, things like scratches on her brain-damaged son’s face, things like bloody hand prints on the door jam, things like Thomas’ creepy little hand covering her mouth while she lies in bed. Fun stuff!!

C: Guys, Naomi Watts is so good. She’s an excellent actress. How is it possible that this kind of washed-up-former-teen-soap-star role is all she’s getting these days? So depressing.

E: Oh, I one hundred percent agree.

M: Me too.

E: She’s an amazing, Oscar nominated actress, and people need to make great films she can act in.  I can’t decide if these kind of movies are feminist, because the heroine triumphs at the end, or if they’re misogynist, because we see these women punished and tortured over and over again.

M: Or if they’re just horror movies, and nothing deeper?

C: M, something doesn’t have to be deep to be anti-feminist! Or feminist either. All that means is that the narrative treats women like fully realized humans who get to have agency, or it doesn’t. And I’d lean toward “doesn’t” in general, but am willing to credit that it’s a case-by-case thing.

M: Or they could just be shallow horror movies.

Elle (limited)

C: Speaking of scary movies with female leads in ambiguous roles…

E: This is a French film featuring Isabelle Huppert as an upscale, tough-minded single woman who becomes unhinged after she’s violently raped by a man in a ski mask.  She wants to blow the whole thing off, but her friends are all pretty freaked out by it.

M: Which, duh, they should be!

C: Um, yes!

E: I imagine there’s more to the story, but the trailer chiefly consists of her nonchalantly explaining what happened to puzzled friends over fancy dinners.

M: I’m not sure you saw the one I linked (I had to search a bit for one with subtitles, since it’s been almost 30 years since I took French), but that one also has her both seducing men and violently attacking cars (with her car, a hatchet, etc) and shooting target practice with a 357-Magnum. The question I have is, was she unhinged because of the attack, or was she already before it? Since this is from Paul Veerhoven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls), who recently bemoaned Hollywood’s lack of movies involving challenging and provocative sex, my guess is before.

E: Oh.  No, that was not the trailer I saw.  I would actually guess that was a reaction to the rape, though. Also, wait, when did you take French?

M: Seventh grade through sophomore year in high school.  We both had Doctor Dick, remember?

C: After reading this article and barely being able to sleep for nights afterwards, I will definitely be giving this movie a skip.

M: Hear hear!

November 18

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (wide)

E: Please be good please be good please be good…

C: What she said.

M: So say we all.

E: First, obviously, it’s J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.  I want to love it.

C: What she said.

M: So say we all.

E: Second, it’s Rowling’s first attempt at writing her own screenplay, and so there’s no real source material to judge it by.

M: From what I understand, she was very heavily involved in the process of adapting the HP novels into screenplays, so I ‘m not concerned about that.

E: Wait, no, I’m not saying that I don’t trust her to write a screenplay.  I’m saying, we have no idea what’s coming, which is unsettling and also a new experience for movie-going Potter fans.

M: I am concerned about the potential for this to be a George Lucas-style case of hubris combined with no one willing to tell her that ideas are bad, but she’s earned my faith to this point.

C: Yeah, and that already kind of happened with the Harry Potter books around Order of the Phoenix, where it’s obvious she got too famous for anyone to say “look, cut about 150 pages of this and it will be a much better novel.” This has every hallmark of a vanity project and a gravy train (um, they’re talking four or five sequels??!). But… that doesn’t mean it can’t be good, right?

E: Nope.  So I am hope, hope, hoping…

M: So say…. you know.

E: Third, the time period (1920s NYC) is awesome, the sets are stunning, and the cast is pretty easy on the eyes, too.

M: Especially Dan Fogler and Ron Perlman.

C: Har har. But of course I’m with E: a costume drama set in the wizarding world checks about a million of my boxes, and the delightful and talented Eddie Redmayne is a cherry on top. (Imagine if he sang in it? OMG.)

E: I can’t even.  The very thought is too much. All together, this adds up to something I fear and crave in equal measures.

M: After watching the trailers, I’m just hoping for him to speak in a way I can understand. Let’s get to the plot.

E: Generally the plot brings Newt Scamander (eventual author of Harry’s textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them) to America to do research.  Of course, he brings a leather case full of magical creatures, some of which (whom?) escape and cause problems in New York, where the wizarding community is already having trouble keeping hidden from muggles.

M: Or No-maj’s, as we Yanks apparently call them.

C: This opens up some weirdness about magical creatures that compounds what’s already fuzzy/potentially troubling in the books: how intelligent and self-actualized are some of these non-human beings? At what point do they become the equal of humans? How do you justly administrate a world with beings who sort of fall between humans and other animals in the evolutionary scale? But I’m obviously jumping waaaay ahead here. Back to the movie.

E: They’re good questions, though, so I can see why they came up.  And I wonder if the movie will deal with those issues!  I’ll be intrigued to find out.

M: Scamander, played by Les Mis‘ Redmayne, will also have to deal with Magic-supremacist Colin Farrell, which looks to be the sketchiest part of the trailers to me.

E: Hmm.  Is that perhaps because Colin Farrell always looks like the sketchiest part of anything?

C: Ha! So. Accurate.

Bleed For This (wide)

E: Yet another of the young contenders for this year’s Best Actor nominations, Miles Teller bleeds and bleeds as a light welterweight boxing champion who doesn’t know how to quit, even after a car accident results in near paralysis.

C: Oh good! Another boxing movie!!

M: There have been a bunch lately, haven’t there. Also, it’s another that’s based on a true story, this one Vinny “the Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, who was insanely popular when E and I were kids, back when boxing was still at least on the edge of mainstream.

E: Wait, really?  I have no memory of him at all!

M: What? Oh, man, I loved Paz, and was devastated when he was injured, enthralled when he came back. I would probably be the exact target audience for this movie… if I didn’t have four kids and little ability to get to theaters. I still might try to catch it.

E: Wow. I’m so weirded out by that, M.  I must have known that at the time, too, but it’s sure not ringing a bell.

M: Please tell me that boxing pun was intentional.

E: Duh.

M: Oh good. As for you not remembering him, that does surprise me. He was a HUGE character, with the “Pazmanian Devil” moniker and personality, and he was from Rhode Island, so he was all over the local news up here. Plus, he fought some of the other big characters of the time, like Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho and Roberto Duran, about whom this year’s Hands of Stone was made.

E: Maybe I’ll go see it with you — sounds like I might have to, given the potential Oscar nomination (even if former child star Teller is pretty young for it).  He’s missed out for his role as an obsessed drummer in the fantastic Whiplash; will this time be different?

C: The role seems somewhat similar — dangerously driven and subject to plenty of physical pain.

M: Yeah, Teller is very quickly distinguishing himself in a way that the Academy tends to notice and fawn praise on, despite his age.

E:  He really is (though he’s making his share of duds, too.)

C: Not to be the downer, but I just found this trailer depressing. I get that it’s not up to me to judge what is or what is not a good dream or a good motivation. But the idea of coming back from a devastating spinal injury, taking all these risks to regain your health and mobility, all so you can go back to punching other men in the face… I cannot relate to it, that’s all.

E: You’re not being a downer.

M: Agreed, it’s not being a downer. Pazienza’s life is fairly equal parts inspirational and cautionary.

E: It’s a hard dream to understand, in many ways.  That’s what I loved about Whiplash, actually; it made you think pretty deeply about the price of greatness, and why anyone would want it if getting it meant wrecking yourself to do it.  Not that being a jazz drummer is normally a violent profession — but what Teller does to himself to get there, wow.  Anyway, I think the point where it becomes accessible (ideally) is that he’s really great at doing something and can’t imagine his life without that feeling.

Edge of Seventeen (wide)

M: ***Disclaimer*** there’s some 17+ language/content in the trailer. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

E: Another educational service this trailer provides: good reason never to compose texts you wouldn’t actually want to send.  Shudder.

M: I know, right?!

E: But can I say, I kind of can’t believe that a movie hasn’t been made with this title until now.

M: I know, right?!?!

C: Wait, why? What am I missing?

E: Because of the Stevie Nicks song?  It just seems like a title that was begging to be turned into a movie.  Do you not know that song?

C: Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.

E: That would be why, then.

M: Seriously, C, why are you so young? Ugh.

E: Also?  Totally excruciating.

M: Wait, are you still talking about the title, or did you move on to the content?

E: The content, definitely.  (Sorry,  I leave out important pieces of sentences sometimes.)  I cringed through the whole trailer.  True Grit‘s Hailee Steinfeld leads the cast as a misfit whose perfect brother falls in love with the best friend that previously made Steinfeld’s life palatable.  With the best friend now totally in bro’s popular orbit, Steinfeld has to strike off on her own.  And strikes out, a lot.

M: And is contemplating suicide, so she turns to the most brilliantly sarcastic teacher in her school, played by Woody Harrelson.

C: That makes it sound creepy and inappropriate, so to clarify, she just turns to him for advice, which he mostly declines to offer, preferring to quip.

E: And honestly, I don’t really get the impression she’s serious.  Maybe that’s wrong of me?

M: No, I think you’re right. I have to say, this looks like a fairly decent teenage angst/coming of age movie. Steinfeld has been great since she burst on the scene, and wins big points for actually still being a teenager (though only for another month, but still), which is better than her co-stars.

C: It looks extremely standard to me.

M: That’s totally fair.

C: Probably each new generation needs movies like this to relate to, I guess. Though this is pretty foul-mouthed and blue for the younger set. (Says the ancient crone.)

E: Calling them the “younger set” definitely makes you sound like Miss Marple.  Or the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Manchester By The Sea (limited)

E: A leading contender in this year’s Best Actor race is Massachusetts native Casey Affleck, bringing us a working class tale from Massachusetts’ North Shore, where the Siblings hail from.

C: Which is SO COOL, by the way. Not that the movie looks anything like my impression of the cutesy, quaint tourist trap a stone’s throw from our good old hometown, but still. We’re famous!

E: Did we talk about this movie already? Because I seem to remember a conversation about how weird it was that Affleck’s character is very much working class, which is not what locals think of when they think of Manchester.

M: To be more specific, of the affluent town that is actually named Manchester-By-The-Sea. And while we definitely talked about that before, it was either in person or in email or text, as it’s not in any of our posts.

E: Yeah, I looked in vain as well. Weird.

M: To fit the accents of the movie, the legit, proper Boston accents, it’s wickid weeid.

C: I think we discussed it on Facebook chat. Just to prove to our skeptical readers that these conversations really do happen whether you all are reading in or not!

E: That must be it.  I know we’ve talked about it.  (And yes, we really do do this all the time.)  So the point of this movie is that Affleck’s character inherits his teenage nephew after his brother’s death. Predictably, neither responds well to the situation.

M: More so than that, though, from what I understand it’s told in two different timelines. The earlier is when Affleck’s Lee Chandler was younger, married, still lived in Manchester, and was very connected to his family, including his nephew. The latter is the present day, when he is very much detached, physically and emotionally, divorced, living on the other side of Boston in Quincy (appropriately pronounced Quinzy in the trailer), and looking for anyone responsible who can take guardianship of his nephew, rather moving back to Manchester to face his past.

E: REALLY!  I hadn’t heard that.  That makes me much more interested in the movie, actually.

M: From all I’ve read, Affleck’s performance is brilliant, as is a small performance by Michelle Williams…

E: Who plays his ex-wife.

M: …And so, they say, is the writing by director Kenneth Lonnergan. Oscar predictions abound, including best picture buzz (where it’ll have to overcome La La Land, aka “Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing and kiss a lot”).

C: You say that like it’s a bad thing!

E: Right?  What’s wrong with that?

M: Um, yeah, that might be a female thing.

E: La La Land is supposed to be pretty spectacular, and I can’t wait for the singing and snogging.  But hopefully there’s real heart and growth in this down-easter too.

Nocturnal Animals (limited)

E: Now, if Amy Adams isn’t nominated for Arrival, she’s likely to be nominated for being sleepless in L.A. in Tom Ford’s thriller.  Or her two roles will cancel each other out.  Jake Gyllenhaal costars as her ex-husband, who has recently written a violent novel named Nocturnal Animals, inspired by and dedicated to her.

C: Well that’s enormously creepy.

M: Well, she apparently did something horrible to him, so there’s that.

E: Yeah, she’s super creeped out by it…

M: …well, duh…

E: …which we learn as she talks to her therapist, answering some questions and evading many others. What went wrong in their marriage?  What was the unforgivable thing that she did, that seems to have crippled them both?  We see rich, overly styled people in L.A. (Laura Linney, yikes)…

M: The hair!

E: …and also grungy cowboys and slackers and cops in some less posh locale.

M: Like Michael Shannon, who is creepy in pretty much everything he’s ever been in, even when he’s not killing people in seemingly cold blood like he is here.

E: Are those scenes from the book, or just another storyline?

M: Oooh, I hadn’t even thought that it might be from the book!

E: I really liked fashion designer Tom Ford’s achingly beautiful, quietly observed A Single Man, but this noisy, overwrought star-studded noir doesn’t appeal to me, at least based on the trailer.

C: I’ve read buzz that claims this movie seals his reputation as a real director, not just a one-off. At least, that was one reviewer’s take. I thought A Single Man was good, but a little on-the-nose sometimes (the color palette becomes warmer when the protagonist starts to feels things, really?). I often like noir, but I’ll wait to hear more about this.

E: Maybe there just seems to be more style than substance, or maybe it feels too derivative, or maybe I just don’t find any of the characters appealing.  So in the end, I hope two things — either it’s better than it looks, or it doesn’t get nominated.  I’d much rather spend my time with the aliens.

M: Yeah, I’m not liking the look of it much myself.

Life on the Line (limited)

E: Did you know that being a line-man — which I believe is to say, someone who puts up power lines — is the fourth most dangerous job in America?

M: Put up and, more dangerously, repairs during storms and stuff while the electricity is still running through them. But no, I didn’t.

C: I did not. Nor could I name the top three. Wait, let me try — deep-sea fishermen and oil rig workers? And, um… firefighters?

E: Seems like a reasonable guess.  What does the internet say?

C: Okay, I’m mostly wrong; according to Time, it’s: 1) loggers 2) fishers 3) airplane pilots and engineers, and 4) roofers. Though that’s by the standard of most fatalities, not most injuries, so I guess it depends what you mean by “most dangerous.”

E: Well, this movie claims line men are #4, so who knows what metric they’re using.  (I’m unsettled by the airplane pilots, though.)

M: And wait, engineers? What kind of engineers? Like, electrical or mechanical, or are we talking train conductors? And wait… Time Magazine is still a thing? Who knew!

E: And I definitely thought the lead would be ocean-related – isn’t there some show about catching king crabs that claims that’s the worst? Deadliest Catch? Anyhoo, John Travolta aims to tell the story of those there gritty men in the South as they lay lines in all kinds of weather and help battle fires or something.

M: With the standard plot of overprotective guardian (in this case uncle) of a pretty young woman who doesn’t like her love interest, who happens to do the same job he does. Yawn.

E: Yes, Devon Sawa stars as the young maverick who joins the line.  How original!  He’s recently knocked up Kate Bosworth, who likes him plenty, in case you were confused by M’s description…

M: …grammar was never my strong suit…

E: …much to the disgust of her mother Sharon Stone, and the aforementioned uncle, who thinks Sawa is bad news for both Bosworth and his team.

C: Devon Sawa! Ha, I have a dear friend who’ll be pretty happy to hear that name. For those not in the know, he was once a young teen hunk, starring in such 1990s childhood classics as Little Giants and Casper. I’m not sure this movie will top my chum’s to-see list, though. (Comment and let us know!)

M: That’s pretty funny, and good for him, keeping with acting.

E: It’s cool that they’re calling attention to unsung heroes and an underappreciated type of work, but other than that, it doesn’t feel like anything I haven’t seen before or anything I personally need to see in the theater.  Really, Travolta’s attempt at a Southern accent makes me not want to see it at all, but to be fair, I’ll be checking the reviews to see if it’s a well made version of Armageddon.

 M: To be fair, Travolta’s presence makes me not want to see it, and I’m not holding out hope.

A Street Cat Named Bob (limited)

C: Heh! That’s a pretty cute title.

M: Totally, though obviously “Desire” would have been a better name for the cat.

E: I don’t know, it might be kind of awkward in practice.  “Hey, Desire, dinner’s on!  Desire, get your crawls out of the couch!  Desire, come sit on my lap…”  Weird.  Just weird.

M: I meant solely for the sake of the title. Way to take it too far, sis.

E: That’s what I do. On the other hand, it’s cool to see Downton Abbey‘s Joanne Froggart in a movie.

C: I bet she appreciates the chance to look very cute and stylish instead of mousy and maidish, too.

E: Finally, right?

M: Finally! Wait, who is she?

E: *Ignoring you* Here she seems to be a social worker trying to find help for itinerant busker Luke Treadwell as he works to overcome a lifetime of addiction.  Suddenly, some sunshine appears in his life in the form of a bright orange street cat he names Bob, who soon accompanies him on his gigs and reforms his life.  Very cute looking.  And surprisingly, it’s based on a best selling novel based on a true story.

M: I know, right? I loved the trailer.

E: Sometimes, as the tagline says, it takes nine lives to save one.  Cue the aws.

M: Ok, I didn’t love that line. 

November 23 (Wednesday)

Moana (wide)

E: Please be good please be good please be good…

M: So say we all.

C: I mean, I’m less invested in this than the Potterverse because, while I often love Disney movies, there have been many I could take or leave as well. But I would quite like to like this, and I think it looks very promising. Or should I say sounds? 😉

E: So, first of all I want to like this because it’s a Disney movie that I will inevitably need to see with my kids over Thanksgiving vacation.   (And buy, and watch multiple times.)  Second, because it’s a Disney movie about Polynesians, and how often does something like that happen?  And third, because some of the music is composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, my favorite genius.

C: Very excited about the Polynesian setting, for sure. Though to answer your question, the argument can be made that Lilo and Stitch, being about Native Hawaiians, fits that description as well. I like that we’re getting non-Western mythology here, though, as well as an adventure quest plot that doesn’t revolve around a romance.

M: Soooooo agree!

E: All of which I approve of.  (I do remember Lilo & Stitch, and even Mulan if it comes to that, but it’s been decades.  I’m ready for another one.)

M: I feel like they’re really under-playing the Lin-Manuel Miranda card, here. I mean, we see more in the previews and commercials about The Rock who, as much as I find him charismatic and personable, does not have anything approaching the quality of work that Miranda does. Or the current buzz, for that matter.

E: Well, more people probably still know who The Rock is.  And maybe Miranda didn’t write all the songs?  Really, though, I agree, and I can’t explain it.  They should be pushing that connection hard.

C: Yeah — especially since, while I’m sure I know an unusually savvy cross-section of American children, Hamilton is huge with all the kiddos I know or hear about on Facebook. More huge than Dwayne Johnson.

E: Fair point.

M: I would argue that at this moment Miranda may be bigger, and at the very least right now he *should* be bigger. However, it’s a moot point, so let’s move on.

E: Fun connection, though?  You may not know the film’s directors by name, John Musker and Ron Clements, but they have a rather impressive resume.  Know what it includes?  The Little Mermaid.  And guess who counts the musical that recharged the Disney studios as one of his major musical influences?  That’s right. Lin-Manuel Miranda.

C: Ha! Did not know that.

M: Wow, nice!

C: And that film does have absolutely awesome music. So here’s hoping…

Allied (wide)

C: We discussed this trailer a while ago on chat as well, though I think we got sidetracked into discussing Brad Pitt’s then-current breakup news. The movie looks very thrilling and stylish.

E: This looks like an unsettling thriller on the classic level of Notorious or Gas Light. Pitt and Marion Cotillard meet and fall in love working with the underground in France. But when the blissful couple returns to England to begin their married life, the authorities suggest to Pitt that his perfect wife might really be a German spy.

M: Or, you know, a home wrecker. Wait, are we talking about the characters or the actors?

E: I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I was talking about the movie.

C: Is it ridiculous that this plot primarily makes me think of Alias?

E: Maybe a little?  No, I’m not offended by that.

M: Not ridiculous, no: it made me think of it, too. Of course, we recently watched that with my older kids, so I might not be the right person to judge.

E: I love the forties style, and I hope the movie lives up to it.  It’s one to watch, for sure.  Does she really love him?  Whose side is she on, and whose side should he be on — should he believe her or the government?

M: Oh, agreed. Often times, with lesser quality movies, you can tell just from the ads whether or not the person in question is good or bad. This, on the other hand, paints a picture that’s both stylish and taut, with what seems like genuine opposition to the Nazis by both Pitt and Cotillard, creates concern for both them and their child, but also is imbued with legitimate worries that she may in fact be a spy.  *If* it delivers it could be an absolute classic.

Bad Santa 2 (wide)

M: Please be bad so they don’t make any more. Please be bad so they don’t make any more. Please be bad so they don’t make any more…

E: Eh, whatever. At least my kids won’t be clamoring to see that one.  It’s not a musical or a superhero or sci fi flick.  It’s also highly unlikely to be nominated for an Oscar, so in my world, it already doesn’t exist.

C: Yeah, this will fly completely under my radar as well.

M: Let’s just move right on.

Rules Don’t Apply (wide)

C: Spoiler alert, not for this film but our review: we’re not going to tell you to rush out and see this picture about the earlier days of Hollywood.

M: Hell no.

C: Instead though, why not go listen to the podcast You Must Remember This? Equal parts compelling and entertaining, it explores the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood life without wincing away from its dark side, gives the backstory of many famous films, and profiles a lot of people whose names were only vaguely familiar to me and some who I thought I knew about, but whose lives were way crazier than I ever suspected. Check it out!

E: Sounds much more entertaining than this movie!  The Rules Don’t Apply, specifically, to a limo driver (Alden Ehrenreich of Beautiful Creatures) hired to transport an aspiring starlet (Lily Collins) as she’s vetted by the studios and for some unknown reason Howard Hughes; the driver is strictly forbidden from touching his passengers, both by the limo company and by his sort-of fiancee, but falls for her anyway.

C: Because Howard Hughes was a film director and major Hollywood player? Not sure where the confusion come in. But this looks seriously unpleasant, as the focus seems to be the young, naive would-be starlet getting used by a string of men, played for laughs.

E: Yeah, frankly this all seems like a self-serving excuse for bad and also stupid behavior. Oh, is this a dumb thing I shouldn’t be doing?  Good thing the rules don’t apply to me!  If I do it, it won’t be dumb or forbidden!

M: Are you really surprised that you’re using the words “self-serving” describing something Warren Beatty made? I mean, come on.

C: I am particularly sad to see Alden Ehrenreich — your future young Han Solo, folks — in almost the same setting as his breakout turn in last year’s quite enjoyable and underrated Hail, Caesar!, but playing a generic selfish guy this time instead of the cute-as-a-button and hilarious Western stunt actor he played there.

E: Warren Beatty, in his role as Hughes and also as director, commands a preposterously star-studded cast including (get ready for it): Dabney Coleman, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Haley Bennet, Taissa Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Chace Crawford, Matthew Broderick, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan, Paul Sorvino, Amy Madigan, Candice Bergen, Joshua Malina, Meagan Hilty and of course Beatty’s own leading lady, Annette Bening. (For the record, this isn’t the role she’s likely to be nominated for — that’s Twentieth Century Woman, a comedy about a single mom in 1979, which we’ll be discussing in December.)

M: Lots of great people…. still no interest what-so-ever.

Lion (limited)

M: This, on the other hand, I have a lot of interest in.

C: Saroo, a little Indian boy, is separated from his older brother and somehow winds up on a train that takes him far, far away from his family, who never find him again. Instead he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and raised in a different culture. As an adult (and can I just say how weird it is too see Kidman and Wenham playing the parents of an adult protagonist, even if technically they are old enough?), he starts to remember his suppressed early childhood and wish for home.

E: This is a jaw-droppingly splendid looking film, garnering lots of Oscar buzz for Dev Patel as the adult Saroo searching for his birth family, as well as good notices for Wenham, Kidman, and Rooney Mara in the obligatory girlfriend role.

C: It definitely looks powerful; Saroo has basically no idea where to even begin looking across the absolutely massive, densely populated country of India, though one suspects from the nature of such films that clues will fall into place. The concept reminds me a little of 2013’s Philomena, but in reverse.

E: It’s like Philomena, yes — not least in being based on a true story — only using geography and math to solve the problem instead of other types of research.  Really amazing.

M: Totally agree… searching against all odds, looking to resurrect his memories, to reconnect with the culture of his birth, Dev Patel and LOTR‘s Faramir (Wenham)…. I really hope it’s good.

E: I’m confident we’ll all get our wish with this one.

Mifune: The Last Samurai (limited)

M: Another small film that looks excellent.

E: This is a documentary about Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune, whose 16-film collaboration with legendary director Akira Kurosawa made them both major icons in world cinema.  If you’ve heard of Rashomon, Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, these two are a big part of why.

C: And if you haven’t heard of those films, you’ve probably heard of the American remakes A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven.

M: Or, you know, lightsabers (Lucas was inspired by Kurosawa and Mifune).

E: This film was made by Oscar-winning documentarian Steve Okazaki, who won his Academy Award for the short Days of Waiting in 1990, and is narrated by Keanu Reeves (interesting, interesting).

C: Mmm, known for how smart and serious his voice sounds, obvious choice for a documentary.

E: Nope, nothing surprising about that at all.

M: I’m hoping it features at least one “Whoa.”

E: Not sure about that, or the number of times he’ll say “dude!”…

M: …Duuuude…

E: …but what the film does feature are interviews with luminaries like Steven Speilberg and Martin Scorcese, who discuss Mifune’s immense influence on American cinema. And of course there are interviews with the people who knew this hard-charging, hard-drinking accidental actor well.  How does an actor turn a character into a hero?  Look to Mifune, Speilberg advises, to find out.

M: And that’s the end. Thanks for sticking with us through the two-parter, as delayed as it was.

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