The Favourite – A Movie Review

The Favourite has been slowly building acclaim for quite a while, but with it’s recent ten Oscar nominations, it shot up to my “must-view” list.

We were fortunate enough to have it play again at our local theater tonight, so my wife and I made it a date and checked it out.

I can honestly say that if you get a chance to see The Favourite … don’t.

I am clearly missing something with this film.

Look, the actresses were great–no doubt.  Olivia Coleman disappeared into Queen Anne and depicted one of the most wretched characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are also absolutely going for it with this movie.  They were brilliant.

However, the story is just … not that compelling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, it’s about Queen Anne in the early 1700s.  She suffers from gout, as well as a few other infirmities.  Her mental well-being seems questionable at best.  Rachel Weisz plays her cousin, Lady Sarah.  Lady Sarah is Anne’s best friend and pretty much calls England’s shots on Anne’s behalf.  Emma Stone plays Abigail, a former noblewoman who has been stripped of her rank.  Abigail comes to Anne’s palace as a servant, but quickly works her way into Anne’s confidence.  A power struggle ensues between Lady Sarah and Abigail, with Anne loving every minute of it.

However, there’s something about this movie that I did not realize …

SPOILER ALERT …

3 …

2 …

1 …

Both Lady Sarah and Abigail curry favor with Anne through sexual acts.  Yes, you read that right.  There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments in this film.  A lot.  It’s not overtly graphic or shocking, but I had no idea this aspect of the movie even existed.

Furthermore, most of the movie takes place in Anne’s bedroom.  The costumes are exquisite … at first.  The settings are beautiful … at first.  But this all wears thin when the movie doesn’t go anywhere else.  There is an interesting subplot about a war taking place, but Anne really couldn’t care less about it so we see nothing of it.  We get just a touch of British politics, but not a whole lot on that front either.

It’s mostly Sarah and Abigail vying for position with Anne.  They sabotage each other at every opportunity.

If I’m failing to recognize something that makes this film a masterpiece, please, feel free to educate me.

As far as I’m concerned, The Favourite is the furthest thing from a “must-see” movie.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

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La La Land – A Movie Review

You’ve probably seen La La Land by now, but just in case you haven’t, I’m here to tell you it’s a fun movie.  It’s a great date movie.  Also, there’s no denying the sheer charisma of both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.  It’s impossible not to like them individually.  Together, they are a force.

But does it live up to the hype?  After all, according to IMDB, it’s won 153 awards out of 218 nominations, and that’s just so far.  We’ve still got the Academy Awards coming up.

Well, to be honest, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Allow me to explain before you “x” out of here with extreme prejudice.   Like I said, it’s a really enjoyable movie.  My wife and I had a great time seeing it together.  It’s rare there is a movie playing that we are equally enthusiastic to view.  Both of us, though, didn’t quite understand the rave reviews.

La La Land is a modern day throwback to a bygone era.  It wears its heart on its sleeve in that regard.  Jazz is an extended metaphor for the movie itself, and just as Gosling’s character must realize that Jazz needs to be reinvented in order to survive, this movie seems to be trying to do the same with the musical comedy.  But, here’s the thing, very little in this movie is a surprise.  You’ve seen it all before, especially in the old classics that it yearns to emulate.  For a movie that tries to bring to light the importance of originality, it’s awfully traditional.

Here’s what really troubles me – this is a love letter to Hollywood.  If La La Land wins Best Picture, I’ll argue it’s for the exact same reason Birdman won … Hollywood loves itself.  There are so many references to old Hollywood in this film—visually, in the dialogue, even in the story beats.  I imagine it will win Best Picture, but in the same way the coach’s kid wins MVP at the end of the season.  Hollywood always votes for Hollywood.

Yikes.  It sounds like I didn’t like the movie, but I really did find it very engaging.

Yet I can’t lie.  I love Emma Stone, but her character came off as fairly cliché.  We have the “damsel in distress” moment when she only decides to forge ahead after the gallant knight sacrifices himself.  Her character remained inconsistent through the whole film.  One minute she is a rock of fortitude, the next she’s throwing in the towel.  So much of her storyline is totally dependent on Gosling’s.

Gosling got a little meatier role than Stone (shocker), but even his character struck me as more “cool” than “complex.”  I liked him, but some of his choices made no sense to me, especially near the end of the film.  I won’t spoil it, but there was definitely a point where I asked myself, “Um … why not?  Go ahead and go!”  Everything he does is for Mia, until it isn’t.  Or is it?  Wait, what?

The camera work proved really amusing, and there were moments I caught myself laughing at nothing particularly funny, just in delight at the interesting angles and viewpoints.  I also loved the singing, though neither Stone nor Gosling are fantastic singers (as they are the first to admit).  The dancing certainly stole the show.  I loved the little moments Stone and Gosling danced together.  Here’s the problem, for a musical, there wasn’t a ton of singing, and there wasn’t enough dancing.  I really could have gone for a lot more singing and dancing!  (I can’t believe I just typed that.)  The last third of the film got quite a bit more into the drama of their relationship and the singing, dancing, and fresh camerawork faded into the background. And, as I said, that whole relationship story of theirs has been done many, many times.  The last third of the film lost a lot of steam.

La La Land is overrated.

And before you tell me to back off, it’s just a musical, let me remind you that this movie is nominated for Best Picture against films like Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By the Sea, Arrival, and Hell Or High Water.  You can’t play the “just a musical” card in that kind of company with that kind of competition.  Against pictures like those, La La Land seems to be a reproduction of past glory, a retread done with all the new effects.  It’s good, yes, very good, but is it great?  Is it the best?

All right, I’ll be blunt.  I mean, if you’re still around by this point, you must be willing to humor me.  Like with Birdman, I can’t decide if La La Land is a copy, a love letter, a fresh take on an old style, a tongue in cheek piece of metafiction, or just the creators trying to be clever.  I don’t know, and that’s what bothers me.  When I say this movie has been done before, the creators can say, “Well, it’s meant to be nostalgic, a love letter if you will to old Hollywood.”  I don’t like that, because they’ve always got a cop out at the ready.  It’s like they were hedging their bets a bit with La La Land.  They’re not dumb—they knew what they had with the chemistry between Stone and Gosling.  They knew those two guaranteed a hit.  If the critics hated it, they could say, “We’re simply paying homage to those films that inspired us!”

That sort of ambiguity irritates me.

Furthermore, that ending.  This is slightly “spoiler” territory, so you may want to stop now …

I’ll give you time to walk away …

Still here?

Of course you are.  My wife and I are the last two people to see this thing …

Without giving it all away, there is a brief montage of “what could have been,” and through the whole thing I thought to myself, “Wow, I much rather would have seen this as the ending.”  Maybe some feel that’s the whole point, but I think that the movie had a real chance to break out on its own if it had gone down the imagined path.  So much about the actual ending makes no sense to me at all in terms of characterization.  So much of the ending has already been done many, many times.  That alternate ending would have been a fresh resolution to a clichéd tale.

Astonishingly, I do recommend La La Land.  For the most part it charmed and regaled me.  I’d actually recommend it even more if it wasn’t receiving all of these awards.  I think I’d be less critical of it if that proved the case.  As it stands, though, I just can’t get past this movie being about how wonderful and heartbreaking show business can be and Hollywood lapping it up and saying it’s the best thing this year.  It all seems far too self-serving.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – A Movie Review

So I’ll be honest – I never had much interest in the Spider-Man reboot.  I liked the original two by Sam Raimi, not so much the third, and I didn’t see much point in starting over with a new set of actors and a new director.

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man came out with Andrew Garfield as our favorite web-head, I didn’t rush to the theater, though I found myself intrigued by the inclusion of Gwen Stacy over Mary Jane Watson.

I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man more than I thought I would, and I really think Emma Stone made that film work.  Garfield is a good Spider-Man – funny, lanky, athletic.  However, it’s Stone’s Stacy that stole the show.  Much of the movie felt like a retread, but the Lizard and Gwen Stacy gave it a much-needed dose of originality.

Yet again, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arrived in theaters, I felt no urge to see it.  The reappearance of Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin really turned me off, and Electro never appealed to me much when I read the comics.

And, honestly, there was another reason I didn’t particularly want to go see it.  I’m thirty-seven and I’ve read comic books since the age of three, so I know Gwen Stacy’s story.  I know the circumstances of the character’s fate.  I truly did not want to see it happen, especially with Emma Stone making her the soul of the franchise.

But, when it recently came out on DVD, I couldn’t resist.  Guess what?  I loved it.  Putting Garfield in the classic Spider-Man costume made him seem more authentic, and Emma Stone delivered yet another magnetic performance.  Jamie Foxx was okay as Electro, but the special effects surrounding the character really and truly blew me away. The stuff they did with Electro looked amazing.  Dane DeHaan defied my bitterness concerning the overuse of Harry Osborn.  In fact, up until the moment he became the Green Goblin I found him extremely charismatic and I actually rooted for Osborn a little.  But then he became the Green Goblin and I stopped caring – I found him way too similar to what Raimi did.

I’ll be truthful – this was a great looking movie.  I loved the special effects, the costumes, the cinematography, the sheer scale – almost everything!  This is a big movie.  I really felt like I was in New York when Spider-Man hit the streets to battle the bad guys.  Webb got almost all of it right.  I’m not going to pretend the story riveted me, but it certainly kept my attention.  But the thing looked beautiful.  With Elector’s electricity and Spider-Man swinging through the city streets – it looked like a comic book come to life.

I think what they got particularly right from a character standpoint is Peter and Gwen’s relationship.  These two have real chemistry together, and they were a lot of fun to watch.  I won’t get into Gwen’s fate, but I am so glad they didn’t just make her a damsel in distress.  She played every bit as much the role of hero as did Peter Parker.  If they ever introduce Mary Jane Watson, they will have a hard time making the fans forget Gwen Stacy.  There were rumors Watson would make an appearance in this movie, and I’m so glad they decided against it.  It would have been undignified.

Webb also made a hopeful movie. Spider-Man has gone through some serious shit since 1962.  Life constantly beats him up, yet he keeps putting on the costume and trying to do the right thing.  Webb captured the essence of that optimism.  Like in the comics, every good thing Peter tries to do usually backfires on him, yet he knows people count on him to be the hero, and he lives up to that responsibility.  In a world where Batman is dark as night and Superman would rather punch a villain in the face than save a crumbling city, it’s nice to see Spider-Man still saving the innocent while making quips.

Finally, I think they nailed Spider-Man’s relationship with New Yorkers.  He’s about as New York as they come, and he’s their hero, through and through.  In fact, Webb made a genius move by having Spider-Man interact with New York children, and it could not have been more heartwarming.  I won’t give it away, but there’s a final scene with a little boy that about had me in tears (the happy kind).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had far more heart and originality than I expected, especially when compared to its previous installment.  There are rumors that they are going to make a Sinister Six movie, and if the groundwork they laid in this movie is any indication, it actually might be pretty good!  Paul Giamatti is in this film for about eight minutes, but his Rhino character looked awesome.  If they get actors of his caliber to work alongside DeHaan’s Green Goblin, they might have something inexplicably interesting.

So, if you’re like me and sort of ambivalent about the Spider-Man reboot, I do recommend you check out The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  It’s exciting, looks beautiful, has some seriously emotional moments (both happy and sad), and for Spidey fans, it does not disappoint in that it felt pretty true to the source material.