Category Archives: Movie Review

We Need More Goodness (and Less Happytime Murders)

My husband giggled when he turned on the video trailer for the new Melissa McCarthy movie The Happytime Murders. He may have laughed once or twice while it played. Me? I didn’t. I went to bed angry.

(Here’s the trailer if you want to see how you’ll feel about it.)

That trailer filled me with a rage I did not expect, and it took me two days to formulate why I was so viscerally upset.

Here’s what I finally decided: I want there to be some scrap of positivity, of decency, of just sweet-natured happiness left in the world.

For me–and many others–the Muppets in general represent that kind of cheer. Sure, bad things happen sometimes, but even the “bad guy” characters aren’t really always that bad, and the Muppets are kind, compassionate, funny, and just generally nice. They are wholesome. They are good.

But we’re in an era of “grimdark” right now. The Happytime Murders is totally in line with a lot of other cultural moments right now: it’s gritty, it shows the seedy “truth” to our happy Muppet-esque characters, it goes out of its way to dirty and otherwise shit on that wholesome goodness.

Some people are into that, I guess. But I am wholeheartedly NOT.

My real-world feels particularly “grimdark” lately, and all the media I consume seems to lean grimdark even if I don’t want it to, and I can’t turn on the news without hearing yet another terrible thing that shows that there just isn’t much wholesome goodness in the world. I’m already tired and gross and brought low by the cumulative weight of all of this real stuff—why in the hell would I want to throw down like a pig in the sty and get even dirtier?

This might seem inconsistent when you realize I wrote a zombie apocalypse book. Isn’t that also a way of making things darker than they really are?

But no, I wrote a book that’s as funny as it is scary, and gets downright goofy. You can make zombie decisions! How can that ever be taken seriously?

But other movies have taken “tortured” looks at childhood loves and you don’t hate them?

First, how do you know I don’t? Second, okay, I do count Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as one of the pivotal movies from my childhood.

(Let’s just take a minute to appreciate how adorably stupid and straightforward that movie trailer is… )

And yes, murders and scary things do happen in that. But you know what? Every single cartoon character in that movie acts in a way that is completely consistent. Bugs is a lighthearted asshole; Mickey and Minnie are in love. They are still who they are. There’s no need to show any seedier underbellies than what already exists in their toon world. And it’s a great movie and a hilarious comedy!

What I want is more goodness.

My favorite movie so far this year has been The Greatest Showman.

It is admittedly not the best movie ever made. The elephants are a little rough and animated, the story is pretty obvious from the trailer alone, and it can seem a little hokey, sure. It’s watered-down and probably not all that closedly hewn to the real story of P.T. Barnum, and glosses over some aspects of how the “freaks” were treated.

But it is pure. It is so pure and wholesome and sweet. It has incredible music, colors, and light, and it just a wonderful, happy, uplifting movie. I felt good when I left the theater. (I definitely can’t say that after watching Infinity War.) It was so incredibly nice to feel good for a change, to feel like the world wasn’t such a bad place and that it’ll all work out okay in the end.

I want more of that.

The Happytime Murders can go flush down a toilet where they belong.

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Thoughts on Pepper Potts and Why She Needs to Stop Being a Nag

Warning: Mild Avengers: Infinity War spoilers from the first 15 minutes of the movie. Scroll past Pepper and Tony when you’re ready.

 

Avengers photo from http://therealstanlee.com

 

Maybe it’s just because the trailer for Incredibles II came right before our showing of Avengers, but one thing in the movie really struck me wrong–the way women, primarily Pepper Potts, harass their (stronger, super-er, more impressive) boyfriends/fiances/love interests.

Pepper Potts is by far the worst offender. When we first see Tony and Pepper,  Tony is going on about wanting to have a baby with Pepper. She tsks him away, pointing to the arc reactor on his chest and asking him when he is going to stop.  When a wizard opens a magic portal in Central Park and insists Tony Stark has to go somewhere right now to save the world, Pepper’s first thought is to tell Tony not to go. When Tony misses their dinner reservation because he is off doing some super-heroism, Pepper is nagging away on the phone as Tony cringes in sadness as the signal fades out.

But why? Why hasn’t Pepper accepted that this urge to protect the world is just part of who Tony is? She has been with him the longest. She has risen in the movies from employee to CEO of Stark Industries, been rescued and worn the suit. Iron Man is an integral part of Tony’s life. How can she claim to love Tony if she can’t accept that this is part of who he is?

Sure, she doesn’t have to like it. And I get the writers threw in that call as a heartstring-tugging moment to let Tony be a bigger, more impressive, more self-sacrificing hero. But come on, Pepper. You’ve got a lot going for you. If you didn’t like this part of Tony, you could have left.

This is my same problem with the Incredibles‘s Frozone. Yes, that “I am the greatest good” line is pretty funny, but I’m really disappointed to see it continued in the newest movie (at least, according to the trailers). It bothers me, a lot, that Frozone and Mrs. Frozone (who we never even see on screen!) can’t sit down like reasonable adults and talk this out. Why can’t he be sitting down to dinner, and then the wife looks out the window, sees the giant attacking robot before Frozone does, and hurries to help him get dressed? Why can’t she insist he move faster before that robot destroys her azaleas? Why can’t she be supportive of his activities outside the house?

What I would like to see out of at least some female supporting characters is…support. In other movies, we get firefighter wives who cook a meal for the whole fire house, or triumphant military wives who are proud to be able to see their men off to war, or boxers’ wives who go moment-to-moment through the fight afterward with their man, patching him up for the next go or whatever. They may not like the danger, but they understand that this is important to their spouse so they do what they can to make it happen.

Where is that for a superhero movie?

I think it’s missing because of cultural norms. Thanks to Victorian America, we have this concept of separate spheres: the man’s place is outside the home, the woman’s place is in it. Women are constantly trying to “snare” a man, to “trap” him and “hold him back” with marriage. That ball-and-chain gag depicts the relationship; it’s gross.

We should be beyond that. We live in a two-income world, where relationships are supposed to be decided based on love and mutual interests. And relationships are supposed to be based on trust and understanding. Something like understanding when the motivation of your partner is to run toward danger rather than away from it.

I do have one example that gets it right. In the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, Michael Carpenter is a Knight of the Cross–basically a holy crusader who is always being called to danger at a moments’ notice, often with wizard Harry Dresden. He has a passel of kids and a wife, Charity. Charity does not like Harry much; she doesn’t like the dangers her husband gets in with Harry around. She doesn’t quite trust Harry. But she trusts her husband and his calling 1000%. She supports him in everything. Her fear and anger at Harry is turned into something formidable; she’s one of only a few humans who can scare Harry Dresden, and he’s fought vampires and werewolves. But for her husband? She is understanding. She helps out. She is a great spouse and an excellent role model.

I want to see more Charity Carpenters in superhero movies. I want the women, even those who are “just” supporting characters, to have nuanced, good relationships. Because the nag thing is a tired trope.

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‘The Martian’ Movie is Awesome

I loved the book The Martian, so I’ve been really looking forward to seeing the movie. The teaser trailers made it look like thy would be identical, like Ridley Scott really put thought and attention into getting every detail right and making it just like the book. Plus, NASA was on board!

So I was pretty psyched, and as anyone who reads the book first knows, that can be dangerous. Will the movie manage to live up to your imagination?

I think The Martian does it. It is awesome. That’s the number one takeaway here; it makes Mars missions seem attainable, exciting, and totally awe-inspiring in the deeply Biblical/act-of-God sense.

I mean, look at this promo shot from the movie!

The Martian movie was awesome

from i09

That’s just…gorgeous. It is like a stunning sunset at the Grand Canyon, except the whole set is the Grand Canyon. And I cried when I saw the Grand Canyon, so I’m really saying something here when I say this is just incredible and moving.

Matt Damon (despite all the jokes about our willingness to send him into space and save his life repeatedly) just owned the part. He’s perfect for it. For so much of the movie, he is alone, but it doesn’t feel heavy or hard to watch, the way Moon intentionally did. Just like the book, Watley is light-hearted but determined, and it’s ultimately a story about hope.

The movie makes Mars look cool, makes Matt Damon look cool, makes science look like the amazing problem-solver that it is, and makes humanity in general look pretty good.

I don’t think it was a perfect film. Other fans of the book might notice some glaring omissions—I don’t want to be too detailed for risk of spoilers, but at least two whole crises are cut out completely—but I think it makes sense that they were cut. There just wasn’t enough time for the level of detail afforded by the book, and the book could admittedly get to be a little bit challenging because, well, it turns out surviving alone on an inhospitable planet is hard. But where the movie truly shines over the book is in the ending: it’s far more epic and satisfying–though I do deeply miss that beautiful final paragraph from the last page of the book.

In all, I think the movie is really great, but is best as a companion piece: those who haven’t read the book are missing out on a far richer, more nuanced, experience. But seeing Mars on the big screen is really, really cool!

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Movie Review: 28 Days Later — 4 Juicy Brains

I’m a peering-through-my-fingers kind of horror watcher (which is to say, I don’t). But I wrote a zombie novel, so it’s kind of expected that I’ll know, you know, something about some of the major zombie movies. While I don’t think my ignorance has held me back at all, really, it is a little embarrassing to admit. (This is how I explain: “I’m more of a Shaun of the Dead kinda gal than a Living Dead…”)

But I’m working to remedy things. Last month I watched Zombieland. I’ve continued my education with modern cult classic 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later- Zombie Movie Review

Premise: Jim wakes up from a coma 28 days after a zombie outbreak (related to scientists and chimpanzee experiments on “rage”) has swept through London. After stumbling around in confusion, he links up with other survivors: the tough, no-nonsense Selena; the bad-joker Mark; young girl Hannah; and Mark, her father. They seek sanctuary, and Jim hardens from soft, confused coma patient to badass survivor.

Zombie Characteristics: Zombies are technically infected with this “rage” virus. Outwardly, they pretty well match your basic zombie template, with perhaps less rotting flesh. They’re fast, or at least as fast as a human would be. They seem more inclined to rip and tear than actually eat, and there is no indication that they’re after brains in particular. They’re dumb but not totally moronic. The infection is spread by saliva (being bitten) and blood transmission.

Apocalypse Level: Severe. Jim wakes up to a totally abandoned London. It’s pretty eerie. It looks like there may not be any other people at all, but he gets lucky. There aren’t hordes or roaming undead, but it doesn’t take many to be a real problem. Though the radio/TV services are all down, rumor has it that the zombie infection was not contained… perhaps the whole world is infected. There are, however, hints of other survivors.

Gore Level: Medium. There really aren’t that many intense zombie attacks, but when they do show up, they can be visceral. Most of the “gore” and scare factor seems to come from the setting, and the rough film techniques. Isolation is the biggest danger here…after you’ve outrun the zombies.  The worst parts may be the violence of the other survivors.

Overall: It turns out the scariest parts of a zombie apocalypse may be the other survivors. The parts with the soldiers… were deeply unsettling to me. I mean, they’re supposed to be, but I found it more upsetting perhaps than was intended. That was the part that made me mad/scared, more than any of the creepy zombie parts. Zombies are scary and should be avoided, but trust for other survivors may be the hardest thing to come by in the apocalypse. Women, bring your Tasers and pepperspray when the zombies start rising up.

But I can see why 28 Days Later got so much attention. I’m grateful that the creators allowed a speck of hope at the end (though I did watch the two alternative endings, for science). I wouldn’t call it “fun,” but it’s a great movie. Plus it introduced the world to Cillian Murphy, and for that we should all be grateful.

For that, and its importance in zombie lore, I give this movie 4 juicy, blood-splattery brains!

juicy brains

juicy brains

juicy brains

juicy brains

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Movie Review: Zombieland – 4 Juicy Brains!

I have a terrible confession: Even though I’ve written a zombie book, I really don’t like zombie movies. I’m actually a big ol’ weeny when it comes to gore. I can handle reading about it, more or less, but actually watching someone’s arm get ripped off and eaten is just too much for me. It’s why I haven’t been watching The Walking Dead: I saw the first episode, and got to that one zombie that was just a top torso with its spine swishing along behind it, and just noped right outta there (but was still interested, so I took to reading weekly recaps to follow the story. I’m such a nerd).

But having missed these zombie cultural touchpoints is just a character flaw, honestly, so I’m trying to repair it.

Starting with: Zombieland.


Zombieland poster

Premise: A few months after a zombie apocalypse, a young guy (Columbus) is just trying to survive, until he encounters a few other survivors: the wild and rough-edged Tallahassee, and the innocent-looking but cutthroat sisters Little Rock and Wichita. They team up to find family, a long-sought Twinkie, and the fleeting memories of childhood safety in what amounts to a zombie apocalypse roadtrip.

Zombie Characteristics: Virus is some variant of the mad cow disease, turning people into slavering, necrotic people-eaters within just a few hours of being bitten. They don’t mind pain and are pretty fast, as zombies go; these aren’t shufflers but joggers (keep up that cardio!). A blow to the head or a double-tap shot is the best way to kill them.

Apocalypse Level: Fairly low. Sure, lots of people are dead, but there are relatively few zombies (or people) in this movie at all. You’ve got to remember “the rules,” but no one is particularly worried about finding food to eat, having a place to sleep, siphoning gas, or having clean drinking water. All the electricity is on everywhere they go. You just have to keep an eye out for zombies.

Gore Level: Medium-low. This is hardly horror-movie fare. There were a few occasions that buckets of blood were called for, but it was pretty mild as zombie movies go. Not much worse than anything you’d see as roadkill.

Overall: Pretty funny and highly irreverent. I’m sorry I waited so long to see this one, particularly as the really clever “rules” technique interlaced through the film caught on as a pop culture reference. It was even a little heartwarming. Let’s just hope this is what a zombie apocalypse looks like; seems pretty safe. Just remember to work on that cardio in the meantime.

I give it 4 juicy brains!

juicy brains

juicy brains

juicy brains

juicy brains

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