A note or two on Emma.

I had a number of notes on the disappointing Emma., which was the last movie I saw in-theater. All my thoughts on this insignificant film seem as trivial as the film itself in the wake of the coronavirus collapse. The biggest note on this film is its theater viewing and the accompanying visit to Stater Bros. that Friday evening, March 6, when shelves were just starting to run empty.

With that, my notes on Emma.:

“Trifle” unto itself cannot support a film. The central problem is that there is no real plot, no story thread weaving through the picture. None of any import, that is. The final act, “Summer,” does provide salvation — to a degree. Things of mild interest happen then. And throughout, the whole smarmy smug entitled attitude exuded by Emma (the character) is something to relish, I concede.

I also liked the graphic style of the titles, until I learned that the period (“Emma.”) is explained by the director as to signify a “period piece.” Get it? Ha ha. So clever. As lame an explanation as the overall effort put forth by Emma. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended, much better options: Dangerous Liaisons/Valmont/Cruel Intentions, Howards End, The Little Hours, The Favourite; Not recommended and even worse: Much Ado About Nothing

Nowhere to go but Downhill

I oft disagree with the New York Times, and specifically A.O. Scott, but I was amused at the headline “‘Downhill’ Review: A Small Disaster in the Snow,” with the caption “Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in this timid remake of a dark Swedish vacation comedy.” From his write-up:

“Downhill” is a vacation-gone-wrong comedy that lives up to its ill-advised title.

“Downhill,” directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (whose previous vacation comedy was “The Way, Way Back”), is a remake of “Force Majeure,” a 2014 Swedish filmdirected by Ruben Ostlund. Comparing the two is a dispiriting exercise. Ostlund’s version is a sharp, relentless satire of masculine insecurity and middle-class complacency, threading genuine discomfort among improbable laughs. The humor in “Downhill” is broader, which is fine in itself, but the movie is also sloppy, timid and unsure of its tone. It isn’t disturbing, just annoying.

I didn’t know that there was a crossover into The Way, Way Back, a small comedy from a few years ago I was quite fond of. Nonetheless, I was immediately irked when I started seeing snippets of Downhill, which even with a very quick glance was an obvious and unnecessary remake of Force Majeur. This is one of those times when I will not be giving the English-language remake the benefit of the doubt. Nope. I don’t need to watch Downhill to be annoyed by it.

My advice: check out the original — one of the better films of that stellar movie year, 2014.

Tom… PAPA!!

My esteemed readers are due some TV posts, so I’ll start with this. I love Tom Papa. I first got to know his wonderfully good-natured comedy from his regular appearances on Live from Here, the continuation of A Prairie Home Companion. The much-beloved A Prairie Home Companion, I will add, no matter what you must now say about Garrison Keillor.

And Live from Here is, too, much-beloved. And so is Tom Papa. The material in “You’re Doing Great!” seems particularly well suited for me at this point in my life. Apt-tastic, if you will.

Tom… Papa!

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood …Take 2


Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I stick by my original post… most of it. Reflecting on it a bit more: it’s still a wasted opportunity, even assuming Tarantino’s general approach.  So much latent material that was left unexposed…  that was my frustration as the end credits rolled.

But I’m also a big believer in judging a movie for what it is, not what it is not. And it’s really a quite entertaining film, despite some glitches. I especially liked Cliff’s interactions with the Manson clan, headed by “Pussycat”/”Cat,” and Rick attempting to deal with a precocious young actress. An encounter with Bruce Lee is another highlight.

So… there’s a lot of fun to be had. More than I let on at first. It’s in no way a masterpiece, and it rests solidly a couple pegs below Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or Hail, Caesar!. But you need to lighten up people.  7/10

Those ellipsis still drive me nuts.

Booksmart, Wilde & Out

I was intrigued the first time I saw Olivia Wilde in the Tron follow-up.  Now she’s directing movies, and recently stated the following in a New York Times interview:

“It is remarkable that I am 35 years old and this is the first job I’ve ever had that wasn’t entirely dependent on and connected to my looks,” she said. “It grosses me out to acknowledge it, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it.”

All well and good, but I’m not sure puking on a classmate and having condom water balloon fights are a way to elevate yourself, especially when your story is about two geeky kids trying to get to the cool kids’ big backyard bash.  You’re not exactly opening the originality box.  And that is the entire story.  So we’re left with a character-driven story — with characters that are compelling, to a point, but hardly riveting.  They’re just not that interesting.

Booksmart has been referred to as a female Superbad.  Not even close.  Superbad was a truly great, authentically touching, and very funny teen comedy — one of the best of all time.  Olivia Wilde should never be thought of in the same light as Judd Apatow.  So I’m sorry you so tragically had to rely on your looks all this time.

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It may sound like I have some animosity toward Booksmart.  I do not.  I concede that I was entertained and reasonably engaged with these characters.  But calling it a Masterpiece, or even the equations to Superbad just discredit you as a critic.  6/10

Comparison Notes: Crazy Rich Asians, Blockers, Sixteen Candles, Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, Superbad, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Happy Death Day, The Sure Thing, Ghost World, and most other high school-based movies, with the exception of Risky Business.  There are no comparison notes between Booksmart and Risky Business.  None.

PS May is not summer.  By the 4th of July, it’ll be tough finding this picture in theaters.

Tumble off with Stan & Ollie [u]

First, a paean to Laurel & Hardy as the shining binary star of early Hollywood.  I have fond memories going back to childhood of their short films, though they were much harder to come by on broadcast television than the ubiquitous Stooges.  Laurel & Hardy were utter genius, and every time I think of them it still makes me smile.

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For Stan & Ollie to work, Coogan and Reilly had to nail Oliver Hardy & Stan Laurel.  And — to the extent that it is knowable without consulting a scholar — they did.  No easy task.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch Stan & Ollie, but I revisited the trailer and sensed that as well as providing insight into the legendary duo, the film would be touching — and it was, especially in the finish, which raised the film from a mostly-7 to 8/10.  And I am happy to do so.  I’m glad I went to the movies.  It’s nice to watch a movie that makes you think and makes you feel.  2019 has set off on the right left foot.  8/10

UPDATE: Scratch that about 2019 setting off on the right left foot.  Apparently Stan & Ollie is a 2018 film, which puts it in 5th place, behind Upgrade on the 2018 List.  Never mind where and when it might have been released (see 2016 End Note).