Monday, December 30, 2019

American Factory, 2019 - ★★★★

This is a great look at culture clashes between the United States and China. The work ethic of American and Chinese couldn't be more different and this brave attempt at creating a synergy between the two cultures at the Fuyao Glass America plant in Dayton Ohio is documented brilliantly with this film.

Kudos to the Obamas for producing this movie and they may be in line to accept an Oscar in February.

Little Women, 2019 - ★★

Greta Gerwig's adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic novel is what it is. A safe, simple story of little girls growing up to be women and it's a story that just isn't my cup of tea. I was thoroughly bored throughout this film and while I did respect the performances (especially the up-and-coming Florence Pugh and the grande dame herself Meryl Streep) I just wasn't engaged with this movie.

Gerwig has made two films in a row (2017's Lady Bird) that really just didn't do it for me. The biggest issue I had with this film is the rapid jumps back and forth through time. The film is paced through a series of present-day sequences intercut (with almost no explanation at times) with flashback scenes. It was very confusing to know what time frame you were witnessing throughout the movie.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is one of his worst film scores and the movie felt entirely too long. I'm sure there's a target audience for this type of film but it certainly isn't me.

Cats, 2019 - ★★★

I know. Everyone HATES this movie. I'm sure this will sweep the razzies this year, but let's all pump the breaks a bit. Tom Hooper tries to recreate the magic of Les Miserables with this Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation of the Cats musical. The movie is not awful and works in a variety of ways. The issue here is that those who are seeing this musical for the first time will probably hate it and the CGI effects will just become a barrier to prevent them from enjoying the music.

I came into the screening having just seen Cats at the Kennedy Center two months earlier. I saw this musical several times as a child and was fully aware of the plot, costuming and all of the music in the film. Tom Hooper takes the existing story and adds in a white kitten named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) to lead the audience through the story and to participate in many of the musical numbers. I thought this was an interesting choice and not quite necessary but Hayward is very good with both her facial emotions and her singing.

The real issues I had with this movie were some of the casting choices. Rebel Wilson in particular is god-awful as Jennyanydots. This is a role that in the stage musical is not played like a bumbling bafoon acting crass and ridiculous as all of Rebel Wilson's performances are. Her sequence in the film is horrible with tons of forced practical "comedy" featuring dancing rats, mice and cockroaches that falls on its face. James Cordon as Bustopher Jones is also overly comical and not as endearing as the character in the stage musical. Jason Derulo is not as "cool" as the Elvis-esque stage character of Rum Tum Tugger. I thought that Idrid Elba (Macavity), Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap), Ian McKellen (Gus), Judi Dench (an excellent spin to have a female Old Deuteronomy) and even Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) were very good.

The CGI in this movie is not the best but it did not bother me as much as it seems to bother all of America. I thought a lot of the facial closeups with ears perking up and the CGI fur was well done. This is the look the Hooper and his team wanted. The choice of not animating hands and feet was very strange but the base CGI is passable for what it was engineered for. The biggest visual issue I had was all the anthropomorphic animating of the smaller-than-cats creatures like cockroaches,mice, etc.. . I think the people-as-animals stunt casting should have ended at the cats phase.

The story of this film is borrowed loosely from the musical which already has not much of a plot. This film/musical is really all about the music. If you don't like the music, you're going to hate the play/film. If you're going into it for the first time seeing CGI people-cats you'll probably hate it. But as someone who likes some of the music and thought the musical was halfway decent, I thought this adaption wasn't all that bad. I was entertained and really did enjoy the power-moments of Jennifer Hudson's Memory despite the snotty nose.

Bombshell, 2019 - ★★★½

Charlize Theron totally nails her portrayal of Megyn Kelly in this semi-true story of the fall of Roger Ailes at Fox News. Whomever was in charge of the prosthetics/makeup on this film should win an Oscar for morphing Charlize into a spitting image of Kelly. Theron added in the proper voice affect to finish the stunning transformation.

The film itself is an insider look at the outbreak of the me too movement in media. Director Jay Roach makes sure to look at all sides of this issue in laying out the facts and opinions on both sides of the political aisle. Nicole Kidman is effective as whistle-blower Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie SHINES as fictional up-and-coming reporter Kayla Pospisil. Robbie in particular conveys both youthful exuberance and first-hand fright and trauma based on what she experiences in her interactions with Ailes (John Lithgow in a brilliant performance).

While Theron and Robbie are the highlights here, the story and plot are a bit too inside-politics for my taste. Supporting turns by Mark Duplass and Kate McKinnon help move the pacing along but I found myself overwhelmed by intricacies of politics that just don't interest me personally. Still this is a very good female-driven vehicle that does a solid job of lifting the curtain on the seedy underbelly of American journalism.

Uncut Gems, 2019 - ★★★½

The Safdie Brother have created a raw and real look at the NYC underbelly and in the process have given Adam Sandler another "dramatic" role to sink his teeth into. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a NYC jeweler who is addicted to betting on sports. The movie gets ramped up at times especially in the jewelry store scenes where everyone is yelling and vamping on top of one another. I found these scenes to be particularly annoying as it seems that everyone is trying to yell louder than one another. I suppose the Safdies were trying to make the audience uncomfortable here and it worked, but I didn't find this rewarding at all.

Sandler is serviceable here in the lead role but he really just yells and yells like he does in his famous comedy roles. There's nothing groundbreaking about his performance. I also really hated the score in this film by Daniel Lopatin. It didn't compliment any of the scenes and actually served as a distracting presence throughout.

The real star of this movie is Kevin Garnett who plays a 2012 version of himself with authenticity and a sense of realness. As an NBA fan it was pretty cool to see real-life playoffs clips spliced with the dramatic context of the fictional narrative. The perils of sports gambling are brought to the forefront with a shocking ending that makes up for some of the over-the-top acting/screaming along the way.