From A-Z: Why I Love Movies (200th Blog Post)

After two years and change of Differing Opinions, I’ve never actually told you why I do this regularly. In other words, I’ve never actually laid out the reasons why I love movies. Well, that changes today; in honor of my 200th blog post, and because I wanted to make this a fun challenge, here are 26 words that describe why films are so important to me.

Movies are…

Accessible, from Netflix to MUBI
Bold, from Jaws not showing the shark to Black Panther trusting a predominantly black cast in a superhero movie
Convoluted, from Memento to Inception (thanks Nolan!)
Debatable, from Gone Baby Gone to Mother!
Eclectic, from the loudest explosions to the quietest footsteps
Fun, from Back to the Future to Guardians of the Galaxy
Glorious, from all of Mad Max: Fury Road to the stairwell fight scene in Atomic Blonde
Heartfelt, from Inside Out to La La Land
Innovative, from the one-shot style of Birdman to the use of iPhones for Tangerine
Jam-packed, from the ensemble cast of Ocean’s Eleven to an even bigger one for Avengers: Infinity War (both starring Don Cheadle)
Knowledgeable, from the Harvard students in Social Network to the astronauts in The Martian
Long-lasting, from 2001: A Space Odyssey (50th anniversary) to Dark Knight (10th)
Magical, from under the sea to a galaxy far, far away
Nonsensical, from Face/Off to National Treasure (or from Cage to Cage)
Outstanding, from all-time classics like Casablanca and The Godfather to modern ones like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Children of Men
Powerful, from Schindler’s List to Shawshank Redemption
Quirky, from Wes Anderson to Zooey Deschanel
Romantic, from Buttercup and Westley to Harry and Sally
Shocking, from the famous twists (Usual Suspects) to the truly messed up ones (Oldboy)
Thrilling, from Rear Window to Seven
Unique, from Donnie Darko to Colossal
Visionary, from the animatronics in Jurassic Park to the social commentary in Get Out
Worthwhile, from the reasonable $8.50 ticket to the insane $15 ticket
Xylophone…look, there aren’t any “X” adjectives that work here
Yummy, from the titular food of Ratatouille to the Cuban sandwiches of Chef
Zany, from the striking visual symbolism of Hero to the crazy colors of Thor: Ragnarok

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Best/Worst Movie Moms

Yeah, this is a few days late, but I think we should celebrate our moms everyday, don’t you? So here are some great (and awful) examples of moms in the movies. Are there some I might have glossed over? Sure, but as with any human being, there are gaps in my knowledge even though I pride myself on knowing as much about film as possible. These moms are the best and worst ones I could think of given limited time. Before we begin, a few ground rules:

(1) the mom in question has to be the biological mother of her child (or children) or become one through marriage; motherly figures like nannies won’t count even if they fulfill the same responsibilities

(2) both mother and child have to appear in the film at some point

*listed in chronological order

  1. Paula Winslowe as Bambi’s mother in Bambi: She literally gave her life for her son! What else is there to say?
  2. Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music: After she marries Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer, Maria legally becomes the mother of those charming kids. Who wouldn’t want a mom who can teach you about the major musical scale in a fun way?
  3. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The ultimate warrior who also happens to be a mother. From doing non-stop pull-ups in prison to preparing her son for the fight against Skynet, Sarah Connor will never back down from danger. That’s a mom I want by my side.
  4. Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill: I’m cheating a little since she only meets her kid at the end of Volume 2, but how can you argue against The Bride? Not only is she handy with a sword, there is literally nothing that can stand in her way.
  5. Holly Hunter as Helen Parr/Elastigirl in The Incredibles and Beth Gardner in The Big Sick: Double mother alert! Obviously, having powers will make any parent cool. But you can tell that Elastigirl cares fiercely for her children even if she acts tough with them. I’m still annoyed that Hunter wasn’t nominated for The Big Sick; her tirade in the comedy club when someone yells at Kumail Nanjiani to “go back to ISIS” firmly establishes that even when it’s not her own child under attack, she’s willing to fight for you.
  6. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side: Just because it’s the easy choice doesn’t make it wrong. In a deserved Oscar-winning performance, Bullock checks off all the boxes. She unselfishly takes in a child in need, confronts his bullies, and knows football. Total package right there.
  7. Brie Larson as Joy Newsome in Room: Here’s a woman who has to endure the worst circumstances imaginable. Yet she still finds the strength to put on a brave face for little Jacob Tremblay. Out of all the mother-child relationships, this is the one I believe most closely mirrors reality.
  8. Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi: Aside from a moment where she and Kylo Ren connect through the Force, the two never actually meet. But you can tell she still feels sorry for him when she tells Han Solo to “bring him home.” It ultimately doesn’t work, but a mother who’s unwilling to give up on her child is a commendable one.
  9. Naomie Harris as Paula in Moonlight: Wait a minute, are you claiming that a mom with a drug addiction can be good? Absolutely, because her story doesn’t end there. In her final scene with Chiron, she apologizes for her crude behavior and affirms that even if he still holds a grudge, she will always love him. That’s powerful stuff right there (as is the performance by Harris).
  10. Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: She may not be the most polite mom in the world, but even after the murder of her daughter, she’ll continue to fight for justice. I’ve pinpointed the common attribute for all these moms; they are fighters at every level and if I was living in the world of each movie, I would feel much safer with them by my side.

Now for the fun part…

  1. Eleanor Audley/Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine in Cinderella: Take your pick, both are horrible mothers (or stepmothers to be precise). Forcing a child to a lifetime of servitude is no way to treat someone who lost their parents at a young age. At least she received some measure of comeuppance when Cinderella married the prince and lived happily ever after.
  2. Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate: Entering into a loveless marriage is one thing. Taking out your frustration by seducing a much younger man is a whole other ballgame. Bancroft is smoking hot throughout the movie, but it doesn’t excuse her reckless behavior.
  3. Catherine O’Hara as Kate McCallister in Home Alone: This was the first mom I immediately thought of as the worst. She has to juggle a ton of responsibilities, but “accidentally” leaving your eight-year-old behind is almost unforgivable. Thankfully, she recognized her mistake, but you couldn’t double check before leaving for the airport?
  4. Frances Fisher as Ruth DeWitt Bukater in Titanic: Only wanted Kate Winslet to marry Billy Zane for the money. In addition, she shows absolutely no concern for the less fortunate while the crew is loading people onto the lifeboats.
  5. Julie White as Judy Witwicky in Transformers 1-3: Now I’m really mad. Michael Bay and the writers are mostly to blame, but the actress does herself no favors with her over-the-top nonsense. From eating pot brownies to uncomfortably talking about masturbation, there’s nothing redeeming about her character. Both parents are insufferable, but I remember more terrible moments from the mom.
  6. Amy Ryan as Helene McCready in Gone Baby Gone: Yep, still mad. This mom spends the whole movie pleading with authorities to find her missing daughter, but when they’re finally reunited, we find out the sad truth. Helene never cared for Amanda in the first place, neglecting to even learn the name of her favorite doll. We’ll never know what happens after the film goes to black, but there’s enough evidence to issue a verdict.
  7. Mo’Nique as Mary Lee Johnston in Precious: Haven’t seen the film, but do I really need to? Wikipedia alone gives me all the details about the “physical, verbal, and sexual abuse” suffered by Precious. Moving on.
  8. Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel in Tangled: I know Rapunzel technically reunites with her real parents at the end, but we’re led to believe that Mother Gothel raised her as her own daughter for years. It’s been awhile since I saw Tangled, but my research reveals that she used the magic hair to keep herself young. That’s certainly diabolical by itself, but then she cuts off Rapunzel’s access to the outside world by locking her in a tower. Not a great candidate for “mom of the year.”
  9. The moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn) in Bad Moms: Yes, I’m purely basing this choice off the title of the movie. I don’t actually plan to see it (or the questionable Christmas sequel), but moms who neglect their responsibilities in favor of wild partying don’t look great in my book.
  10. Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya: Another easy choice (and another Oscar-winning performance). I’ve never seen Janney this menacing, relentlessly harassing Mckenna Grace and later Margot Robbie. Even when it looks like she’s trying to make amends, it’s revealed that she was wearing a wire to wring a confession out of Harding. Cold-blooded!

Week in Review 5/4/18 – 5/10/18

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: If you read my thoughts on While You Were Sleeping, you’ll know I’m not particularly fond of romantic comedies. I may have to reconsider that opinion; it’s still nowhere near my favorite genre, but there are many I quite enjoy (Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, 40-Year-Old Virgin). You can go ahead and add Forgetting Sarah Marshall to the list; I had seen it several years ago, but didn’t fully appreciate its genius. Jason Segel, serving as both writer and actor, is perfect as the down-on-his-luck composer recently dumped by his more successful girlfriend (Kristen Bell). He decides to vacation in Hawaii to take his mind off everything, only to discover that she’s staying at the exact same hotel with her new boyfriend. As you would expect, shenanigans ensue.

While it hits the typical rom-com beats, the film has something more personal to say about the post-breakup period. I don’t know how much (if any) of the script is based on Segel’s personal experience, but I completely buy every action and reaction he has after the split, even if some of those moments are elevated for comedic effect. Almost everyone surrounding Segel is equally hilarious, from Mila Kunis (looking absolutely stunning) to Paul Rudd (easily my favorite side character in the movie, “oh the weather outside is weather”). The only person who bothers me is Russell Brand; I understand that he’s playing a jerk, but I’ve never been a fan of his acting style (or annoying accent). Thankfully, there’s plenty of good around him. Even though Forgetting Sarah Marshall is now officially ten years old (!), I think it will continue to hold up as one of the better rom-coms.

Tully: You had me at “Charlize Theron.” After Monster and Mad Max: Fury Road, I will happily pay to see anything with her as the lead (even the mediocre Atomic Blonde). Tully is also brought to you by the director/writer combo of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, whose most recognizable work is probably Juno, a funny yet deeply emotional coming-of-age film that deals with teen pregnancy. Reitman also separately made the superb Up in the Air, so I was excited to see what this trio had in store*. While Tully may not be a movie I go back and watch multiple times, its themes are easily accessible and multigenerational; you could show this movie to someone who was born 50 years ago or 50 years from now and I think the message would ring true regardless. Even those of us who aren’t or won’t be mothers (like myself) can find something to latch onto as Theron’s character Marlo struggles with other aspects of adult life.

Equally as impressive as Theron is Mackenzie Davis, who is quickly turning into another actress of whom I have to see more, much like Theron used to be. You might not realize it without seeing the movie, but the previous sentence contains more truth than you think. There’s a twist here (no spoilers since it’s so recent) that reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. With both films, when the twist is revealed, your mind starts to play back all the moments that are now enhanced because you have acquired the knowledge of an altered environment. That’s one type of great filmmaking if you ask me. I think it would be very interesting to show someone a double feature of Juno and Tully, as the two compliment each other very well by showcasing the before and after of pregnancy/parenthood. Again, I don’t know how often anyone will watch Tully, but how many other great movies have you only seen once? Exactly.

*I understand that all three were involved in a 2011 film called Young Adult, but I haven’t seen it.

MVP Watch: 2011

2011 is notorious for setting the record of most sequels in a single year with 28. Since I’ve mostly stayed away from listing sequels for an actor’s MVP consideration, this was an especially difficult ballot to fill out (I also haven’t seen many movies from this year for some reason). But I’ll try my best!

MVP: George Clooney
Believe me, I wish there were more female winners, but Clooney isn’t a bad choice by any means. Let’s start with his big accomplishment: directing, producing, writing, and starring in the political drama The Ides of March. I haven’t seen it, but Clooney assembled a stellar cast (Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, etc.) while the film itself received mostly positive reviews. But I have seen his other 2011 movie, The Descendants, which might be even better. A deeply moving comedy/drama that has something profound to say about death and family relationships, this is some of Clooney’s (and Shailene Woodley’s) best work.

Honorable Mentions
Brad Pitt: Clooney pulled off the rare quadruple threat, but Pitt pulled double duty as producer/actor in both The Tree of Life and Moneyball; each were nominated for several awards, including Pitt himself for Best Actor in the latter. An already stellar year is capped off by his career-defining role in Happy Feet Two as one of two krill (the other? Matt Damon).
Justin Timberlake: Honestly, none of his films are really worth talking about, but when else will I have the opportunity to include JT’s name in such profound company? Bad Teacher is forgettable and some people like Friends with Benefits, but I specifically want to bring up In Time again. Yes, the director wastes a very interesting premise (and Roger Deakins), but I would still like to see a remake for that very reason. Everyone loves to praise The Rock’s charisma, but this is where it’s at. Maybe Timberlake should star in every movie instead.
Emma Stone: One of my (many) celebrity crushes had a solid but unspectacular year. She also shows up in Friends with Benefits, collaborates for the first time with Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love (an underrated rom-com), and joins the Oscar party with The Help. She really can do it all.
Jessica Chastain: She had been in consideration for previous years, but I thought this was Chastain’s best year statistically. Among the notable films she did: Take Shelter (from Jeff Nichols, who hasn’t made a bad movie since), Coriolanus (Shakespeare adaptation directed by fellow actor Ralph Fiennes), the aforementioned Tree of Life, and The Help (which resulted in her first Oscar nomination). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen three of the four.
Jude Law: The standard British actor joins solid ensembles for Soderbergh’s Contagion and Scorsese’s Hugo while reprising his role as Dr. Watson in the second RDJ Sherlock Holmes. Man, I almost made it through the whole post without mentioning a sequel!

Week in Review 4/27/18 – 5/3/18

Avengers: Infinity War: Now that I’ve had time to shake off the initial chill, let’s talk about the biggest movie ever made (at least until next May). There are definitely spoilers ahead, but it’s been a full week; if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s a lot to cover, so forgive me if I start to ramble. Enough prelude…talk about The Empire Strikes Back of endings! The biggest complaint might concern Marvel’s handling of all the “deaths” once Thanos snaps his fingers. Are all those heroes we saw disappear actually gone? Of course not; we’re absolutely getting more Black Panther and Spider-Man movies. But that realization isn’t the movie’s fault and it’s certainly not what the characters would be thinking; they don’t have access to a release calendar. The emotional impact of seeing those characters die is not minimized in the slightest; you can’t tell me you sat through the Spider-Man death and didn’t choke up when he pleaded, “I don’t want to go.” In regards to the other complaint that this is only half a movie, would you classify The Empire Strikes Back in the same way? I can’t say for sure, but did people really think there weren’t going to be more Star Wars movies after that? I believe Infinity War tells a complete story (especially from the perspective of Thanos) and leaves room for speculation not unlike other great films.

Furthermore, I’m firmly of the mind that it will be remembered as a cinematic achievement, similar to how people responded to the original 1977 Star Wars (it’s May the 4th, I’m jamming in as many references as I can). No one believed a studio could gradually build a universe over the course of ten years and pay it all off in one gigantic spectacle. But because it’s Marvel and because the Russo brothers understand these characters, the fact that the movie is even decent and well-organized says a lot about the incredible job they did. You can criticize the runtime and lack of character development all you want, but none of it holds up in my eyes. You want character development? Watch the other movies. Appreciate the season finale for what it is.

Face/Off: I think I’ve found my new guilty pleasure or, as I’ve often pointed out, my new National Treasure (hey, look what they have in common). When you look up “ridiculous” in the dictionary, there should just be a picture of the poster next to it. Face/Off is a glorious disaster that could’ve only been assembled at this specific moment in time. John Woo blesses us with some of the craziest action set pieces I’ve ever seen (and don’t worry, there are plenty of doves), from a church shootout to a speedboat chase. Seeing Travolta and Cage play each other trying to play themselves is a singular experience that can only happen thanks to an insane plot and equally insane script. I fully understand this is a terrible movie; in what world would the FBI, in an attempt to locate a bomb, authorize a complicated surgery where their best agent literally puts on a terrorist’s face in order to infiltrate a prison and determine the bomb’s location? Makes no sense, but for some reason, I didn’t care. If Michael Bay fully committed to a similar brand of ridiculousness (while cutting back on the racist and mean-spirited humor), I might actually watch his movies. Regardless, I couldn’t stop laughing throughout Face/Off (especially every time Travolta weirdly touches someone’s face) and I think you will too.

High School Musical 3: A seemingly random choice to close this out, but there’s a method to the madness. As much as I champion the High School Musical franchise, I’ve never actually seen the final chapter…until now. Through three movies, it has been made clear to me that each installment more or less follows a predictable formula in terms of musical numbers:

  1. Opening Troy and Gabriella romantic duet
  2. Sharpay and Ryan (but mostly Sharpay) duet about their luxurious life
  3. Ensemble number that signals the exact halfway point of the movie
  4. Gabriella sad solo
  5. Troy frustrated solo
  6. Second Troy and Gabriella romantic duet after resolution of central conflict
  7. Final ensemble number where bitter rivals casually put aside their differences and dance (before reverting back just in time for the next one)

It doesn’t exactly scream originality, but this franchise will always hold a special place in my heart. Perhaps because it reminds me of childhood. Or because the songs are infectiously catchy. But I enjoyed hanging out with these characters one last time. As a theatrical release, High School Musical 3 is certainly shot better than the previous two, even though you can literally map out the entire movie from the beginning. For something that started out as a Disney Channel Original Movie and later became a cultural phenomenon, I can forgive a little repetition.

MVP Watch: 2012

Slim pickings this year, but I managed to find just enough for a respectable ballot.

MVP: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Following Cumberbatch, that makes two chick magnets in a row I’ve selected as the winner. JGL appeared in four well-received 2012 films: The Dark Knight Rises (the Robin reveal is more Nolan’s fault than his), Premium Rush (which I’ve heard described as a crazy high-speed chase movie I need to see), Looper (as young Bruce Willis), and Lincoln (as the President’s son). Gordon-Levitt has had a few leading roles in things like (500) Days of Summer, but he’s primarily carved out a nice career as a reliable supporting actor who directors can feel safe about casting. Nolan, Spielberg, multiple collaborations with Rian Johnson…who doesn’t like the guy?

Honorable Mentions
Anne Hathaway: Co-starring with JGL in Dark Knight Rises as way-better-than-Halle-Berry Catwoman, Hathaway one-upped herself by winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her cameo in Les Misérables. All jokes aside, her portrayal of Fantine is brutal and emotional, which is more than I can say for the rest of the movie.
Jennifer Lawrence: OVERRATED! Nah, I’ll be nice for once. Continuing the connective thread from actor to actor, Lawrence also won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and kicked off a franchise as Katniss in The Hunger Games. I may not like most of her work, but J-Law has easily become a modern movie star whose success reached its peak in 2012.
Chris Hemsworth: Obviously, he returned as Thor for Marvel’s first big team-up The Avengers. But he also did a smaller horror film Cabin in the Woods (coincidentally written by Avengers director Joss Whedon); I’ve yet to find it anywhere, but it’s supposed to be one of the better satirical takes on the genre. Sadly, the best Hemsworth fell out of contention by agreeing to star opposite home-wrecker Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman.
Channing Tatum: This might be the most good-looking MVP ballot I’ve assembled thus far. Tatum finally put his natural charm to good use in 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike surprisingly (which he also produced based on his own upbringing). He’s certainly turned it around since, huh?

Scarface (1983) – 82%

Due to my age and upbringing, I skew heavily in favor of more recent movies on this blog. But today is a special day: I’m going to throw my weight behind a film that’s nearly 100 years old. WHAT??? I actually saw the 1932 version of Scarface in one of my college film history classes; it’s not an instant classic, but I recognized the impact the film had on the gangster genre. As an added bonus, it clocks in at a short and sweet 95 minutes…which is more than I can say for the remake starring one Al Pacino. At nearly twice the length, the 1983 Scarface in no way improves upon the original nor attempts to say anything different, which should be the main goals of any remake.

Let’s start with Pacino, everyone’s favorite Cuban actor…wait, what? In the fifty years since the original Scarface, someone in Hollywood decided to update the setting from 1920s Chicago to 1980s Florida. Makes sense as a reflection of modern drug culture, but then they had to go and cast Pacino, who’s decidedly…um…not Cuban. In fact, he comes from an Italian background, which would’ve better suited the 1932 movie if they had kept the original iteration of the character Tony Camonte, an Italian immigrant. Instead, his culturally appropriated Tony Montana sounds like Sylvester Stallone at the end of the first Rocky. I don’t know what accent he thinks he’s doing, but it made parts of the film completely unintelligible. You couldn’t give the part to a young Andy Garcia?

Perhaps more atrocious than the casting of Pacino is the writing. Oliver Stone, who later became an acclaimed director himself, penned the screenplay while battling his own cocaine addiction (research purposes?) and it shows. Everyone obviously knows the iconic line “say hello to my little friend,” but here are a few others that made me audibly groan:

“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”

“This town is like a great big [insert other name for cat] just waiting to get [F-worded].”

“All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one.”

There are many more, most of which prominently feature profanity, but it feels like this version of Scarface was trying too hard to glamorize the criminal lifestyle that the dialogue was written as over-the-top as possible to match. It clearly worked because this is the one poster you’ll find most often in college dorm rooms (along with Pulp Fiction).

Furthermore, I don’t think Scarface holds up if you watch it today. First of all, Tony Montana’s relationship with his sister Gina borders on Cersei-and-Jaime territory. Even though she’s visibly drugged at the end, it’s still unsettling to see a younger sister slowly exposing herself to her older coke-riddled brother while whispering, “is this what you want, Tony?” Sure, the 1932 version also depicts a close sibling relationship, but it never reached incest level. Speaking of Tony’s sister, there’s a crucial plot point involving her that makes absolutely no sense in both versions. In short, Tony sees his best friend Manny (played by Steven Bauer, the only actual Cuban in the cast) with Gina and kills him in a fit of rage. As she’s weeping over his dead body, she reveals that the two had secretly married and were planning to surprise Tony. Let me stop you right there: in what universe do you think Tony Montana, one of the most abrasive and uncontrollable criminals out there, likes surprises? After the last run-in with a boyfriend, Gina really thought it would be a good idea to elope with Tony’s right-hand man? It’s a colossally stupid move that serves as the final nail in the coffin for Tony; by losing Manny and essentially alienating his sister in the process, there’s no one left in his life (not to mention Michelle Pfeiffer walking out on him), leading him to go crazy in the final shootout.

Remaking Scarface is not the problem here; there are themes relating to corruption and the abuse of power that you can continue exploring in the crime genre, even with the same source material. But this gross misuse of excess is not the answer. Every aspect is bloated from the runtime to the bullets to the heaping pile of cocaine on Pacino’s desk. The characters are creepy, misogynistic, and generally unlikable. Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone attempt to replicate the greatness that Scorsese put forth around the same time, but it just comes off as a discount version. To make matters worse, they dedicate the film to Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht (director and writer of the 1932 original respectively); I can’t imagine what a slap in the face that would’ve been to those two individuals if they had been alive to witness a far inferior dramatization of the same story. Just do yourself a favor and watch Goodfellas instead.

*I don’t know why I hate “cult classics” so much. First Big Trouble in Little China, then Temple of Doom, and now this. I guess I just don’t see the appeal; the parts of Scarface and those other films that specifically bother me clearly don’t have the same effect on my peers. Maybe I’ll come around in the future, but in the meantime, I’m thankful it gave me three more writing ideas.