Media in Review: August 2020

FORREST GUMP

I forgot this one, last month. I believe we chose it because it was literally the first title on the Best Movies and Shows list. Also, my daughter had already seen it and wanted to watch it again. We have it in the house, too. So we stuck it in and watched. If you’ve never seen this movie, it is a classic, for sure. (And with limited special effects, if has aged well, though my children marveled at the execution of those “old” special effects.) Forrest Gump is the story of a boy on his life’s journey. Forrest is special—he has a learning disability as well as something wrong with his legs—and it’s just him and his mom in a small, Southern town. Starring Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise (plus), the story’s backbone is the empathetic characters, the historical moments, and the almost-fantastical life that Forrest leads. The real win is not the story, though it is compelling in the normal ways: a boy grows up, is made fun of, falls in love, goes to war, tries to make his way in the world. The real win is, like I said, the juxtaposition of this charming young man and his difficulties, of the tumultuous historical events of 1950s-1980s American history against the romance and adventures of Forrest Gump. In a way, we’re also watching the history of how “different” people have been treated. I love Forrest Gump. Watching it with a tween, I had a lot of pausing and explaining to do (mostly because of the casual historical references), as well a little bit of skipping inappropriate scenes (sex and drugs). Still, I think that with its morals (some said, some just felt) and its romp through history, it was worth it. As for adults, I would recommend this movie to pretty much anyone.

GIRL MOST LIKELY

(After writing the review below, I realized I already did a review way back in 2014, which I should have realized because it’s about a writer. Oops. Don’t fret: my impression was pretty much the same.)

This movie has been on my Amazon list for years. I was looking for something cheap recently, and bought it. On an evening when I was feeling blue and willing to kick my kids out of the family room, I watched it. I suppose I like this movie for two major reasons: it is about a writer, and that writer showed lots of promise when she was young, creating a precarious situation for an actual career. I am a writer. I was often praised and singled out for my talents when I was young, making anything less than the Pulitzer a little bit like failure. Disappointing. Now, if you are not a writer struggling to live up to that potential, you won’t relate as much to this movie, but you might, still. I mean, we all had dreams that just don’t pan out in adulthood. And the story isn’t so simple. Girl Most Likely has some charms, including its quirk. Quirky characters. Quirky turns of events. It’s not perfect, and the romance is both obvious and a little forced, but overall it’s a great one to pull from the vault for date night.

FOOD SHOWS

Well, I had little bits and pieces to watch of a lot of food shows, this month. I mean, I often end the day with an episode or two of one, so I can cover a lot of ground in a month.

Taco Chronicles would be fine, but it’s distractingly different. It has the narration, the history, the culture, the beautiful and exciting food, the personalities (but no host), but it’s also awkwardly strange. Narrated by the tacos themselves who give enormously hyperbolic asides (like tacos are the one thing that will be there when all else fails or that tacos can make everything better) in an often sexy tone, it left me wondering if I was missing some enjoyment by not being Mexican. Does that intrigue you? I dare you to try it.

The Chef Show was almost equally as strange and disconcerting, but in a totally different way. You have the host—Jon Favreau, who played a chef in 2014’s Chef—and you have the high-profile guests and restaurants, and you have the food… But there is absolutely NO narration or asides or captions or anything except for these random Wes Anderson-like animations of a food truck barreling through the countryside and IKEA-like labeled food flying around inside. I can’t help but think it’s so pared down that it’s distracting and moorless. Not a fan.

Ultimate Summer Cook-off, on the other hand, is completely predictable and canned. That doesn’t make it bad, though, and if you enjoy typical cook-off or bake-off shows, this one is going to be right up your alley. Hosted by Eddie Jackson, it’s four longish episodes where the eight(?) contestants compete for advantages and to avoid periodic elimination, in an outdoor setting in summer-themed challenges (such as six-foot lobster rolls and unexpected, loaded hot dogs). There was only one season, in 2018, which ended in a $25,000 prize and is strange to me because Food Network is really big on repeating seasonal specials over and over (like Spring Baking Championship or Halloween Wars). I wish they had repeated this one, because it works and Eddie Jackson is a very anchoring host.

I watched a newer season of this Britain’s Best Home Cook, since it’s one of those that I wait for the next season, catch up, and wait again. It’s no secret that I love British cooking shows, largely because of how nice and encouraging they all are. (Also because of the Anglophile thing.) I just love these people: the host, the judges, the cooks… Pretty much your typical (nice) cooking competition, this one is meant for home cooks, and I really wished I lived in England so I could go on this show (and for many other reasons). (Our amateur cooking competitions are so very, very brutal, but more on that in a minute.) Sweet and full of delicious-looking food, this is one I’ll be watching every time a new season comes out. Because I like food competitions and I like leaders who lead with compassion.

Cake Wars is a Food Network standard. There are a bunch of seasons and I realized I had missed one of the seasons. (Not that I couldn’t watch some of these over, because—crazy me—I can seldom recall who won each episode and the twists and turns to get there.) Anyhow, I enjoy seeing the flavor combinations and the techniques used to make gigantic, flashy cakes for major functions. By now, some of these people don’t really belong at this high level of competition, but I can still be inspired by watching. What doesn’t inspire me on this particular series is the judges. They’re just unnecessarily mean and horrible at acting, especially Waylynn Lucas (and also Richard Ruskell). The shtick is painful and Lucas’ eyes seem permanently glued up into a roll, her face perpetually frowning at some imminent baking disaster that she’s predicting. She holds zero charm for me (or for my husband. We balk at her witchy ways).

Next month I will tell you how I got hooked into a series I have avoided like the plague for years: MasterChef. But right now I will tell you how I started my descent into the universe: MasterChef Junior. I mean, I thought, how mean could they possibly be to kids? And I was basically right. The infamous MasterChef judges—Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliott—are much gentler with the kids who come to compete on their reality TV competition. It has a similar setup to the uber-famous MasterChef, which is pretty much like every other reality TV (food) competition (except, for some unknown reason, paced way slower than any other TV competition), but they don’t murder any contestants with cruelty because they’re all under age 16. They are a little mean (okay, and occasionally brutal), but mostly they are encouraging to the nuggets, who range from innocent and cute to strangely prodigious. It makes you wonder how much the competitors are coached and staged, as well as how much the drama and plot are scripted, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is “a lot,” but it was still pretty interesting to watch. Honestly, if they just let a bunch of kids cook un-coached, it wouldn’t have been my thing because I, as always, am here for the food. I could do with a faster-paced show with less scripting, however.

PARASITE

This movie was a big winner at the Oscars this past year. The first time a Korean movie had serious Oscar buzz, everyone was talking about and paying attention to it. It took home ALL the big awards, but I was personally still confused about what this movie was. Could a subtitled movie be so popular? (Yes.) Was it a horror movie? I mean, the name is Parasite. (No.) Did I actually hear someone refer to it as a comedy? (Yes, but a really dark comedy and no LOLing.) So I wasn’t sure what sort of mood to be in when I watched it, but I was certain that I was curious enough to watch it. So one night when Kevin and I were home and both awake, we turned it on. Whew! It’s, um, quite a movie. I really don’t know about all the awards that it received—it doesn’t seem that good—but it was worth watching, once. My main issue with it was its lack of flavor (which is funny, considering I couldn’t get anyone to hone in on a genre, type, or even sentence about it beforehand). There were times when you thought you were warming up for a flavor, like it was about to become scary or creepy or quirky or funny, and then it totally didn’t stay there. It has a real identity crisis, as far as I am concerned. But it was also suspenseful and thought-provoking and most definitely had some memorable moments. However, I left lamenting that those moments weren’t made more special by the movie picking a flavor and really going for it. There is some violence, some sex, tons of awkwardness (on purpose), things to discuss, culture to learn, and plenty to despise in these characters (both protagonists and antagonists). Just to help you out, it’s a drama with some dark comedy and creep factor. It’s about a Korean family who lives in a flooding basement apartment and are looking for better work when one of them stumbles on a gig in a high-society home. Deliberately, they each hide their identity and get jobs in the same home, living it up and throwing caution to the wind, creating some serious tension and face palms throughout this disaster-riddled plot. Now, was that so hard?

DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD

My daughter is a teenager. When she was little, her favorite show and character was Dora! She loved Dora, had Dora everything, and our house often rang with the Dora theme song. We visited Dora at theme parks (to disappointing results) and clad the child in Dora merchandise day and night. So when this “real-skin” family movie showed up in the “coming soons,” we knew it would be a family movie night selection. I mean, it was really built for these now-older Dora fans, right? And their nostalgic families? Perhaps. It turned out to be a mediocre movie which is a good family night pick. The only thing remarkable about it is that Isabella Merced actually pulls off a live-action, teen portrayal of the syrupy, wide-eyed Dora. For reals, ya’ll. I was like how is she doing this? And how did they find the one person who could? Most of the rest of it was canned, predictable, and okay which is disappointing because it was only a few tweaks off from being much better. But if you are as nostalgic about Dora as we are or you have grandkids who haven’t seen it yet, this is a cute, family movie.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

For our next family movie night, we went with a tried and true movie, Edward Scissorhands. It was a surprisingly easy sell to our tween/teens, who were told that Jack Sparrow and Joyce Byers were the stars. They maybe didn’t realize how young Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder were going to be in the film. I don’t recall if they knew it was a Tim Burton film ahead of time. Anyhow, they really enjoyed it. I did, too, of course. I am a huge Tim Burton fan and I have long loved this movie and almost everything else he’s ever made. Edward Scissorhands is a classic and it has aged well (though a couple special effects are now laughable). It’s quirky and has an ominous feel, everything about it like Tim Burton meets the Stepford Wives. But while you may find the ending a little short of perfect (and cheesy), the whole movie is feel-good and entertaining. Johnny Depp really pulls off the completely odd homunculus (maybe?) Edward, and Diane Wiest (I always thought it was West) is a pitch-perfect, naive and innocent suburban mom. Burton manages to create a time reminiscent of every time period in the many “golden” eras of the last century and you do what moviegoers do best: cringe as you wait for the cinematic ax to fall on a character that you have grown to love in the last cinematic-bubblegum-filled hour. (Warning: there is a character that adds a sexy-housewife dimension to the movie and this creates a couple of really awkward sexy (but not sex) scenes. Like uncomfortable for watching with your kids.) I think we might go this route for Halloween this year (assuming Halloween is on during a pandemic).

JUMANJI: NEXT LEVEL

For our final family movie night of the month, I talked my family into Jumanji: The Next Level. The reasons I had to talk them into it is that one of them had seen it once and another, multiple times, but I hadn’t yet. We are Jumanji franchise fans. We love Jumanji and Zathura, and we were also pleasantly surprised by how much we liked Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which was a modern take on the old Jumanji but with video games and a much flashier touch. I was probably expecting too much when we turned on Next Level–the part two of Welcome to the Jungle–but it didn’t matter. I loved this movie. Mainly just a really predictable plot with overdone genre references, it was SO FUNNY. So funny. I haven’t laughed this much at a movie in a long time. And while I know no one’s getting an Oscar for this performance, the acting was really fun to watch. It was just good, clean fun and I highly recommend it (and all the other related movies) for families and even for a lighthearted movie-going experience without kids, especially if you need a good laugh during all the current stress.

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