[What Did Jaci Think? Late January]

Ben Is Back, while another unnecessary sad-white-boy-drug-addict movie, worked much better than Beautiful Boy by improving on (or at least acknowledging) many of the issues I had with that story. Rather than trying to encompass the whole complicated arc of an addiction narrative, writer-director Peter Hedges focuses on two (fraught) days – Christmas and Christmas Eve – in the life of a family with a teen son (Lucas Hedges) in recovery with an opioid addiction.

It does not waste the women of the story (a low bar Beautiful Boy did not clear), and much of the conflict of the story is between …ah, I just got this. Between Holly & Ivy (Julia Roberts & Kathryn Newton), the mother wanting to believe her son and the sister wanting to protect the rest of the family. A few other points I appreciated: it acknowledges the financial privilege of the family in their ability to afford treatment, they say explicitly that if Ben were a black teen he would be in prison, it is clear about the role the pharmaceutical industry plays in addiction, and it doesn’t give us a sunny Christmas morning ending.

While I had low expectations for Mary Queen of Scots, and thus liked it better than I expected, it has not stuck with me across time except as a tragedy of men always getting in the goddamn way. Saoirse Ronan is always worth watching, but the movie is a mess of motivations and consistently unclear about the passage of time. Somehow Mary is exactly the same age when she’s beheaded as she was when she returned to Scotland. Also, it wastes Gemma Chan.

Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old moved into regular release this month, but when I caught it it was still a Fathom event and included an introduction by Jackson and a post-film making-of featurette. Among other things, he discussed other stories he found in the footage from the Imperial War Museum, and honestly, I’d love to see any and all of them.

I saw the documentary in 3D solely for scheduling reasons, and while I don’t think it’s necessary, it also wasn’t distracting (a relief to me, generally not a fan of 3D). The strength of the documentary is its other uses of technology – colorizing the film and adding sound, both period-correct environmental sounds and regionally-correct voices – to bring the past into the present. The use of lipreaders to determine the on-screen speech to be delivered by actors, plus voices of veterans interviewed years later, minus any use talking heads means that we’re getting this story of the war from men who lived it, not analyzed or at a distance. It’s very effective.

I went to Ralph Breaks the Internet on a bit of a slow A-List week whim, but I enjoyed it a lot, more than the original. It is just as relentlessly branded, but in the way my actual life is, I guess, depressing but true. It’s a smart movie about the challenges to a friendship when one person is ready to grow and the other is comfortable with how things are. It’s hard being both of those people, and Ralph does a lovely job of taking that motivating tension and paralleling it with computer viruses and bullying (both seeking out and exploiting insecurities!) Also the Disney princesses were great, and luckily for my wallet, Disney doesn’t believe fat girls deserve sassy princess sleepwear.

Mirai, an animated film about a small boy & his struggles with the changes in his family with the arrival of a baby sister, is a lovely series of vignettes of daily life with a splash of the magical: from time to time in the garden, he encounters various family members from across time. It is strongest in its Ghibli-level naturalism about the behavior of small children and the quirks of family life, but it lost me a bit at the end when it attempted to explain the encounters. I didn’t need that; I was happy to enjoy them as they were.

A small note: I particularly enjoyed the use of transitions without cuts. Here, the open terrace design of the home (the father is an architect) allows pans up from floor to floor as a way to move across time, showing the rhythms of the day in a single shot. I see it more in live action: first in Lone Star and most recently in The Haunting of Hill House. It’s nice to see it being used for forward, positive motion!

This half of the month also included a handful of repeat viewings: The Favourite (still filthy & hilarious – laugh, people!), Shoplifters (still beautiful & heartbreaking), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (still too achingly close to home), The Muppet Movie (still pure joy), The Adventures of Prince Achmed (still delightful, especially with a live score), & Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (still almost perfect – let’s pass that Bechdel Test next time!)