Writing for Fun

At some point, I thought I would get back into writing for fun during this quarantine time period. You see, on occasion I actually think I’m pretty decent at writing and like reading what I write. Not so much my academic work. That stuff is important and it keeps me employed but it’s not what I would call fun to read. It also isn’t what I would call good. It is adequate, clearly, but it’s so easy to pick apart. I can critique it no matter how much effort or time goes into it. I guess that’s also part of the job and helps keep me employed.

But my fun writing, I am usually satisfied with and even impressed by. I recently reread the Acknowledgements in my dissertation, the only fun bit in there, and I nearly cried. I could remember what I was feeling when I wrote it. I could remember the process of putting those words together to create those narratives and feel the effect I wanted from that.

The problem is I am (or was, when I started writing this) always home and my boundaries for work and life are bad and also I am not very productive with work. Revisiting these paragraphs months later, maybe I should do fun work writing? Like about getting a Ph.D. and being a new faculty member – that’s a very popular genre and relatively easy to write. Plus, it isn’t like anyone reads this part of my website that I can tell. So my hot takes will probably go unnoticed. This idea was sparked by a tweet thread I started but then abandoned about comprehensive (or general) exams. A tweet thread probably better suited to a blog post no one will read…

Maybe if I get the academic writing done that I need to get done today I’ll reward myself with that blog post.

Until then, I will hit post on this rambling stream-of-consciousness, and get back to that literature review I am avoiding.

Overlord Review: Lord, Please Skip Over the First Ten Minutes

Overlord is a 2018 November film that you probably missed and it would be reasonable if you did. It only grossed $41 million on a budget of $38 million despite being produced by JJ Abrams and being a war movie with “zombies”. Honestly, with just that small amount of information, I’m really surprised it didn’t do better.

But having watched it, I can see why it wasn’t exactly a box office success, despite mostly positive reviews from others. And for me, that lack of success can be directly attributed to the terrible, downright awful first ten or so minutes (as the blog title suggests, obviously). The opening scene is a mess, introducing us to a gaggle of GI airmen. It’s unclear, at least for a while, who the lead will be. The scene is loud, confusing, and it looks like it was made in the 90s.

Eventually, the airmen jump from the plane and we realize the lead is Boyce, played with wide-eyed fear and not much else by Jovan Adepo. He eventually meets up with a few more of the airmen from the plane including gruff Corporal Ford played by Wyatt Russell who watches along as the Sergeant from the plane is gunned down by German soldiers. Then another one of these men from the plane is blown up by a land mine almost as soon as we meet him.

These first few scenes are frustratingly loud and distracting. Why introduce so many characters in the first scene only to immediately kill two of them and have another noticeably missing for most of the movie? They attempt to build some emotional weight with these deaths and the disappearance but it falls so flat. I really wanted to turn the film off at this point but we were invested.

Eventually the men make it to the small French town with the radio tower they are supposed to blow up with the help of a beautiful French villager Chloe played by Mathilde Ollivier. This mission Ford is adamantly dedicated to. They quickly realize things are not as they seem when Boyce stumbles upon Chloe’s sick aunt. She is basically a human shaped boil, apparently the effects of being taken to the church by the Nazi soldiers as punishment for something. It is at this point at the film becomes watchable and even maybe more than enjoyable, despite the messiness of the ensuing plot.

Basically, the tar pits under the town are being used to create a serum to create “thousand year soldiers for a thousand year Reich” but it hasn’t been perfect yet and results in people like the aunt, almost “zombies”. The remaining soldiers eventually infiltrate this base, with a few sidesteps by Boyce along the way (much to the chagrin of Ford). It is in this part of the plot that the movie redeems itself.

The characters become generally likeable, especially a fun performance from Joh n Magaro as Tibbet and the connection he makes with Chloe’s kid brother. The action is still loud but more focused and there’s lots of fire and explosions. The showdown between Corporal Ford and Wafner, the big bad, is appropriately intense as well.

In some sense, I wish more people had seen this film. It ends up being a fun ride and has left a generally pleasant memory in my mind. But I understand that if people left the theater in the first few minutes, they would have no idea what they are missing. A stronger performance from Adepo would also have bolstered this movie in my opinion. He’s fine here but not terribly compelling. I don’t think I really cared that much whether or not he survived and even at times thought the film would have been better without him, left focusing on Tibbet, Ford and others. All in all, if you have Amazon Prime and 2 hours and like this type of movie, it might be worth it. But if even one of these conditions isn’t met, I wouldn’t really do much to seek out this film.

Holiday Movie Reviews: The Holiday Calendar

Turns out writing snarky blog reviews of holiday movies is much easier than focusing on my dissertation today (well, every day but today in particular). So what follows are my thoughts on another Netflix original film The Holiday Calendar. 

Also turns out I left this draft (literally just that paragraph) sitting here for 7 months.

So here is my very late and probably poorly recalled review of The Holiday Calendar.

What I remember is the leads were very cute and had pretty good chemistry. This cookie cutter plot followed the “He was right under her nose all along” path with the childhood best friend overlooked, for most of the movie, in favor of the tall, white, serendipitously appearing doctor who is quite handsome in a handsome way not a cute way like the friend. Anyway, the main character whose name long left my memory thinks her Grandpa’s calendar is magically setting her up with said handsome white doctor man. This bit of plotting really worked for me because I love cheesy movies (and cheese). I’m sure most people would disagree but that’s their problem. Other plot points include her photography job at the mall for Santa being unfulfilling, her childhood best friend helping her out at said job, and her losing said job because she lost some photos of the mayor (I think?). Note on gender politics the mayor (I think?) is played by a woman so that’s pretty progressive for this small-town Netflix Christmas movie.

But that’s about all I have for you, in terms of insightful and incisive commentary, dear readers. I liked it. I might even watch it again this coming Christmas season (it’ll be here sooner than you know it!). Until next time!

Holiday Movie Reviews: The Princess Switch

Because I like writing for fun sometimes, I am rededicating this blog, for now, to reviewing the holiday movies I have watched and will watch over the coming month, months, and year. And for the sake of continuity, I want to start with the first movie I watched this month which was The Princess Switch.

The Princess Switch, a Netflix original, stars Vanessa Hudgens and a bunch of other people who are only there to give Vanessa Hudgens the real star-making vehicle she has deserved since her, I presume, debut in High School Musical. According to her IMDB page, since then, she’s starred in critically acclaimed Neutrogena commercials and a few music videos for a music career, that presumably, never took off. So thankfully, finally, someone gave her a chance to show off her acting chops and boy does she. Playing, of course, both the soon-to-be Princess, Lady Margaret, and the norm-core Chicago girl, Stacy De Novo, who owns a bakery, Vanessa Hudgens, previously Vanessa Anne Hudgens, gives the performance, no two performances, of a Lifetime. The two girls Parent Trap it up for plot reasons and we get Vanessa Hudgens as Stacy De Novo as Lady Margaret and vice versa. 

Underlying this switch is an upcoming wedding and a baking contest which hits all the notes of the current zeitgeist and holiday movies in general and contains the events of the movie to two days. Turns out, a lot can happen in two days as both characters fall in love with the man they aren’t supposed to. Stacy (as Lady Margaret) falls in love with Edward, the tall, cute royal who is also a little clueless while Lady Margaret (as Stacy) falls in love with Kevin, the erstwhile solidly friendzoned “sous” chef of Stacy. There is the ever-present precocious child, Kevin’s daughter from a previous relationship, who quickly puts the pieces together. On the other side, we get meddling royal relatives sneaking about to figure out why Lady Margaret is acting so strangely all of  a sudden. To call this movie formulaic would be an understatement but the formula works, at least on me it did in this case. The performances are clearly heartfelt and, I think, self-aware. No one is trying to win an Academy Award here; in fact, I think they’re aware of the genre and even attempting to nod at that in their performances. I might be giving her and them too much credit, but Vanessa Hudgens body language, in particular, is VERY expressive without being distracting. She finds a middle ground between the typical overacting of these movies and the increasingly “stoic” nature of “real acting”. 

Other things this movie does well include the snow covered shots of small towns and palaces. Sometimes these shots can come off as, well, cold, but the directors imbue a warmth even into the cold that sets this film apart from other holiday romance films. The baking challenge is, obviously no-stakes, but still sort of fun to watch for the typical sabotage and intrigue that occurs in that setting. The movie also nods to Netflix previous holiday movies when Lady Margaret (as Stacy) and Kevin cozy up to watch a movie together. They pick The Christmas Inheritance (or The Christmas Prince, I cant remember) which is a fun bit of meta-marketing that will work for some, me, and not for others. All in all, this film was a hoot and a half. I don’t expect that any of the holiday movies I watch will revolutionize film-making, or really even that very specific genre, but I do expect them to be fun and build a world I can sink into for ~90 minutes of hedonistic joy. 

So with that as the established criteria, reader, I leave you waiting for the next review. So far, I have already watched Netflix’s The Christmas Calendar and The Christmas Prince 2, Ion television’s A Prince for Christmas, and a part of both Christmas in Compton and A Christmas Reunion. I said I’d start at the beginning for continuity’s sake but I have no idea which of those I watched second so tune in next time for a surprise review of a film out of this very mixed bag.