Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Captain Fantastic

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Captain Fantastic (Bleecker StreetUniversal Pictures)

captain-fantastic-poster

Written & Directed by Matt Ross

Starring Viggo MortensenFrank LangellaKathryn Hahn & Steve Zahn

Philosophical and intellectual plot holes in abundance but Captain Fantastic is still a pretty good film. No really it is.

Captain Fantastic is the story of a family that has lived for years off the grid. Self-sufficient. Healthy and happy. Until family tragedy (the mother’s mental illness and death) forces them to rejoin the world, begrudgingly and hysterically. This is a fish out of water family. Who clearly benefit from healthy living and minimized technological distractions. But the children have no experience with modern society and very few social skills while at the same time being capable, confident, and extremely intelligent. It is a great movie. And in between yelling at it for being wrong about so many things, I liked it… I guess.

Verdict: SPARED

captain-fantastic

The kids of Captain Fantastic are all amazing. (great actors and great characters) The idea is… interesting (I use that word a lot). The kids in this movie are all smarter than me (or is that smarter than I?). I really liked how bright the children are. I liked how well-trained they were for survival. But any well-rounded training would also include etiquette and social discourse. So I felt this was a tremendous plot hole. And any reading list would include books about human interaction (at least Dale Carnegie’s How to…). But the most egregious plot hole is that they call the mother a Buddhist throughout the film and yet her children know very little about Buddhist philosophy. I guess that part of the curriculum is forgotten.

captain-fantastic

The “hippie” movement is made fun of quite a lot. And becomes a running joke throughout the film. They make fun of the idea of celebrating Noam Chomsky’s birthday. (HOLES!!!) I did enjoy the joke about not making fun of fat people (Americans are a fat and sickly population and it’s not a joke). But the children are told that it’s okay to make fun of Christians. Then they pretend to be ultra-religious Christian home-schooled kids to scare off police who come snooping around their bus. That was genius. But if you’re strongly Christian you might find that as annoying as I found the fake Buddhism.

captain-fantastic-school-bus

Captain Fantastic is very good from a pure enjoyment stand point but the way it flings around political terms and claims of being morally superior is troubling. The mother was supposedly a Buddhist but never taught her kids not to steal. Not to mention that she was wealthy and didn’t have to steal. The mother was supposedly a Buddhist but in the first scene they kill a deer. I guess the mother was a pretend Buddhist like most of the 60’s hippie children of rich parents. Not interested enough to do the research.

captain-fantastic-2

Then there’s the nonsense about the mother’s mental disorder and her husband sending her to a facility away from her children and her natural food and her healthy lifestyle. Of course she died. And yes I’m saying 100% healthy living is better than all the antipsychotics that exist or will exist for helping to handle even the most serious mental afflictions. (I know this for a fact) There were so many of these social, economic, philosophical and political plot holes in their upbringing that it became annoying. I liked the ending though. It’s a good movie (really it is). Fantastic writing (everything but the philosophy stuff). Good performances from all the kids. Viggo Mortensen is great once again. It’s just the movie pretends to be smarter than it is.

captain-fantastic-movie

But of course, if they did things my way, there wouldn’t be a movie. The mother would still be alive. The kids would be capable of social discourse. They would grow their own food. Not kill animals for selfish reasons. And they surely would not have cut off Sweet Child O’ Mine before the change. That’s the best part of the song. What the hell, Matt?

captain-fantastic-2016

Captain Fantastic is a great film about family but a horrible film about philosophy. It’s like they had all of these heady ideas and in trying to find a balance with ignorance (that seems to be a running theme these days. Ignorance gets to have its say, in our schools, in our politics, and in our fucking movies) the film-makers poke fun or completely misinterpret simple ideas about compassion and healthy living.

You know you can entertain and still inform right?

captain-fantastic-cast

Captain Fantastic features a fantastic cast and a fantastic story and a fantastic premise, it just has a very tenuous grasp on its own philosophical concepts. But it’s still a delightful story with an excellent cast of fine young actors. So I liked it, I guess.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: The Edge of Seventeen (Obscured by Moonlight)

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

dear-melvin

“Dear Melvin, No matter how hard I try, I will never grow up to be a black man. Love Nadine.”

Wow, talk about not knowing where a review is going when you start writing it.

This one is quite the journey.

"Quite the journey? Doesn't he know I will punch him in the dick?"

“Quite the journey? What the fuck? Doesn’t he know I will punch him in the dick?”

The Edge of Seventeen (STX Entertainment)

the-edge-of-seventeen-poster

Written & Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring Hailee SteinfeldWoody HarrelsonKyra SedgwickHaley Lu Richardson & Blake Jenner

This is a hard one to review. The movie is good. The Edge of Seventeen is the story of a socially awkward but whip-smart seventeen year old girl. I really liked it. It is cute and funny and smart and all that good stuff. But the reason I find it so hard to review is that I couldn’t identify with it. Not even a little. Which isn’t usually a problem but the last film I watched was so fucking personal and identifiable. Moonlight was also a coming of age tale like Edge but from a totally different cultural, sexual, financial and social POV. I hate it when I’m watching a movie so soon after another and it affects the way I look at the second. That’s what happened here. The Edge of Seventeen was an excellent movie that didn’t deserve to be compared to Moonlight. It is, however. So this is less of a review and more of the tale of how Moonlight screwed up the way I saw The Edge of Seventeen. Film Comparison Alert!!! Don’t watch these movies back to back.

Verdict: SPARED

the-edge-of-seventeen

“So let me get this straight. He’s going to compare a comedy about a white girl living in the suburbs to a drama about a black boy living in the hood?” “Yes. And I’m going to punch him in the dick.” “Oh no. I got that part.”

Moonlight tells the story of a gay black boy who is secretly in love with his bisexual best friend. The Edge of Seventeen tells the story of a straight white girl whose only friend is secretly in love with her over-achieving twin brother. So I’m reading sexual tension between the friends that wasn’t there, in Edge. While seeing her pain at her brother and best friend’s relationship as more about jealousy than it was meant to be. And that’s not the story. God damn it, Moonlight. You ruin everything.

"Napoleon Dynamite. That's what you compare this teen comedy to. Not some Oscar winning drama. See the comparison? It's not fair."

“Napoleon Dynamite. That’s what you compare this teen comedy to. Not some Oscar-winning drama. See the comparison? See it? Look at it. It’s not fair.”

In The Edge of Seventeen the main character is a socially awkward fast-talking wordsmith. And I think I’m getting a little tired of that. And I get it. Writers write what they know. And these talented women screenwriters are writing these socially awkward but creatively and linguistically skilled little girls because that’s more than likely what they were growing up. It’s the Diablo Cody effect. It’s fun and makes for a likable main character. But I don’t know. I identify with her more when the character’s inner monologue is brilliant but what comes out of her mouth isn’t. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Or maybe it’s because Moonlight featured a main character who said like five words the entire movie. God damn it, Moonlight. You ruin everything.

"Oooh. He's gonna get such a punch."

“Oooh. He’s gonna get such a dick punch.”

Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic. So is Woody Harrelson as her teacher. The Edge of Seventeen is very funny when these two are on-screen together. He handles her tough exterior and brutal honesty with an almost reckless honesty of his own. This mentor relationship is a stark contrast from the one in Moonlight but with tons of similarities as she uses him to hide from bullies and awkwardness at school and goes to his house to escape un-comfortableness at her home with her mom. Similar to Little’s relationship with the drug dealer Juan in Moonlight. A beautiful parallel between the two amazing movies.

"Well then let me ask you this one, smart guy. Where's MY Oscar? Huh? The other guy got an Oscar."

“Well then let me ask you this one, smart guy. Where the fuck’s my Oscar? Huh? The other guy got an Oscar. What’s up with that? A beautiful parallel my ass.”

In The Edge of Seventeen, Kyra Sedgwick plays the mom who is spiraling out of control because of personal tragedy and again I couldn’t help but compare her to the mom in Moonlight. Of course there, the tragedy affects the mother and son’s over-all quality of life a lot more. In The Edge of Seventeen they continue to live in the same nice house and great neighborhood despite her mom’s psychological turmoil. Maybe this is cultural. Maybe it’s the crack cocaine. I can’t say.

"Are you mad because I don't sell crack in the movie? I can do it. Give me the crack. I'll sell it. Give me the crack."

“Are you mad because I don’t sell crack in the movie? I can do it you know. I will sell the hell outta some crack. Give me some crack. I’ll sell it. Give me the crack, you fucking racist.”

Both films, (both wonderful films I might add) feature a sexual awakening but just from drastically different points of view. One male. One female. One straight. One gay. Culturally, racially different. Awkward teenage sexual awakening on film. Hard to watch at times but both films handle it brilliantly. The Edge of Seventeen making us laugh and Moonlight making us cry. (God damn it, Moonlight) But both films making us smile.

the-edge-of-seventeen-happy-dance

Happy Dance.

Because in the end, they are both love stories. Excellent love stories. Gorgeous cinematic young love stories. Exquisitely similar and painfully different. Beautiful and ugly at the same time. Dynamically and diametrically opposed reflections of each other. And it doesn’t matter if it’s funny or dramatic or something in-between. If they’re gay or straight or somewhat in-between. Male and female or someone in-between. Black and white and everything in-between. Love is love and LOVE is love and love is loooove and LoVe is LOVE!!! and… Love?

"Well that sure took him long enough." "I know, right?"

“Well that sure took him long enough.” “I know, right? And now you won’t have to punch him in the dick.” “Eh. I still might. I haven’t decided.”

I take it back. I take it all back. These two movies compliment each other beautifully. Watch them one after the other. I dare you. I implore you. I’m begging you. The Edge of Seventeen is a fantastically funny film to experience right after watching the emotional and amazing Moonlight. It just took me seven paragraphs to fucking realize it.

My bad.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Moonlight

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Moonlight (A24)

moonlight-poster

Written & Directed by Barry Jenkins

Starring Trevante RhodesAndré HollandJanelle MonáeAshton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris & Mahershala Ali

Wow. I did not see that coming. That was not even close to what I expected it to be. I was thinking this movie, Moonlight. This academy award-winning motion picture was about some hood type shit. Thug life update. Boyz n tha Hood meets Dope. But Moonlight is a straight up love story. Surprised the hell out of me. It’s very good though. The direction is amazing. The cinematography is unbelievably gorgeous. And the performances are fantastic. But the story. The story is this surprising epic love story. That just took me by surprise. Amazing. Fucking amazing.

Verdict: SPARED

moonlight

Moonlight wins best picture over the marginally over-rated La La Land because it is a better love story than La La Land. Much more believable and real. With pain and pathos and grit and gravitas. It is truly an amazing film. But it’s one of those dramas that you know is going to win all the awards because it’s painful to watch. And that’s because of all the emotional power and this movie packs some emotional power. Moonlight is a powerful film.

moonlight-mom

Moonlight is about a fragile little boy from the hood who doesn’t want to go home because his mother is spiraling out of control with drugs. Doesn’t want to go to school because his peers already know what he hasn’t admitted to himself. A boy who, frankly, doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin.

moonlight-2

The movie is in three parts (that’s why the poster has that three-part face on it). 1.Little. when he is little. Called Little by his friends (faggot and gay boy by his enemies) 2.Chiron. When he’s in High School. Called Chiron (his real name) by his friends now “Little” by his tormentors and lastly 3.Black. When he has grown into a black man. This division allows us to see the kid’s growth as a human being and his mother’s descent into addiction. Again, it’s powerful and painful to watch while at the same time an absolute joy to watch. It’s fucking gorgeous.

moonlight

His friendship with a local drug kingpin and his relationship with his drug addicted mother are pivotal plot point (with some beautiful and poetic irony and two insanely good performances), but they take a back seat to his sexual identity. Which the movie doesn’t hit us over the head with. Instead it bubbles underneath. Becoming a subtle but powerful (there’s that word again) underlying theme through all three parts.

moonlight-3

Moonlight hits very close to home for me as the boy tries to come to grips with his confusing sexuality and his (even more confusing) relationship with his mother. And at times it was almost too uncomfortable to watch (I had to cover my eyes more than once). A little too familiar, too triggering, too disturbing, for reasons that are too personal to get into on the blog (that’s right there’s shit I don’t talk about).

moonlight-4

Moonlight is refreshingly original, well-written and expertly directed with some of the best performances of last year. This is one of those movies that you carry with you for a while. Genuine and lovely and powerful. I know I keep saying how powerful it is but that’s probably the best word to describe it. Moonlight is a powerful film. Perfect in every way. Not average in any way. Unexpected. Genuine. Gorgeous. Powerful.

moonlight-maserhala-ali

When I pressed play on the DVD, Moonlight had already won best picture but I had no idea what I was getting into. What seemed like it was going to be a gangster’s coming of age tale of addiction and family and Black American neighborhood drama, turns out to be an epic LGBT love story.

And I did not see that one coming.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: The Girl With All The Gifts

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

The Girl With All The Gifts (Warner Bros. Pictures [UK] Saban Films [United States])

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-poster

Directed by Colm McCarthy

Written by M.R. Carey  Based on The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Starring Gemma ArtertonPaddy ConsidineGlenn Close & Sennia Nanua

This movie was annoying. The Girl With All The Gifts is one of those movies that I couldn’t help but yell at all the way through. It’s tense and it’s got some cool bits and some good performances and a clever twist on the zombie apocalypse. But as with all zombie stories there are big holes in logic. Especially when it comes to how to make zombie children. However, before you think I didn’t like the movie, I actually liked The Girl With All The Gifts in between the annoying parts, because it was cute and silly, even while it was being gross and scary. And that was a very clever combination.

Verdict: SPARED

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-melanie

The Girl With All The Gifts is a zombie children’s story. A nightmare told from the point of view of a zombie little girl. The girl is awesome and she is sweet and she is scary. And yes, she is hungry. Zombies in the movie aren’t called Zombies. The Z word is never spoken. No one wants to use the word anymore. Because all the Zombie comedies from the last couple of decades have ruined the moniker for more serious films.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts is a serious film. Sure, it’s entirely from the child’s POV (just like the wonderful film Room) but this is a child that was raised in an institution that fears her and treats her like she’s a cross between a monster and a lab rat. It’s awful how they treat her. But that didn’t change the fact that every time someone turns their back on her, I thought she was going to try to eat them. I kind of hoped she would eat them actually. Like holding a bloody steak in front of the cutest little rabid dog and hoping for the best.

the_girl_with_all_the_gifts

The children in the lab are the offspring of turned women. The babies turn en utero and eat their way out. This is the biggest plot hole of the bunch and again I liked the movie. I really liked the movie. So I’m not going to go into how this is monumentally stupid and an awful premise. I have only one word for you. And that word is teeth. But that’s not the only hole in this awful premise. The one about the rending of uncooked flesh from the inside by a fetus without canine incisors… you know what. I just said that I wasn’t going to get into that.

girl-with-all-the-gifts-gemma-atherton

Pay no attention to that plot hole behind the curtain. The Girl With All The Gifts is an enjoyable fairy-tale of a zombie nightmare with some excellent performances from the four lead actors. Glenn Close is outstanding as the scientist in charge of the experiments to find a cure using these Zombie-hybrid children. Gemma Atherton is sufficiently annoying as the school teacher who keeps forgetting that her charges are human eating machines (and by human eating machines I mean they eat humans). Paddy Considine is fantastic as the sergeant who gradually learns to trust the young monster with his life. And “the girl” (played by Sennia Nanua) is amazing and she carries the entire movie (she’s in every scene) with astonishingly broad shoulders for such a little frame.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts is a great film idea and story with a few major glitches here and there along the way. More than a few yell at the screen moments of stupidity and some clever, if maddeningly sloppy, film-making. I don’t know if you can tell that I liked it from this review. But I liked it. Even though it annoyed me, I liked it a lot. Go watch it. (though you may hate it, so for god’s sake don’t buy it without watching it first… that would be recklessly putting too much faith in my opinion)

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-pic

The Girl With All The Gifts is the sweetest little horror of a nightmarish monster of a zombie movie fairy-tale that you really shouldn’t turn your back on.

Watch it with the lights out.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Kubo and the Two Strings

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus Features)

kubo-and-the-two-strings poster

Directed by Travis Knight

Written by Marc Haimes, Chris Butler and Shannon Tindle

Starring Charlize TheronArt ParkinsonRalph FiennesRooney MaraGeorge Takei & Matthew McConaughey

What a fantastic movie. Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young guitar player & storyteller and his epic adventure to find the end of his own heroic story. I loved this movie so much. It is lyrical like an epic poem and melancholic like an ancient sonnet. And although sometimes its need for comedy can hamper the melody, it’s not enough to ruin the music. And this movie, good god, this movie has everything. A kid with a huge chip on his shoulder, who likes to tell stories and play his guitar for passing strangers, while dreaming of one day being a god. Throw in a mentally ill mom and a tall-tale about his father, and it makes me have to ask, Who the hell’s been reading my diary? But I’ll say it again, this is a fantastic movie.

Verdict: SPARED

kubo-and-his-axe

Kubo wears that guitar like a Katana across his back. Kubo is Japanese for bad-ass.

Kubo & the Two Strings is a tale about family & honor. It’s a fable about love & courage. It’s a story about memory & redemption. But at its core, it’s a meditation about loss and about vision. It is wonderful.

paper-samurai

Paper Samurai is gonna give you a nasty paper cut. You will respect.

Kubo is a young busker, blind in one eye but skilled at the art of story-telling. And blessed with an origami magic he inherited from his mentally disturbed mother. He collects coins he earns from playing his guitar and spinning his stories at the marketplace by day. While at night he hides in his mountain cave… from the moon.

kubos-mom

Kubo’s mom wailing out. (voiced by Charlize Theron)

This is just the beginning of what turns out to be an epic tale full of heroes and villains and love and adventure and sacrifice and discovery and I would surely throw the kid a few coins because this boy can tell a story. Kubo and the Two Strings is well-worth the price of admission.

kubo-and-the-two-strings

Villainous twin sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara)

The animation is a gorgeous combination of stop-motion and conventional artwork. The music is amazing. A beautiful, sparse, traditional Japanese music that creates a reverence for its morality tale. Even the end credits song, a Regina Spektor version of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, is fucking incredible in its instrumentation and that same traditional Japanese lyrical beauty. The movie is gorgeous to watch and gorgeous to hear.

kubo

Kubo, he’s a born showman. (voiced by Art Parkinson)

Kubo is perfect. The story. The voice acting. The music. The animation. An amazing movie from top to bottom. With a lovely moral center. Not too sweet. Not too childish. A work of fine art to be displayed in the museum of animation. Is there a museum of animation? If not, somebody please build one so we can put this damn movie in it.

kubo-and-the-two-strings

Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) has taken offense at something I said. Whatever it was, I take it back.

Kubo is definitely the best animated film I have seen from last year. But granted, I haven’t seen them all yet. However, Kubo and the Two Strings (…and oh my god, the title is so powerful. So perfect. So bad-ass.) Kubo and those mother fucking Two Strings will be a hard one to beat.

– Mel