Saturday, August 17, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Today I saw Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, starring Zoe Margaret Colletti and Michael Garza.

As a child in the '80s, many lunchtimes were spent huddled underneath a table in the school library with my friends, reading aloud from the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I remember some of the characters and stories so vividly I can still see them in my mind's eye.

So when I heard that an adaptation was coming to the big screen and Guillermo del Toro was involved, I got very excited. Unfortunately I later learned that this film would carry a PG-13 rating, which usually means it won't be allowed to be as scary as it could be, but I was still willing to give it a chance, so I did. Here's what I thought:

The pros:

The screenwriters do a nice job of weaving together the stories with one cohesive narrative. The kids visit a haunted house on Halloween and disturb the wrong entity. She starts writing stories in a book they have possession of to destroy each of them one by one.

The visuals are very close to what I remember of the book and come alive in horrifically magical ways.

The child actors are all quite good and not the least bit annoying. Together they have a "Goonies" vibe, which is a lot of fun.

The cons:

It takes them a while to get to the first story. Too long. And the Halloween sequence going after the bully feels too much like so many other movie scenes of the same nature.

It's almost gratuitous with gore. Sure, many of the stories (the toe, etc.) have gross elements to them, but I had to look away more than I'd have preferred.

They dialed down some of the most terrifying elements probably because of the rating, which is a shame because the book used to keep me up at night; this did not.

All-in-all it was entertaining, but in a sanitized-for-the-YA-crowd sort of way, which was disappointing. If they make a second, I hope they'll go for the R rating.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Last night I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

This was the most fun I've had at a Tarantino film since Pulp Fiction.

The year is 1969 and Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a has-been television star that is struggling with the reality that his best days are behind him. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double and best friend who has a tarnished reputation in the entertainment industry for allegedly killing his wife. They are both very "Hollywood" in their own right.

Rick lives next door to Roman Polanski (RafaƂ Zawierucha) on an affluent Benedict Canyon street. He hopes to connect with the famed director, but has yet to encounter him directly. Booth lives alone with his trusted dog and keeps a positive attitude despite his entire existence being dependent on Dalton's success.

We explore Dalton's pain—and hubris—through a series of meetings and parts he's won as he struggles to stay relevant. We understand just how much of a badass Cliff is based on his ability to protect himself in any given situation (even coming face to face with the Manson family on the abandoned ranch where they reside).

They're both hilarious in their own ways, sad as their situation may be, and as we watch them each navigate their self-imposed drama, we become distracted by following the idyllic life of rising star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who is married to Polanski and also lives next door.

Tate hangs out with friends, goes to see her own film at a nearby theater and generally seems like a lovely human being. Anyone who knows the real history of what became of her will feel a sense of dread as the summer progresses in the film.

It would be spoiling everything to go any further, but I will say that the "controversies" (Tarantino's treatment of women and representation of Bruce Lee) in this film I find to be silly. Every thing he does to every woman and the famed Asian star are part of the storytelling that's needed to shape his anti-hero (Booth). The laughs and gasps and reactions from the audience work because of this writing and I for one don't think he needs to apologize for it—he's not making a documentary, after all.

And men did call women "honey" in the workplace in the 1960s (for God's sake in some workplaces, they still do). As for the violence? Well, I knew what I was getting into when I bought a ticket to a Tarantino movie.

What a joy to watch DiCaprio and Pitt on-screen together, clearly having a great time; and what a thrill to see footage of the real Sharon Tate spliced in with Robbie's elegant portrayal of her.

I may just have to go see it again.


Monday, August 05, 2019

Late Night

Yesterday I saw Late Night, starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson.

Molly (Kaling) works at a chemical plant, loves comedy and wants to be a writer. She applies for a position at a Late Night television show where Katherine (Thompson) is an aging, out-of-touch host. Because they need a “diversity hire” she gets the job—never mind the fact she has no experience in the industry.

Soon she’s adapting to an otherwise all-male writers’ room full of egos and habits that are hard to break, plus the abuse that comes from the top, as the boss is resistant to change, though her ratings are steadily dropping.

Molly has fresh ideas and she’s not afraid to share them, which gets her into some trouble, but she is undeterred. As Katherine’s situation becomes worse and worse, she has to decide whether or not to listen to Molly or potentially lose her show.

Mindy's character has the potential to be annoying, but isn't in the least and Emma's has the potential to be one-note, yet is refreshingly multi-dimensional. And the men—even the bros—have redemptive qualities, though they could have easily been written as stereotypically awful.

Put simply: this perfectly paced, satisfying film was such a welcome reprieve from the world that I almost turned around and bought a ticket to see it again upon its end. It's that great.

We need more films like this. Films that have a basic beginning, middle and end yet don't feel like fluff and allow us to care about the characters because there is something about them that is worth caring about.