Watching Resolution: Gerald’s Game (2017)

7. A film based on a book: Gerald’s Game (2017)

List Progress: 2/12

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, sexual violence, gore

I really like horror movies in theory. I think the concepts and stories can be fascinating, the use of special effects can be brilliant, and they can be masterpieces of tone and emotion. I am also a huge scaredy cat who has been kept up at night by many a monster. Gerald’s Game (2017), a Mike Flanagan film based on the 1992 Stephen King novel of the same name, not only kept me awake the night after I watched it, but forced me to take a break during the movie itself because it turned my stomach so hard. But despite all that, I have to say I enjoyed it. At this point, I might just be a film masochist.

The set-up for Gerald’s Game is simple and incredibly effective. Jessie, played by Carla Gugino, is on a “romantic” save-the-marriage trip to a remote lake house with her husband Gerald. While engaging in some kinky roleplay, Gerald handcuffs both of Jessie’s hands to the bedposts, then promptly has a heart attack and dies. That is all set-up, and the bulk of the film is Jessie alone and restrained, in a room with her husband’s body and trying not to die. It makes for a wonderful closed-room horror story, from the very small and human struggles, like how much effort it takes for her to retrieve a glass of water from a nearby shelf, to the more haunting and supernatural, like the monstrous red-eyed Moonlight Man figure she starts to see lurking in the dark corners. And the horrors soon ripple out far beyond the confines of the room, as Jessie becomes immersed in memories of her childhood abuse at the hands of her manipulative father and how those have colored her life and her relationships with controlling men like Gerald. Gerald’s Game is an escape-the-room mystery, a character study, and a ghost story all rolled into one, and it is addicting even as it’s incredibly hard to watch.

If you are going to watch this movie, prepare for some gore. Then continue preparing yourself, because it is a higher level of realistic gore on screen than I’ve ever seen before. I had to take a break and walk away because my stomach was literally turning and I felt sick, but I came back and watched the ending later and was glad I did. A lot of people have written dismissively about the ending (which I will discuss at the bottom of this), but I found it pretty satisfying, if overly long. The movie on the whole has some pacing problems, there are probably about ten minutes of fat that could be trimmed, but that does not stop it from being incredibly engaging. And god knows I’ve been thinking about the Moonlight Man for a long time, which is the mark of some effective horror.

Would I Recommend It: Yes, but pay close attention to those trigger warnings.

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Spoilers for the ending; if you’re likely to watch it, I would not recommend reading this:

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I know people think it was cheesy and sapped some of the mystery out of Jessie’s experiences, but I actually liked that the Moonlight Man was real; it tied into Jessie’s whole journey of facing her monsters for what they are and believing her own memories and experiences, rather than letting them be overwritten by others. There are certainly some criticisms to be made about using a “Scary Disfigured Psychopath” trope to get that across, but I think the concept itself is very solid.

Watching Resolution: Other People (2016)

5. A film based on a true story: Other People (2016)

List Progress: 1/12

I have some free time this week and decided to watch a movie that has been on my list for a while, and after the fact noticed that it fit (sort of) into my watching resolution list. 2016’s comedy-drama, heavy on the drama, Other People is not officially an autobiographical film, but is heavily based on writer and director Chris Kelly’s life and his mother’s battle with terminal cancer. So on the list it goes!

I feel like “dying family member” movies are a strange little subgenre of their own with a lot of the same beats and very often semi-autobiographical. I suppose there is something about a story like this that only comes from someone who has endured it. David, played by Jesse Plemons, moves home from NYC to Sacramento for a year while his mother slowly, painfully dies of cancer, and he has to navigate his own feelings and his complicated relationship with his family. David came out as gay nine years previously and was rejected back then, which has since evolved into a tentative truce and a lot of unspoken resentment. I did appreciate that the coming out part of the story was so far in the past, as it let the film explore some new territory in these types of stories, the tension that can remain after all the big emotions have spilled over.

Other People does not have a lot of new territory, so aspects like that stand out. But a lack of novelty is not necessarily a negative thing, as these life events have happened and will happen to many, many people and it’s all a matter of how they impact the people involved. Between Plemons, Molly Shannon as his mother and Bradley Whitford as his father, the cast is stacked with a lot of quietly charming and warm presences, nothing flashy but with a lot of heart there. One of the most interesting parts of the movie in my mind, which I did feel was a bit underexplored, is how David has distanced himself from and emotionally locked out his two younger sisters, despite the fact that they were not the ones who rejected him in the past. His siblings get caught up in a general disdain for his father and his hometown, and that feels like some very rich territory that only gets somewhat discussed. (I’m also just a sucker for interesting sibling dynamics.)

This movie is not going to blow your mind or change your heart, but it does feel like a very real, personal story about a family and tragedy, one that I’m sure it was powerful for Chris Kelly to make. It’s a bit slow, not everything works, but if you’re in the mood for a straight shot of emotions, there are far worse ways to spend your time.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

Watching Resolution: “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017)

5. A film based on a true story: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

List Progress: 5/12

There’s nothing more frustrating than an inconsistent movie. The things that Professor Marston and the Wonder Women does well are done exceptionally well. The weak spots aren’t terrible, but they are so much lesser than the highs that they become glaring. Some things that this movie does very, very well: cinematography, blocking of romance and sex scenes, chemistry between queer women.

The movie definitely gets extra points because some of those things are quite rare in cinema, but these are some of the things it fails at: chemistry between men and women, pay-offs for plot threads, anything directly to do with the publishing of comics. And in a  biopic about the polyamorous relationship of William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, those are some fairly glaring failures.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) is a biopic telling the supposedly true story of psychologist and professor William Moulton Marston, the inventor of both the lie detector machine and the Wonder Woman comics, and his relationship with his wife, fellow psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their mutual lover Olive Byrne. The degree to which this is a true story is fairly debated and refuted by one of the Marstons’ grandchildren, but no matter what the arrangement, the three did live together for many years and Marston fathered two children each with Elizabeth and Olive. The film presents the three of them in a polyamorous triad, with Elizabeth and Olive just as involved with each other, if not more so, than they were with William. And that is where some of the issues with the film come up.

Rebecca Hall in the role of Elizabeth Marston is magnetic, and she has amazing chemistry with Bella Heathcote’s Olive. The way it is presented, this feels like Elizabeth and Olive’s love story…and William is also there. Neither the writing, the acting from Luke Evans, nor the cinematography give William as much care and he ends up feeling like an afterthought despite being the supposedly main character. This may go a way towards explaining why so much time is spent on him being inspired to create Wonder Woman, but very, very little time on how he actually went about writing and publishing the comic books. The framing device of the film has him in an interview with a moral guardian trying to defend the bondage and BDSM themes and imagery in the early Wonder Woman comics, but it serves as little more than a way to get us into the flashbacks, without providing much insight into him itself.

I wish that I could complain that more movies favored their female characters to the detriment of the male ones, but in a film that is trying to portray a balanced, equal triad, it is somewhat disappointing.

There is a lot to like here, and I want to see infinitely more period pieces about polyamorous queer relationships through the ages. “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” does not quite hit the mark, but I would be thrilled if it starts a trend.

Would I Recommend It: Despite its faults, yes.

Watching Resolution: “The Decoy Bride” (2012)

9. A trashy movie: The Decoy Bride (2012)

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List Progress: 4/12

Oh, Netflix rom-coms, what strange joys you have brought into my life. My roommates and I have built several running jokes around quoting Jenny’s Wedding (2015) and how it uses “She Keeps Me Warm” in two different scenes in wildly inappropriate ways. My Santa (2013) is a beautifully incompetent holiday movie perfect for drunk watching. And now, browsing through cheap rom-coms has brought me another bit of inane fluff to enjoy: The Decoy Bride (2012).

The film 100% roped me in with two names high up in its billing: David Tennant plays the romantic lead, a nebbish author engaged to a movie star, and Dylan Moran plays a tabloid editor who I assume had a bigger role in an earlier cut of the film, considering he has two major scenes that seem to set-up a subplot that never manifested. Tennant’s character and his fiancee are hiding away on a small Scottish island to keep their wedding out of the limelight, and a local woman named Katie, played by Kelly MacDonald, gets roped into serving as a decoy bride in a fake wedding to throw off the press. She and Tennant get stuck together, rom-com tropes ensue.

The Decoy Bride isn’t bad because it’s fluffy or trite. It’s bad because it’s poorly put together, and the gaps make the fluff not hold together as well. I can see the ghosts of at least three earlier drafts in the script: one where Dylan Moran’s character had a bigger plotline, one where the fiancee had a meaner edge, and one where the star’s agent doesn’t disappear halfway through the film. The leftover script fragments leave the film very uneven and scattered, and the slap-slap-kiss development between Tennant and MacDonald does not have enough time to develop into something worth leaving a fiancee at the altar for. They have some chemistry, and I could watch David Tennant read a phone book, but not enough to bring together the gaps in the script.

The best moments in my mind are when it goes fully into cheese. A sequence where Tennant is stuck in a 70’s trendy bagpiper outfit, a collection of scheming old people trying to sell handicrafts to tourists, MacDonald making fun of the gift bags from the fake wedding, those are all cute moments. They just need a more secure script to hold them together.

It’s cute, it’s dumb, and it grossed $759 across its entire theatrical run. That about sums up a trashy movie in my mind.

Would I Recommend It: Ehhhhhh…if you need some absolute brain candy, there are better and worse films out there. A lukewarm yes.

Watching Resolution: “Love, Simon” (2018)

  1. A film released in 2018: Love, Simon (2018)

love simon

List Progress: 3/12

There are enough reviews for Love, Simon out there that if you want to know factual information about the movie, you can find it. So I am going to talk about the experience of seeing it in the theater.

I saw Love, Simon in a theater in the San Francisco Bay Area with my girlfriend sitting next to me. A few rows ahead of us, there were a handful of teenagers in the audience. We were fairly far forward, so I cannot speak a lot to the entirety of the audience, but I can say that those teenagers were having an intense emotional experience.

Lots of “awww’s”, both over cute moments and sad ones. Lots of vocal cringing and groaning during uncomfortable scenes. And at the reveal of the love interest’s identity, one impassioned shipper murmured “nooo” as her OTP was apparently crushed. It was like seeing someone’s fandom introduction play out in real time, and it was a feeling that I remember vividly and fondly from my own younger years. And getting to see that happen over a mainstream queer film meant a lot to me.

Love, Simon is a fluffy teenage rom-com with charming actors and some clever writing, nothing more, nothing less. But in a cinematic landscape of heartbroken dead queers, I will always take it. And I wish there had been more of it around when I was a kid.

 

Would I Recommend It: Buy a bag of popcorn and sit back for some good fluff.

Watching Resolution: “The Lego Batman Movie” (2017)

11. A children’s film: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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List Progress: 2/12

Na na na na na na na na, na na na na na na na na Lego Batmaaaaaaan!

I love this movie. I love this silly, silly movie. A spin-off of 2014’s The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie takes one of the best parts of that film and gives him a full film to stretch his legs. But if you are worried that the joke of Lego Batman being super intense and extreme all the time might wear thin over a full running time, you might be pleasantly surprised. Unlike many other Batman parodies that came before it, this film balances the larger-than-life central character with a strong supporting cast and a lot of clever writing. Between the obvious affection for the characters and all of the mythos gags in the script, this movie was clearly made by people who love Batman, but do not put Batman on a pedestal.

But what about the other half of the title, the “Lego” part? I was a fan of how the original The Lego Movie used its conceit, pinning the story around the act of creation, but for most of this film, this seemed like a Batman movie that could have been made with any type of animation, not specifically modeled after Legos. However, once the movie had lulled me into forgetting I was watching little plastic toys act out comics lore, the climax was built brilliantly around how the characters are literally Lego figures and can be used as Legos. Add into that the fact that the Lego company apparently had free reign to use any intellectual property that they have made figurines of, and it gets pretty surreal and amazing. If you ever want to see the Joker have a canon conversation with Voldemort and the Wicked Witch of the West, this is your movie.

It’s not perfect. The last third drags a bit and I wish Barbara Gordon had some more quirks of her own rather than being relegated to the empathetic straight man role. But the dry sense of humor had me cackling at a ton of points and Will Arnett is an amazing voice actor for this role (remembering he also plays the clinically depressed BoJack Horseman made this a bit of a trip to watch). The film is shockingly clever and snarky for a big budget animated film about a product placement, but what can I say? Good writing is good writing.

Would I Recommend It: Ooooh yes.

Watching Resolution: Room (2015)

7. A film based on a book: Room (2015)

List Progress: 1/12

Trigger warning: rape, abduction.

What better way to start out my 2018 list than with some harrowing trauma and misery? On a whim, I watched the 2015 film Room last night, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay. I have not read the novel, but I had heard a lot about this movie. It is about a young woman who has been held captive in a small enclosed room for seven years, where she has given birth to a son, who at the age of five has never seen the outside world and has no conception that anything exists beyond the walls of his home. The story is told from the son, Jack’s, perspective, and the first half is of the movie is almost entirely dialogue between Jack and Ma in their claustrophobic little home. And it is So. Good. The second half suffers a bit in trying to be too neat, but on the whole it was a great way to spend two painful hours.

Given how much of the film is just two actors, the whole thing is grounded by the performances of Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack, who was eight years old during filming. And this is really one of the best performances I’ve seen out of a child actor. Jack feels like a real kid, from his cutest moments to his most obnoxious lashing out, and his and Ma’s relationship inside Room is great to watch. The back end of the film feels weaker when Jack is made a little too inspirational and cute to balance out the turmoil Ma is going through, but it is still a great showing from both actors.

The subject matter should make it clear that this movie comes with some trigger warnings. Ma was kidnapped as a teenager and has been held by her rapist for seven years, with Jack’s conception as one of the results. Nothing explicit or gratuitous is shown on screen, and I really respect how the director, Lenny Abrahamson, filmed some things: Ma is shown comfortably bathing in a bathtub with Jack, but it is never played for titillation and she is never shown undressed or sexualized in relation to her attacker. Her brutal reality is kept on the edge’s of Jack’s awareness, shown more through Brie Larson’s raw, emotional performance than by any voyeuristic camera work. It is a delicate, respectful depiction of a victim and makes for a great movie.

Despite being a bit unbalanced and weaker in the back half, I definitely recommend watching Room. Just go in prepared for a hard watch.

Would I Recommend It: Yes, definitely.