Week 9 of 2019 (2/25 – 3/3)

2/25Elvis & Nixon2016
2/26The Master2012
2/27The Incredibles 22018
2/28Lady Bird2017
3/1It Happened in L.A.2017
3/2Their Finest2016

February 25

Day 56 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is Elvis & Nixon, starring Michael Shannon & Kevin Spacey as those two title characters in a fictional account of their actual meeting in the White House that occurred in December of 1970.

This movie was really pretty tame, but still there were moments of great humor as you see Elvis half-heartedly trying to move around under an assumed name in D.C. and failing because, well, he’s one of the most famous people on the planet. Elvis is jaded a bit and starting to feel his age… there’s a hilarious bit where he’s explaining to his friend Jerry all the skin and hair care products he takes with him on his travels to maintain the persona of “the King” while also movingly lamenting that no one really knows him anymore. The actual meeting is near-farcical in its runup as the White House staff is telling Elvis what the usual protocol is for meeting the President and his guys are telling the WH staffers what the protocol is for meeting Elvis.

The performances were great all around. Kevin Spacey did a good job as Nixon for this movie, and Colin Hanks as Egil Krogh was hilarious. But the real shining parts come with the scenes between Shannon’s Elvis and Alex Pettyfer’s Jerry Schilling (the real Jerry Schilling wrote the book this film was based on). It was nice to see two friends reunite and to see Jerry risk his own potential marriage waiting in L.A. to help his old friend finish a quest, even for something as weird as a position as an undercover “Federal Agent-At-Large”. It has a nice ending as well that pays off the earlier bits of the movie. Well worth seeing!

February 26

Day 57 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie was, in fact, quite challenging. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film The Master, which was inspired in part by the early years of a particular organization that will remain nameless for this post, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled man who falls under the sway of an oddly charismatic group leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

I think I may just have trouble watching any of Anderson’s films with any sense of understanding. I’ve seen several of his movies now, and so far Punch-Drunk Love was the only one I connected with and enjoyed. I suppose it’s possible that The Master was deliberate in trying to keep you off balance to match the main character, but I just found it distracting.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance garnered absolutely no empathy or sympathy. Honestly, I just didn’t give a f**k what happened to his character. Hoffman’s work as Lancaster Dodd was far more interesting and engrossing, as befits that character, I think. Amy Adams was terrific as his wife Peggy, who displays her own formidable influence on both the members and the leader of “The Cause”. There was also a great scene partway through the film set at a party with a critic of the movement, played expertly by the late Christopher Evan Welch. That scene and a final one between Freddie (Phoenix) and Dodd were the only two that I was really drawn in by in the whole film.

I cannot tell you to “skip this film”, because I know that Anderson is a good filmmaker. But I will say that his films just aren’t for me… and that’s okay!

February 27

Day 58 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 2018’s The Incredibles 2 from Disney/Pixar. Picking up right where the first film left off (14 years ago!), the family is out of house and home because of the events of the first film, in addition to still being illegal superheroes. But a billionaire tech wiz offers to help overturn the law by turning mom Elastigirl into a popular icon. Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible tries to play stay-at-home dad.

So, the overall plot is very similar to the first movie, with a swap of roles between the two parents. The villain was predictable for me and the ending is, of course, modern Disney-level friendly and happy. But I did enjoy the film overall. Everyone from the original voice cast is pretty much back (except for a different actor for Dash, because puberty) and a slew of new heroes are introduced into the mix. There are also a bunch of hilarious bits involving the baby and all his powers, which conveniently come in handy during the course of the movie. It felt slow at the start for me, but so did the first one. Once the main plot really got moving, then it became a fun ride.

February 28

Day 59 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! At long last (I’m sure as far as my friend & podcast co-host Brian is concerned), I watched 2017’s Lady Bird. The film shows the trials and tribulations of a high school senior in Sacramento as she deals with school, family, getting in to college, and her impending adulthood.

I enjoyed the movie, although the first part of it really dragged for me even though it’s only 90 minutes. I mean, I checked the time at one point because I thought we were halfway through and the movie was only 30 minutes in. Saoirse Ronan is terrific though as the title character, and her interactions with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) are gold. Some of their arguments over which colleges Lady Bird should be applying to reminds me of the discussions I had with my own mother at that age… and for similar reasons. (Then again, I didn’t throw myself out of a moving car, either, so there’s that.) Despite my thoughts about some of the pacing, this is an objectively good movie, as evidenced by 5 Oscar nominations as well as Golden Globe wins for the movie and Ronan herself. If you’re looking for a similar film to pair it with, I would recommend 2004’s Saved!. It’s more of a flat-out comedy, but it has a similar setting as well as themes and incidents that occur in both movies and I enjoyed that one as well.

March 1

Day 60 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is 2017’s It Happened in L.A., which was written/directed by and starring Michelle Morgan as one of a group of rather vapid and shallow friends who can’t seem to figure out what is wrong in their relationships.

This movie was really flat and almost as shallow as its characters. I’m not sure if that wasn’t actually the point, but it left me really disengaged with what little story there was. There were a couple of moments that were nice, and a scene involving helping a hooker steal her TV back that was actually pretty funny. But overall, unless you can’t get enough of the idea that L.A. is full of people like this*, then skip this one.

*While I cannot deny that these kinds of people actually exist, my own experience is that they’re much rarer than depicted and not all as over-the-top…

March 2

Day 61 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 2016’s Their Finest. During the London Blitz, a Welsh secretary (Gemma Arterton) is brought on as a screenwriter for “the female slop”. She helps create a propaganda film set during the Dunkirk evacuation.

This is kind of a fun film, even despite the grim period in which it’s set. Loosely based on some true events and people, it’s got some good humorous moments as well as some more forceful moments that demonstrate the reality that they lived with in London at that time. There’s even a little romance thrown in, which felt a little contrived… but I still liked it! Arterton gives a terrific performance in the lead role, and there are also some great and funny supporting work from Bill Nighy as an aging film idol, Jake Lacy as an American airman put into the picture for the international appeal (echoing most modern American studio films), and even a hilarious cameo from Jeremy Irons.

Truth is, I’ll watch just about any film set during World War 2, I’m not sure why. So for my fellow buffs out there, this is a nice addition to the field.

March 3

Day 62 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is 2017’s Okja, about a genetically created superpig that is stolen from the company that made her by an animal liberation group and the girl who raised it.

This is a rather weird movie, but very funny, helped by amazing performances from Tilda Swinton (who’s bizarrely great in everything– EVERYTHING!!) as the head of the corporation & her own twin sister, Giancarlo Esposito (also fantastic in everything) as her right-hand man and Jake Gyllenhaal as a nature show host hired by the company to promote this project to the public. Also note 13-year-old Seo Hyun-Ahn as Mija, who raises Okja with her grandfather and is the beast’s best friend.

This movie is definitely one you have to pay attention to, since half of it is in Korean w/ English subtitles. Otherwise, you can miss little details that director/writer Bong Joon-ho is great at including. I also highly recommend his 2013 movie Snowpiercer, although that is a much darker and dramatic movie.

NOTE: Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 movie Parasite became an international phenomenon, becoming the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, along with a bunch of other awards… so many that the list has its own Wikipedia page.

A lot of the movies I watched this week didn’t really land for me as much as previous weeks, but I feel like my pick of the week is Incredibles 2. It worked enough for me this week even despite the retread nature of the plot.

This week was okay for the most, but stressful for a variety of reasons… mainly financial, given the shortened month in addition to rising costs of living. I haven’t been as diligent about my budget as I should be and I need to work on that as well as getting back into a more productive mode.

I’ve noticed now, being 60 days into this movie challenge, that there have been some days where I almost didn’t watch something. Not that I forgot, but I just had the urge to do something else. But I am committed to this challenge, so I’m happy to keep going with it.