Movies

A Romance Masquerading as Horror

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Rebecca (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Intro

I had high expectations for this movie. The trailer was intriguing and even looked spooky. Unfortunately, the movie did not satisfy. I haven’t read the book it is based on, so I cannot compare the two, but I have heard that the book is much better.

Background

This version of Rebecca was released in 2020 and is based on a novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. It fits into the genre of romantic thriller. The movie stars Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ann Dowd, Keeley Hawes, and Sam Riley.

Summary

An unnamed newlywed woman is brought to Manderley, her husband Maxim de Winter’s English estate. There she desires to live happily, but cannot help contending with the memory of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. She feels threatened by Mrs. Danver’s, a servant in the house who was intensely loyal to Rebecca. As she spends more time at Manderley, the details of Rebecca’s life start to fall into place and mysteries begin to unravel.

Pros

  • Narrative voice at the beginning compelling
  • Acting by Kristen Scott Thomas was excellent
  • Several memorable quotes
  • Not very predictable
  • General setting attractive, especially Manderley

Cons

  • Most of the acting fell flat
  • Suspense was lacking
  • The protagonist was unnamed, which felt unnecessary
  • Maxim de Winter’s signature mustard yellow suit looks terrible
  • The trailer suggested undertones of horror that were never realized in the film
  • The movie dragged and then wound up too quickly

Review

Narrative Voice

The story begins with narration by the unnamed protagonist:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. I dreamt that where our drive once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew. Nature had come into her own and yet the house still stood. Manderley. Secretive and silent as it had always been. Risen from the dead. Like all dreamers, I was allowed to pass through my memory. Spanning the years like a bridge. Back to that summer in Monte Carlo when I knew nothing and had no prospects.”

This imaginative language drew me into the story. I only wish that the story had merited such a beginning.

Acting

The acting by Kristen Scott Thomas (Mrs. Danvers) was excellent. Watching her subtle expression when she welcomed the protagonist into the house gave an immediate indicator of how well her character was going to be portrayed. Her loyalty to Rebecca seemed intense and sincere, as did her hatred of the new Mrs. de Winters.

Armie Hammer (Maxim de Winter) came off differently. It was like he was trying to play the wrong role. His intimacy was too intimate, and his subsequent coldness was too cold. It was as if he were trying to act out two separate roles, and that made the romance hard to enjoy.

Lily James (Mrs. de Winter) made for a timid protagonist that it was easy to feel sorry for but hard to really root for.

Suspense

There’s not much to say about suspense. There wasn’t any. For there to be suspense, you have to care what’s going to happen to the characters, and I really didn’t.

Sure, it wasn’t very predictable, but that cannot in itself create suspense. There has to be emotional investment in the movie for suspense to exist.

Quotes

There were a couple good quotes from Maxim, and one notable one from Mrs. Danvers.

I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

Maxim de Winter

Not the most romantic line, but pretty unique. I doubt I would appreciate being called a little fool, but whatever. If that’s her thing.

All marriages have their secrets.”

Maxim de Winter

Again, not the most romantic thing one could say. I mean, it’s probably true. Most married people likely keep secrets from each other, but most people are not blunt enough to come out and say it. Trust and communication are not Maxim’s strong points, even though that’s what relationships need to be stable and healthy.

I wonder what’s she’s thinking about you.”

Mrs. Danvers

This line, delivered with finesse by Mrs. Danvers to the new Mrs. de Winter, is chilling. The “she” in the quote is the late Mrs. Rebecca de Winter. It’s one of those lines that make it seem like the movie is pretending to be a horror film. The trailer itself gives off horror vibes, and you get the feeling from the trailer that this is some ghost story, but it really is not. Nonetheless, this quote fits with the creepiness of Mrs. Danvers extremely well.

Setting

The setting is beautiful, whether it’s Manderley itself, the beach, the restaurants–all of it. The detail taken with the house made and the way the protagonist interacted with the things in the house made it all too clear how out of place the protagonist felt.

Details

The fact that the protagonist was never named bothered me. I know the movie was keeping with the tradition in the novel and earlier adaptation of not naming her, but this doesn’t really constitute an excuse. Why was she never named in the movie? It’s frustrating trying to refer to her and having nothing to call her before she is married and nothing to call her afterwards other than Mrs. de Winters after she is married. Names are so strongly tied into who people are. They, in a sense, make their names mean something by their actions. The fact that she doesn’t have a name makes her seem like a non-person, a non-character or like an extra with too many lines.

There isn’t any reason given during the movie for her not having a name, and her husband never uses it, which is so weird. Even when I am talking to my friends, I address them by name. How much more would this be true if I were in an intimate romantic relationship with someone?

Screenrant has an interesting article about why she was not named and regards it as a creative choice, but I still think it was an unfortunate decision.

Maxim de Winter’s suit near the beginning couldn’t help but call to mind images of the Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George. I don’t like the mustard color. He also wears this outfit repeatedly during their courtship period. He’s a rich dude, so he should be able afford some changes of clothes and at least something more aesthetically pleasing. I checked to see if I was the only one with this opinion, but looking at the reviews on IMDb, it seems I am not alone.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this movie for anyone, honestly. I would say it’s rating of PG-13 is reasonable due to sexual content, but there is nothing scary about Rebecca.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Movies

A Movie About A Girl Struck by a Star

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Starstruck

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Intro

Last semester, my friends and I decided to watch each other’s childhood movies. This was a movie two of my friends had watched, but it was new to me. Even though the movie failed to win my admiration, I still enjoyed the experience of watching it with them.

Background

Starstruck is a rom-com and Disney Channel Original Movie released in 2010. It stars Sterling Knight, Danielle Campbell, Brandon Mychal Smith, Maggie Castle, and Chelsea Staub.

Starstruck is available on Disney+.

Summary

Michigan teen Jessica Olson visits her widowed grandmother in Hollywood, California. Her celebrity-obsessed sister Sarah convinces her to go to a nightclub where Sarah hopes to meet teen idol Christopher Wilde. When Christopher attempts to make a quick escape from the crowds after his performance, he accidentally hits Jessica with a door, and voila! The real story begins.

Pros

  • Catchy songs
  • Acting by Sterling Knight and Brandon Mychal Smith is decent
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Some character growth
  • Sweet, understanding grandma who really understands the protagonist
  • Wholesome, loving relationship between grandmother and boyfriend
  • Strong message
  • A fitting title

Cons

  • The female lead is hard to like
  • The movie star male lead is spoiled and occasionally a thoughtless jerk
  • Acting by most of the characters is not very good
  • Predictable
  • One picture taken from an impossible angle (they are looking down at the camera but it is taking a picture of them from above
  • Paparazzi used as a plot device, but only appear when they are needed to move the plot forward
  • How do their clothes manage to be so clean after the amount of mud and dirty creek water they slosh through

Review

Characters

First, I would like to say that I do sympathize with Jessica Olson’s lack of interest in celebrities. Personally, I rarely pay any attention to the lives of celebrities: their marriages, pregnancies, divorces, scandals and all that stuff have no bearing on my life and cannot hold my interest.

Jessica is only interested in those she can have an in-depth, personal relationship with and I admire that. That’s just about the only thing I admire about her because she is otherwise a bratty, annoying teenager who evidences only some growth as a person (shown in the comments she makes to paparazzi).

Her personality is so flat that the Starstruck Fandom has only Christopher Wilde in her list of “likes” and once again only includes Christopher Wilde in her list of “dislikes.”

Christopher Wilde is spoiled, naïve, and behaves like a jerk in a memorable incident during the movie. To be fair, his life has been in many ways unhealthy. His parents are his employees and plan out his life based on what options are most lucrative. Paparazzi invade his private life and ruin his ability to have fun like a normal teenager. His friendships are limited in the beginning of the movie to employees, and while that friendship seems sincere, it is not a good sign to only have friends you have to pay.

Sarah Olson, Jessica’s older sister, is mostly bland and annoying, obsessed with Christopher Wilde. She shows a little bit of unexpected kindness toward the end but is otherwise shallow.

Albert Joshua “Stubby” Stubbins is Christopher Wilde’s best friend who also happens to be his driver. Honestly, I wish we saw more of him because he is a fun character with convictions.

The grandmother of Jessica and Sarah has a touchingly close relationship with Jessica, and her grandmother is able to understand her even when the other members of her family don’t. Her grandmother has a sweet relationship with her boyfriend, and it was nice to see the cute elderly couple just living life together contentedly in the midst of all the drama in the movie.

Music

The first song isn’t amazing, but after that the rest are pretty catchy. My favorite is Something About the Sunshine. It’s catchy and just fits the mood of the movie so well. I found one music video that has the lyrics but no spoilers. I know it’s not the best, but most of them have spoilers, unfortunately.

Acting

The acting is…passable. Nothing amazing, nothing too cringy. A scene with crying is unconvincing, and Sarah’s obsessive fangirliness seems fake and a little too over-the-top.

Plot

Predictable. A couple things were unexpected, but we all know how this movie ends. I’m not going to say it, even though it barely constitutes a spoiler, but the whole thing is cheesy and obvious and you should probably know that going in. It doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it makes it an average one.

Scenery

The scenery is beautiful, whether its the beach, the cityscape, or the path less traveled they go on to avoid the paparazzi.

Mistakes

The main mistake I really noticed was that one of the photographs in the movie is shown from an impossible angle based on the way they were holding the camera.

They also got really muddy at one point, and after swimming in a creek, they were perfectly, immaculately clean. I wish stains came out that easily, but no.

Message

This movie could serve as a warning to those who idolize child celebrities to not take it to a creepy and inhumane level by prying into their private lives. It points out the problem with magazines and shows that capitalize on scandal and ruin celebrities lives. It also offers a peek into the life of a child celebrity and the unique problems and struggles they face. This is a kind of an interesting route for Disney to take considering how many teen stars they use, and surprisingly insightful.

Title

Ah, I get it. It’s Starstruck because clumsy star Christopher Wilde strikes Jessica Olson in the face…with a door…repeatedly.

Or maybe it’s because the TV show Christopher Wilde was performing on was called “Starstruck.”

Or it could be because the word “starstruck” comes up in the lyrics of the first song he sings, and is in fact the name of that song.

For whatever reason it was chosen, I feel that it was a fitting choice.

Conclusion

If you are a fan of Disney, you may like this. If you are a fan of Disney Channel Original movies, you almost certainly will like it. Otherwise, it’s probably a waste of your time.

I want to point out that my rating of 5 out of 10 stars does not mean that it was a bad movie. It just means it was an average movie–that there was nothing that made it terrible or great.

The best audience for this movie would be preteens and teens.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Movies

Soul: A Spirited Comedy and a Reminder of What Life’s All About

Soul | Disney Movies

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Soul

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Intro

I was not sure what to expect from this movie when I decided to watch it. The only thing I had heard about it was that it was a bit “odd.” I couldn’t have anticipated how touching and fascinating it would be.

Sure, it was a little strange, but that’s part of what gave it its charm. It was worth every minute!

Background

Soul was created by Pixar and is currently streaming on Disney+. It stars Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, and Angela Bassett.

Pete Doctor, the director of Inside Out, developed the idea for Soul by considering what causes personalities and thinking about determinism.

Pixar settled on the idea of a musician for the main character after discarding the idea of a having his profession be scientist, offering the reason that that the musician’s life is just so “naturally pure” (1).

Summary

Soul Movie Review: Pixar Close to Its Best With Pre-Life Existential Romp

Soul is about a middle school band teacher by the name of Joe Gardner whose dreams are about to come true. Only before they do, he falls down an open manhole. His soul is then jettisoned into the afterlife, where he refuses to go to the Great Beyond and ends up in the Great Before instead.

The Great Before is where new souls get their personalities and prepare for life on Earth. Trying to blend in, he ends up becoming a mentor for a precocious soul called 22 who never wants to leave the Great Before. Life on Earth seems pointless and aggravating, in her opinion.

Joe soon realizes that if 22 gains her spark, she will receive a free pass to Earth. 22 agrees to give the pass to Joe if she finds her spark, because then she will never have to deal with life on Earth.

The movie follows their adventure to get Joe back in his body and a journey of self-discovery for 22.

Pros

  • Diversity
  • Brilliant animation
  • In-depth worldbuilding
    • Settings and backgrounds
    • Concept
  • Interesting characters
  • Superb character development
  • Comedic dialogue
  • Phenomenal music
  • Uplifting message

Cons

  • Black main character spends majority of movie in a different form

Review

Diversity

Soul: Jamie Foxx Explains Why The Barbershop Scenes Are Integral To The Film

Soul is one of the few Disney movies with an African-American protagonist, and Joe Gardner was also Pixar’s first African-American protagonist.

Additionally, one of the settings is a Black barbershop, which shows a wide array of hairstyles of young Black people.

To make sure they avoided stereotypes Pixar had twenty Black people provide their opinions in addition to Black members of the Pixar crew.

It is unfortunate that Joe Gardner spends most of the movie in a different form, similar to the way Tiana spent most of her time as a frog in The Princess and the Frog. While some of that was hard to avoid, since it was a movie based heavily on the experience of the soul, it might have been better to have Joe Gardner do more in his own body.

Animation

'Soul' trailer unveils Pixar's latest emotional animated ...

The animation was wonderful, even when the images, such as that of the Jerry’s, was simple.

Pixar focused especially on the texture of Black hair and the way that light shows differently on various tones of skin. (2)

Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding includes setting, but also the development of the concept and what makes the world tick.

The Great Before is perhaps the most interesting setting, with its array of soft colors, hordes of new souls, and assortment of Picasso-esque counselors all named Jerry.

The creation of the Great Before, where souls develop their personalities, was the most creative choice made in this movie.

The way the universe works in general, with Terry keeping track of the numbers of souls and the staircase leading to the Great Beyond, are pulled from more common ideas of what the afterlife would be like.

The mentorship program, where successful souls are paired with new souls to help them find their spark, was an interesting way to create a lot of humor, showing the way famous figures would react to young new souls.

Characters

Joe Gardner’s passion is music. He’s a middle school band teacher, but he wants to just be a jazz musician. He’s self-absorbed to the point of almost being completely unlikable, but he is not all bad. He’s also driven, determined, and talented.

22 is bored, cynical, and nonchalant. She is the 22nd soul to ever have existed, which shows just how long she has been unwilling to go to Earth. Despite her carefree attitude, 22 actually has deep-seated anxieties and feelings of self-doubt that she must grapple with throughout the movie. Her voice sounds like a “middle-aged White lady.”

Dialogue

The dialogue in this movie was witty and often comedic. Perhaps the best quotes came from those that mentored 22 in the past.

I have compassion for every soul…except you. I don’t like you.”

The Soul of Mother Teresa

The world doesn’t revolve around you, 22!”

The Soul of Copernicus

Stop talking! My unconscious mind hates you!”

The Soul of Carl Jung

Music

The music was wonderful, except the one part at the beginning with band class. That was intentionally awful. But other than that, it was a phenomenal supplement to the movies themes.

Message

The message is a profound consideration of what it truly is that makes life worth living, and that one’s passion can make a person lose sight of their purpose.

Conclusion

I would recommend this movie for both children and adults. If you enjoyed Inside Out, then Soul is likely to appeal to you. It is worth a subscription to Disney+ just to watch this movie.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Recommended Links

  1. IMDB Trivia
  2. NY Times Article
Movies

If You Haven’t Watched This Classic Fantasy Movie, You Should

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) - IMDb

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Rating: 9.7 out of 10 stars

Intro

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an old favorite of mine. I had the privilege of watching it recently with one of my sisters who had never seen it before.

Getting to watch the movie was a bit of an adventure. My dad, who I sometimes call “Tech Support,” tried to get our Xbox One to play the DVD, but the Xbox gave up on life and showed the black screen of death instead. We then tried to find it on Netflix and to see if it was included for free on Amazon Prime, to no avail. Finally, we hooked up the PS3, which we never use, and used it to play the DVD.

Background

One ring | Mythology wiki | Fandom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001. It stars Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Sean Bean (Boromir), Billy Boyd (Pippin Took) and Dominic Monaghen (Merry Brandybuck).

It was directed by Peter Jackson. The film falls into the genres of Fantasy and Adventure.

Summary

Sauron - Wikipedia

The entire plot of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is based around a ring. Nine rings were once forged and given to various rulers of the dominant kingdoms. Then an evil being named Sauron made a single ring that was more powerful than any of the others.

After a pivotal battle, the ring was lost and claimed by a human, and then was lost again. It was found by Gollum and then stolen by Bilbo, a hobbit, who would pass it on to Frodo.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo’s journey and that of others who seek to undermine Sauron’s power by destroying the ring.

Pros

  • Begins with low storytelling voice that encourages close listening
  • Gorgeous landscapes
  • Ornate architecture fitting the culture of each town
  • Phenomenal musical scores
  • Strong message of hope, courage, and purpose
  • Attractive and fitting costume design
  • Fascinating, insightful dialogue
  • Innovative CGI
  • Realistic orcs with prosthetics and make-up
  • Tolkien’s spoken elfin language is convincingly like a natural language
  • The written language on the ring is foreign and unique
  • Does not veer much from the book
  • Frodo, Boromir, and Aragorn have strong character development
  • Camera angles and movement increases immersion into the story

Cons

  • One scene with Galadriel is over-dramatic and looks fake
  • A lot of characters, but not much character development for most of them

Review

Beginning

The beginning of the movie starts with a low female voice telling the story of how the rings were created and the one ring came into existence. The voice is soft enough that I was tempted to listen closely, on the edge of my seat. It was a storyteller’s voice–one that promised a powerful, gripping, simple yet complex tale.

Setting

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring | Film Locations

The landscapes of New Zealand where the movie was filmed were beautiful. Every landscape they traversed was stunning, like something out of a travel brochure. All the scenes of travel that made the movie longer were worth it because of the charming, idyllic land.

LOTR, Landscape and Settings, All Works on RowlingTolkienLewis ... | Lord  of the rings, Middle earth, Background images

The makers of the film paid great attention to detail, especially for architecture. This made settings like Rivendell not only attractive but also unique to the culture they represent.

Places of Fancy: Where Is Rivendell in 'The Lord of the Rings'?

Music

Fotrcd-cover.jpg

The music was composed by Howard Shore. In my opinion, the best song out of the lot is “Concerning Hobbits.” The music of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is both iconic and epic.

If you want to learn why the music of The Lord of the Rings has the power to captivate listeners, listen for yourself.

Message

The message is one of hope, courage, and purpose. This movie shows how there can be hope even in the darkest times and that courage can prevail against the powers of darkness. The story follows ordinary people who show tremendous bravery in the face of adversity.

Gandalf affirms that the ring that was found by Bilbo and passed on to Frodo did not fall into their hands by accident. All things happen for a reason, he insists. This gives the heroes a sense of purpose.

Costumes

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring | George Eastman Museum

The costumes are well-made and fit the character. For the hobbits, capes and clothes perfect for work and relaxation–peasant clothes. For Gandalf, an old man who does not care much about appearance, a simple cloak and a hat that has much character. For others, clothes befitting their status and positions are used. The clothes do not look tacky.

Dialogue

Gandalf | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

The dialogue of the movie is rich and includes many quotable moments. For instance, when the value of a character’s life is questioned, Gandalf says:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?”

Gandalf

CGI

What do you think of Peter Jackson's depiction of the Balrog in Fellowship  of the Ring? - Quora

The CGI, especially for the Balrog and Gollum, was innovative for its time and has stood the test of time. True, it’s only 19 years old, but there are plenty of films from around that time that would look contrived and poorly done by today’s standards.

Language

The elfin language used in the movie sounds natural and flowing. It is not like the made-up languages in many movies and books that are usually based on English or Latin. It is unique.

The written languages also appear to be authentic and realistic.

Likeness to the Book

Most changes from the book were made to save time, such as removing the whole Tom Bombadil scene that was in in the book. The movie was very faithful to the book.

Character Development

Fellowship of the Ring (group) | The One Wiki to Rule Them All | Fandom

Frodo is a character who seems nondescript but is capable of great bravery when the situation requires it. He feels a responsibility for what happens in the world, even though he wants nothing more than to go back to the Shire.

Boromir is a character who desires the power of the ring but nonetheless is an honorable character. Throughout the course of the story, he makes mistakes and changes as a result.

Aragorn’s initial reluctance to take his rightful place on Gondor’s throne affects who he is as a character. He is noble, and his actions show that he is worthy of being a king even when he doubts himself. His romance with Arwen is also a testament to his worth as a character–she is willing to give up immortality for him.

Most of the other characters are not well-developed, however. The movie suffers slightly from having too many characters.

Camera Tricks

The crew for this movie used various tricks with the camera. For instance, they used fast camera motions to make the battle scenes seem more frenzied. They also made horse riding scenes seem quick through other camera movements. The angle of the camera made it seem like sometimes we were seeing from the character’s point of view, and sometimes we were seeing the action from a perspective outside of any character.

Galadriel Scene

History Reading 06: Graphics. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of… | by  David Mellitt | Medium

This scene looked contrived and overly flashy, looking more like it belonged in a film depiction of a campfire horror story than a Lord of the Rings movie. A minor con, but worth noting.

Conclusion

I must say, the trouble it took to set up was well worth it. The movie is very nearly three hours, clocking in at 178 minutes, but it is a movie in which every second counts and adds to the whole. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out!

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.