Tale As Old As Time: March 2017 Movie Preview

E: More and more, March is becoming a hot movie month.

M: And March 2017 is becoming a month of increasingly insane schedules for at least two of the three Quibbling Siblings. Our apologies, but this will be a late, bare bones preview.

C: A preview-slash-review, if you will. What’s come out already in March, and what’s still to come? Some pretty intriguing stuff!

March 3 – Logan, The Shack, Before I Fall

March 10 – Kong: Skull Island

March 17 – Beauty and the Beast, The Belko Experiment

March 24 – CHiPS, Power Rangers, Life

March 31 – The Boss Baby, Ghost in the Shell, Step Sisters, The Zookeeper’s Wife

March 3

Logan (wide)

C: Does this look really well made? Yes. Is it breaking new ground for superhero films in terms of genre? Possibly? Will I see it in theaters? Probably not. You guys know I love X-Men, but the extreme violence…

E: Have you seen the reviews on this?  Best superhero movie ever!  Just as good as The Dark Knight!  These raves are all over Rotten Tomatoes, and now that we’re late with the previews I’m hearing them from people I know, too. Up to this point the stand alone Wolverine movies haven’t been any good. To say I’m astonished doesn’t even cover it.

M: How have you, mother of the “Nerd Family,” not heard the details of this?

C: Good question — there’s been buzz for ages.

E: Yeah, but the predecessors were so completely awful.

C: Also, I wanna note that 2013’s The Wolverine was an improvement on the dire X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), though neither compared to the quality of, say, First Class or Days of Future Past.

M: I never actually watched The Wolverine, but heard the same thing. What I know is that Jackman apparently didn’t want to do the recent trilogy of X-Men revival movies. His price for doing them (other than what was I’m sure an exorbitant salary) was that he was allowed to make this movie, based off the “Old Man Logan” comic story line, and to make it the way he wanted to, which was apparently not the case for the previous Wolverine stand-alones.

C: And the result is something that, honestly, looks a lot more like a gritty Western or perhaps neo-noir action thriller.

E: Yes, exactly.  I’ve heard it called Wolverine: Unforgiven, which seems apt.  The premise seems to be that after literally decades of instant regeneration, age is finally catching up with Logan.  It’s caught up to him in 2027 or so, in a world mysteriously without mutants — at least, no mutants except Logan and Professor X.  Oh, and a murderous, silent little girl with Wolverine-like powers and claws, whom the former X-Men need to protect from post-apocalyptic thug truckers and the moneyed men they work for.

M: I *LOVE* that in this movie the X-Men are both real and a comic book. Totally reminiscent of the start of the second season of Fringe, where there was a reference the “FBI’s old X-designation” and a clip of an X-Files episode playing in the same episode.

C: Definitely adds to the sense that this is a world where the “good old days” of superheroes are long past and becoming legend. Jackman has called this an alternate universe take on X-Men, which is the feeling you get from all the promos.

E: Agreed, I love the clip with the X-Men comic book.  Also?  Between Hugh Jackman’s beard and the film’s Mad Max vibe, I kept feeling like Logan was really being played by Mel Gibson.

M: So to you all bearded Australians look alike? Nice, sis. Nice.

C: Can’t agree there, E. Anyway, despite everything cool you guys have pointed out, I still think it looks too grim, hypermasculine (yes, even with the girl kid), and gorily violent for my tastes. I foresee myself watching at some point, but not on the big, blood-splattered screen.

E: I could go either way.  I don’t love the violence, but I would like to see something made for adults in the theater.  I recommend the second trailer for more about the plot; we’ll avoid further spoilery details here.

The Shack (wide)

E: Our parents love the book this film is based on — but I could never even consider reading it.  Murdered children?  No thank you.

M: Yeah, I know lots of Christians who tout this, but the murdered kid thing kept me far away, especially with the ages of my kids when it came out.

E: Exactamundo, bro.

C: Well, I didn’t know it was about that. And now that I’ve looked it up, it sounds like that happens before the story starts so it isn’t the plot of the movie/book.

M: No, it’s the aftermath that’s the plot, I believe. But still.

E: Yeah, I just don’t think I can go there.  (Also, it seems like an absurd pile on of tragedies. Not that life isn’t like that sometimes, but in fiction it feels less true and more contrived.)  Continuing the trend of big (or at least biggish) name actors making Christian films, Sam Worthington star as the grieving father, with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer lending a little gravitas to the proceedings as some sort of wise mentor.

Before I Fall (wide)

E: Let’s imagine Groundhog Day, but with a teenage girl who’s going to possibly die in a car crash at the end of the day.  Can she learn not to be a mean girl?  Can she change her fate?

C: Oh, that sounds kind of neat maybe. Though not at all creative or fresh.

M: Sounds almost more Donnie Darko-ish than Groundhog Day. There’s got to be something in between the two, right?

E: Yeah, probably, although Donnie wasn’t mean.  Now, how do we know that this is a contemporary movie? Because instead of hearing the same song on the radio a la Bill Murray, our main character is woken up by the same text every day.

M: So clever. Oh, wait…

C: Well honestly, who has a clock radio now? So glad those days are gone.

M: I still do, actually. And yes, I know that that’s not winning me any points.

E: I do, but I don’t wake up to it.  I don’t know lead actress Zoey Deutsch, but I did see 23-year-old Halston Sage (how’s that for a name?) in Paper Towns.  She does a good mean girl with unexpected depth.  This definitely looks good enough to rent to me.

March 10

Kong: Skull Island (wide)

E: Big CGI creatures.  Yawn.

M: As I said to our friend MP, who is a big movie buff (which I also am) and a big Kong fan (which I am not particularly), I feel like I should be excited for this movie, but it looks like a hot mess.

C: Well, like E implied, it just looks like yet another movie which spends 80% of its time on people running from computer generated monsters, 10% on cliched portentous dialogue, and maaaybe 10% on plot and character.

E: I’ll say, it’s very stylish looking, and the cast is fantastic — Marvel regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hiddleston, classic character actors John C. Reilly and John Goodman, and Oscar winner/soon to be Marvel mainstay Brie Larson.   It seems like the most popcorny of popcorn movies, perfect for a hot July night.

M: Right. And it’s coming out in March, which is not the death-knell that January or February would be, but you have to wonder why this isn’t coming out in one of the blockbuster seasons.

C: I have a guess, and it’s that they want it to be a big fish (or ape) in a small pond (or island), rather than competing against properties that people aren’t quite so bored of.

March 17

Beauty and the Beast (wide)

C: Oh man, this movie. My feelings, they are mixed in the extreme.

E: Really? This is the movie I’ve been most excited to see so far in 2017.  My youngest is out of her mind to see this live-action adaptation of the animated classic.  The Disney original is to my mind perfect, so I’m utterly fascinated to see how it turns out.  (And I’ll be seeing it with at least ten of my daughter’s closest friends. Yikes!)

C: Ha! That should be fun! I gotta agree with you though that the original is truly, wholly wonderful, making me not so much fascinated as hard-to-please when it comes to a remake. Especially a remake with a really icky-looking Beast.

M: That’s certainly fair. My middle daughter feels the same way as E’s youngest. Add that she’s, in the current parlance, a “yuuuuuuge” Harry Potter fan, the presence of Emma Watson has her over the moon.

C: Can’t fault her for that. In my book, Emma Watson can be in everything.

E: Agreed.  My concerns, like C’s, basically revolve around the Beast.  Is Dan Stevens too old for Emma Watson?  Does the Beast look quite right? I’m a little worried.  But the rest, wow.  Watson herself?  I’m all about her taking over the world.

M: I agree, the Beast/prince is the tricky part. I will quibble with your contention that the original is perfect. I thought that the prince post-transformation was far too generic looking, and should have retained more of the Beast’s voice.

C: Actually, I’ll give you that. Human cartoon beast is decidedly subpar. But at least not visibly decades older than Belle.

M: True, true. Also, despite knowing that logically him being an attractive human makes it theoretically harder for Belle to realize it’s the same person, I’d prefer to see the trope turned on it’s head and have him look beastly as a human, too.

C: Oh, interesting. So you think human cartoon beast (“Adam” or some very non-French nonsense according to Disney marketing) is too handsome? Because I just think he looks weird. And actually, kind of agree now that you point it out that it’s nice if he doesn’t become a super handsome fella (shades of Shrek?). Well… nice ideologically. Back to this film: Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downton Abbey) is definitely a handsome fella — my problem is more that his beast has unsettlingly tiny facial features relative to the size of his ginormous head. I don’t love how the candlestick et al look either.

Fanged or not, the cartoon’s much cuter.

M: Ok, you’re quibbling about the proportions of the facial features of a fictional human who was magically turned into a humanoid monster-thing? I think you might be over-thinking that one. My quibbles aside, I think this looks fantastic.

The Belko Experiment (wide)

M: LITERALLY nothing about this sicko horror flick appeals to me. In case you don’t trust my gut, dear readers, this is a movie where the employees of a non-profit are held hostage inside their office building, and given instructions to kill some of each other. Follow along, or the hostage takers (likely the company itself, since they implanted explosive devices in their heads when they started working there) will kill twice as many as they instructed to be killed. The numbers they are requesting be killed keep increasing, and the people in the building start to lose it. There are guns, axes, and explosives at the very least. There’s lots of blood splatter. I just don’t understand what about it is “entertaining.”

E: Yeah.  So far outside our scene.

March 24

CHiPS (wide)

M: E and I were a little young for the TV show this is based on, but definitely watched some of it, and our maternal grandmother loved it. The remake stars Micheal Peña and Dax Sheppard as motorcycle cops Ponch and John, members of the California Highway Patrol Squad (in case you were wondering where the title came from, and why the “i” is lower case.

C: Actually I was, so thanks! And it’s so much more mundane than I anticipated.

M: Against my better judgement, I think this looks like it could be funny. Admittedly, there’s a little too much crotch humor for my liking, but some of the trailer is quite funny, and I like both Peña and Sheppard. We also have the added bonus of Sheppard’s real-life wife Kristen “Veronica Mars” Bell playing his character’s wife, in a marriage he’s trying to save. Peña, meanwhile, plays an undercover IA investigator looking for mole in the department.

C: If Bell and Sheppard’s few scenes together could make When in Rome worth watching, I’m sure they could do the same for pretty much anything!

E: A) I can’t believe you watched When in Rome, and B) I don’t find anything funny about this trailer. But C) I’m really hoping the trailers is a bad indication of the film, because I too like Pena and Sheppard and Bell a great deal.

Power Rangers (wide)

M: Why C was too young for the original CHiPS, she, not E and myself, was right in the demo age range for the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

C: But not, however, in the demo gender. That’s not to say no girls liked or watched Power Rangers — it was aggressively marketed towards and mostly consumed by boys, though. I wasn’t into it.

E: I am exactly old enough to loathe the power rangers.  (Well, okay,  I guess everyone who wasn’t a kid when they came out is.)  But I keep seeing the trailer for this reboot every time I take my kids to the movies (which, let’s be honest, is a lot) and if I didn’t have a pre-conceived notion about the Power Rangers, I wouldn’t think this superhero-lite property looked so bad.

M: I think that’s probably very true, because this is another “against my better judgement” flicks, where I think the trailer actually look good.

C: Okay, hoooold up. Did you guys just see the first trailer? In fact I think we all saw that one together, in front of Rogue One, and I’ll admit that did look surprisingly good. On the other hand, I saw a second trailer recently that showed a lot more of the plotline after they become Rangers, and it looked much goofier, just hammy and obvious.

M: Actually, I haven’t seen the second one, that’s too bad.

E: I didn’t see a hammy trailer.  Bummer.  I was definitely feeling the first one (kind of Breakfast Club meets Chronicle) until the cheesy power suits showed up.

M: I want to add, by the way, that I warmed to at least the idea of the original show (which I’ve never watched more than a minute of) after finding out that the Pink Ranger was played by Amy Jo Johnson, who was awesome on one of my favorite shows of all time, Flashpoint (in which she starred with Enrico “Keith Mars” Colantoni, tying both this weekend’s remakes back to Veronica Mars in small ways).

C: Everything ties back to Veronica Mars… or at least should.

Life (wide)

M: Even putting aside the insanely bland, unoriginal and overused title (seriously, I did an IMDb search and got 83 unique titles, and that was before getting to names of episodes of TV shows, of which there were about 15 – 20 more), this creepy looking sci fi thriller looks redundant. It’s about, what else, hostile alien life. The cast is strong, with Jake Gyllenhall, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds as the big names, but it’ll have to be REALLY inventive to set itself apart from all the other “look we discovered alien life… oh *bleep* it’s trying to kill us” movies that have already been made.

Week 5

Boss Baby (wide)

E: Here’s yet another movie that I’ve seen advertised repeated in the last few months.  Suit wearing, talking baby fights his brother while trying to launch a war against puppies.  See, they’re stealing all the attention away from babies. There’s only enough room for one type of adorable tiny being!  The baby is of course voiced by Alec Baldwin.  Hilarity ensues?

C: Ugh ugh UGH UGH UGGHHH. I’ve seen this trailer before three different movies and it’s agony. Unfunny, uninspired, pointless agony!

M: Oddly enough, I haven’t seen a single TV spot or trailer for this, but my three-year-old wants to see it. Why, you ask? Because there was a huge billboard for it outside a place we went multiple times during February vacation. And, well, she’s 3. Me, on the other hand? No interest.

Ghost in the Shell (wide)

E: This Scarlett Johansson vehicle is based on the popular Japanese manga series about a cyborg policewoman, a superhero whose brain is encased in a perfect shell, saved from unknown trauma to help others. Or was she?  Who does she work for, and are they really the good guys?

M: I’ve only ever seen bits of the original, and never enough to make me sit and watch more. I feel like this could work, but also feel like the only thing they’re trying to sell in the trailers is Scarlett Johansson’s sexuality. Which of course has a huge appeal to the demo that’s probably most likely to go see classic-manga-turned-live-action, but personally I could use a little more.

E: The film certainly has style (I love the floating carp) but shall we talk about the elephant in the room?  Whitewashing: fair or not? Does a movie like this get made in America with an Asian American actress?  Could such a movie have turned a lesser known actress into a star, or did it need the dual star power of Johansson and the source material?  Does the value of making an action movie with a female lead counterbalance the problem of changing her race?  Or does the fact that many manga characters don’t look inherently Asian (like the blue eyed lead) become this adaptation’s saving grace?

M: The last point was something I wanted to touch on. One of the strangest things to me is how the lead characters of many, if not most, Japanese animated classics look Caucasian, and usually have enormous eyes. It feels fowl.

C: We’ve had this conversation already on this blog. The eyes thing is stylistic. The “looks Caucasian” thing is because you’re Caucasian. Seriously. That’s how comics work. They give you minimal visual information and you fill in the blanks with what you’re used to seeing based on your own culture and nationality. Take this guy, for instance: based on the image alone, how would you say if he was Latino, Japanese, Greek, Irish…?

M: You’re totally off the mark on this one, sis. For one *tiny* example, this is not minimal visual information and me filling in the blanks….

E: I take it you, then, are not going to give the producers a break.  (I don’t think I’m filling in anything as far as the blue eyes go, but okay.)

M: Nope, no breaks.

Step Sisters (wide)

M: Not to be confused with 2015’s Fey-Poehler pic Sisters (as E did when she originally started this post), this is a movie about an African-American sorority president who has to teach the screw-up white sorority how to step dance, to save the reputation of the school and her own spot at Harvard Law. Of course they bond and become “step” sisters. So punny!

E: What, really?  Huh.

M: Really.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (wide)

E: Jessica Chastain stars in this gorgeous looking true story of a zookeeping couple in Poland who defied the invading Nazis to hide Jews inside the zoo.  Daniel Bruhl, famously overlooked for an Oscar for his work in 2013’s racing drama Rush, costars as the Nazi zoologist from whose prying eyes they must hide the entire operation, constantly putting their lives (and those of their children) in terrible risk.

M: I LOVE when stories like this get told, and with there were more people investing in making movies like this, and less like The Belko Experiment. Quick aside, as the Nazi thing and Daniel Bruhl tripped my memory… in April of last year there was a little movie, another “based on a true story” with Bruhl and Emma Watson called Colonia, where she had to try to break him out of a secret prison in Chile called Colonia Dingidad during a coup in 1973. If you’ve watched season 2 of the History channel’s Hunting Hitler, then you recognize the name Colonia Dignidad, as a place where Nazi’s fled post-WWII, set up a creepy gated commune, and where they may have tried to plan the 4th Reich. Super creepily, it’s now a tourist destination selling “Bavarian culture” in the middle of South America. Anyway, back to the movie at hand…

E: Which is hard to do after that mind-bending detour, but I’m up for it.  Okay.  I love me some real life heroism.  And I’m quite fond of Jessica Chastain.  I hope, rather desperately, that this is good. Of course, you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?

M: Um, you don’t know a lot of pasty-skinned, red-headed Polish people?

E: No.  Putting Jessica Chastain in a Holocaust movie is the definition of Oscar bait. Now, last year was a bit unusual: March releases Hail, Caesar! received an Oscar nomination for production design and Zootopia won Animated Feature, and three August releases (Hell or High Water, Florence Foster Jenkins and Captain Fantastic) received acting nods.  Hell or High Water even received a best picture nomination.  But this is unusual stuff.  It’s hard enough for films that bow in October to get acting nods. The last time I can recall an acting nomination coming from a film released in the first half of the year was Richard Jenkins in May 23rd’s The Visitor.  That’s May 23rd, 2008.  (I’m still peeved that Oscar overlooked early releases and Quibbling Family Favorites The Winslow Boy and An Ideal Husband back in the late 90s.)  So even if the film is as good as it should be, then will it have a tough road to getting the proper respect in awards season.

M: This may seem sacrilegious, but I have literally given up on the Oscars. I didn’t watch a single minute of this year’s train-wreck of a telecast, and only watched the clip of the screw up the next day BECAUSE of the screw up.

E: If you had watched the rest of the show you’d have known it was funny and extra entertaining, and if you’d seen the movies they picked you’d know they were particularly terrific this year, but okay.  It’s certainly not sacrilegious, but you should know what you’re talking about before you judge.

M: The Academy has become so tone-deaf of what anyone outside of their bubble thinks, and so rigid in their definitions of what is worthy and when it has to come out, that they have lost me. The things I like they discard. The movies I care about they revile. So you say that it will be near impossible for Chastain to even garner a nomination, even if hers is the best performance of the year? I say there’s no surprise there.

C: I’ll agree with you this far: the Oscars still hasn’t figured out that a film can be anything other than a realist drama and be great, and it’s been at least two decades since fantasy, sci fi, and several other genres fully discarded their B-list mantle and started being consistently where much of the best acting and storytelling happens. The neglect is getting tiresome.

E: You know I agree with that, but it’s hardly the point here.

M: Isn’t it, though?

E: No. The question is, when the studios know the short memories of Oscar voters, why is this movie bowing in March?  Is it a change in the system (better movies released throughout the year – yay, everyone wins!) or are they acknowledging that the movie’s not good enough for the attention its pedigree and subject would garner it (boo, everyone loses)?  I hope it’s fantastic, and the respect for it lasts all year.

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