Monday, October 5, 2020

The New Mutants, 2020 - ★½

More or less a waste of time. The scope for this film is very small and the acting so-so across the board. I've never seen Taylor-Joy deliver such a bad performance in a movie. The big baddy at the end is a bear monster?!?!? Just not a worthy addition to the X-Men franchise and another reason to let X-Men films die with Logan.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Tenet, 2020 - ★★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

I think anyone who knows me knows that Christopher Nolan is my favorite director working today and is slowly but surely trying to pass Spielberg and become my favorite director ever. I have very much enjoyed just about all of his films and his amazing 1-2-3 punch of Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk (with Dark Knight Rises on the side) is a real accomplishment. Tenet seems to be a cousin of Inception and has a lot of Nolan's calling cards throughout. Expertly crafted while at times confusing the film focuses on the protagonist played by John David Washington who is all of a sudden a true movie star. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh (bringing it 110% all movie long) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson contribute to advancing the narrative which is the real star of the film. The high concept time bending piece of the plot is a sight to behold and Nolan truly gives the audience something unique and original never before seen in film.

I can't stop thinking about this movie and want to see it again to fully understand it more. I like how a Nolan film is unlike any other movie event. He makes you think differently and each of his films is like a new unopened present to unwrap. This movie is a time bending mind twisting epic splendor that demands to be seen in theaters on the big screen and serves as the perfect catalyst for getting people back into theaters during COVID.






Honestly, through the first half of this movie I was frustrated and really thought that Nolan took a swing and missed with this film. This all changes when the team goes through the time turnstile and starts moving inverted. When I saw Washington driving forwards while the other cars moved backwards, I realized how everything I just saw is connected and that Nolan was really sending the audience back through parts of the movie. I knew that Washington would fly under the door at the Freeport and that whole fight sequence was him fighting himself. It was just jaw dropping to realize that Nolan was attempting this high wire act and the last battle just adds on top. I really didn't totally get the final sequence. The briefing wasn't making much sense.

This is one of those movies I REALLY need to watch again to fully understand some things. Watching it for the second time, I'm sure I will spot some time connections I missed earlier. This movie is certainly not perfect, but I felt the effort and lasting impression should deserve a five star rating. Christopher Nolan is the most clever person in Hollywood right now. He can do whatever he wants in my mind and I hope he never stops creating new stories and entertaining audiences. I was thoroughly entertained and so glad to be back in the theater watching a big-idea flim.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Palm Springs, 2020 - ★★★★

A clever and fun romcom that has a lot of Groundhog Day DNA. At first I thought "here we go again" with the day-repeating trick, but the premise grows on you and the shear likability of the two leads (Samberg and Milioti) make this movie work. Great soundtrack too that compliments the story. Definitely worth a watch and bonus kudos to J. K. Simmons for his supporting role that turns really dark at times.

The Way Back, 2020 - ★★★½

Totally forgot to review this movie months ago. Affleck is the nucleus of a serviceable sports film that focuses more on off court issues of battling alcohol addiction. Some of the addiction scenes seem a bit over the top and there's a lot of predictability to the arc of the basketball season but Ben is on-point and gives a great performance. I thought the divorce story-line is a bit forced and shoe-horned into the story but overall I had a good time watching Gavin O'Connor's latest sports film.

Unhinged, 2020 - ★★½

Not the best movie to come back to theaters for, but I did enjoy some of this. Crowe is batshit crazy from start to finish and larger than a whale in this film. The rest of the cast is cookie cutter with average performances throughout. I didn't really like that we got no back story on Crowe's angry vengeful maniac. There's no motivation for what he does but the director definitely lets him go wild. Not worth a viewing in theaters especially with the current reality of COVID viewing. Regardless I was entertained and happy to be back in an actual movie theater.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Platform, 2019 - ★★★

The concept of a prison where shared food is distributed through a vertical chain of cells is interesting and will executed here. We have an on the nose representation of class structure and haves and have nots but this film falls well short when compared to more polished works like Parasite. This is one of the most vile and nauseating movies I've seen. A guy literally poops on another guy's face. The ending seems abrupt and there are so many unanswered questions. It wasn't nothing though and it's worth a watch on Netflix. I'll never think of a buffet the same way again.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Wrong Missy, 2020 - ★★★½

At first I wanted to hate it but Lauren Lapkus grew on me as the film went on. David Spade looks very old and it was interesting to see this right after watching Tommy Boy earlier in the week. I'm not sure how much more I can take of Rob Schneider playing ridiculous over-the-top characters but I guess that's really all he can do. Definitely worth a watch on Netflix and if you're turned off by Lapkus early on just give her a shot and don't give up right away.

Onward, 2020 - ★★★★

Pixar's latest offering is not really groundbreaking but once again the story is solid and the message towards the end really meant something to me. I was not emotionally as invested as with Coco but I still go choked up at the end of this. Holland and Pratt are really good in the lead roles lending their voices to two well-developed characters. The quest to restore Dad's upper-torso is an interesting plot direction but Director Dan Scanlon does a great job of moving the story along. Kudos to Octavia Spencer for providing the right amount of comic relief. This is not one of the best Pixar films but it's an entertaining well-crafted quest-tale that contains the right amount of heart.

The Lighthouse, 2019 - ★★½

This is a another crazy film by Robert Eggers who wasted my time before with The Witch. This is not AS bad as The Witch but still a nautical mess. The story (not much of one) focuses on two lighthouse keepers played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. They both go cuckoo-crazy over a few weeks of their shift. It's hard to understand what is real and imagined through all the visuals of mermaids and light-obsessed fancies. I enjoyed watching Dafoe talk like a pirate and Pattinson seems to be hitting full stride as a top-notch actor now. I just didn't love the black and white 4x3 aspect ratio and think Eggers is too loony for his own good.

If you want to see a movie that makes sense, skip this one.

Waves, 2019 - ★★★½

Heavy subject matter and great acting all around. I've never seen anything else that Trey Edward Shults has done but now I think I need to. Kelvin Harrison Jr. shines especially as Tyler, a troubled high school senior. His combative chemistry with the always excellent Sterling K Brown is terrific. The cast gives their all but there are some creative choices that aren't the best at times. I also didn't really enjoy the music throughout. Definitely worth a watch during quarantine.

A Hidden Life, 2019 - ★★★★½

I normally do not like Terrence Malick films. I hated A Thin Red Line and usually the plodding pacing of his narratives bores me to tears. I decided to give Malick another try earlier this month as I streamed the 4K version of A Hidden Life. Not knowing much about the plot (an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic refuses to fight for the Nazis in WWII) I jumped in with an open mind. What I witnessed over the nearly three hours of runtime was eye-opening.

Malick and his cinematographer Jorg Widmer have produced the single most beautifully shot film I've ever seen. Yes, there are better crafted films by other talented cinematographers (1917 with Roger Deakins is the most recent example), but I've never seen anything like the visuals in this movie. Malick is able to show a simple Austrian village and shoot it in true grand splendor. Rolling hills give way to vast mountainous vistas. There are some jaw-dropping "nature-porn" elements to this film that remind you of how much natural beauty there is on this planet. It's truly an example of taking a perfect filming location and letting it shine on its own. The detail of the village shown vividly in 4K is breathtaking to witness.

August Diehl plays the lead role of Franz Jagerstatter while Valerie Pachner plays his wife Franziska. Both actors give solid, realistic performances. Malick's story here is straight-forward and makes you think about the consequences of war. The contrast of the war-torn prisons that Franz is confined to are brilliantly balanced against the pristine farmland visuals.

This movie won't be for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it and still think about it nearly a month after I saw it. James Newton Howard provides an amazing score that lifts the visuals off the screen even further. Simply put, this is a film that MUST be seen on a large TV in 4K. I can't overstate how beautiful this movie looks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coffee & Kareem, 2020 - ★

It's funny in some sparse places, but this really comes off as a rushed film that seems to have a script that was written on the fly. A lot of over the top language that just isn't needed. I have no idea what Taraji is doing in this mess and I expect better out of Ed Helms.

Don't bother wasting 80 minutes with this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Emma., 2020 - ★★

Just not my cup of tea at all. Probably more polished than Little Women but i was bored throughout. I still like Anya Taylor-Joy a lot and think she has a bright future in Hollywood. It was hard to take your eyes off her in this film and she seemed to fill the title role properly. My wife liked it well enough (a more proper reviewer for this film) but said it failed to meet the high standards set by the Gwenyth Paltrow version. Period pieces just don't do it for me, unfortunately.

The Invisible Man, 2020 - ★★★½

Moss is great in the lead role and the technology is believable. Kinda scary at times but not much new here to really stand out. I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away by the directing or supporting performances.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Lodge, 2019 - ★★★½

Riley Keough gives a great performance as a troubled cult survivor turned potential stepmother taking care of two kids in an isolated winter lodge. This film does nothing new but brings mild scares of the disturbing kind. Probably worth a wait for rental, it definitely is a solid February horror entry.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Gentlemen, 2019 - ★★★½

A classy Guy Ritchie crime mystery that features a bevy of strong performances headlined by Charlie Hunham giving us his best Tom Hardy. Jeremy Strong proves he's not just a Succession one hit wonder. There's nothing new or inventive here but the dialogue is classic Ritchie (the C word gets dropped about 50 times). Hugh Grant gives a very different performance than what you usually expect from him.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bad Boys for Life, 2020 - ★★★★

A MLK day treat for me personally. This third film in the Bad Boys saga (full disclosure... I loved both 1 and 2 in the series) brings us right back to detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) as they patrol the streets of Miami Beach once again. Things are different this time as Marcus is now a grandfather and Mike is no longer "bulletproof". A supporting cast of young up-and-coming SWAT team members are in the mix this go-around and the age jokes are plentiful throughout.

The real heart of this movie is Lawrence who gives a real emotional performance that works. When Marcus sheds some real tears in the middle of the film because of a few key events that affect him, you really believe his acting. He's definitely fallen out of shape a bit but his acting may have actually improved over the years. Will Smith is still the usual cocky lead that drives these films and he makes up for the subpar Gemini Man that he released earlier in 2019. The banter between Smith and Lawrence is what makes these films so good. They just feed so well off of each other and the scenes with heavy dialogue between Mike and Marcus are the moments that shine brightest with this movie.

I really enjoyed this film and it falls right in line with the same tone and quality as the first two. Kudos to young directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah who took the franchise reigns from Michael Bay (who makes a clever cameo in this film) and are setup to direct the next Beverley Hills Cop film as well. The action they showcase on screen is top-notch and well crafted. High concept fight scenes help propel the story and raise the stakes in the end. There's a reveal towards the end of the film that sets things up for another Bad Boys entry (that has just been green-lit). I say bring it on. I love the chemistry of these two characters and as long as Smith and Lawrence are game, I'll be there to see the next film.

The Two Popes, 2019 - ★★★★

I went into this film not looking forward to it but came away extremely glad that I took the time to watch it. This is an excellent "behind-the-scenes" look at the Catholic church and that papal machine. It's really interesting to see inner-workings of the conclave and the selection process of choosing the next pope.

Jonathan Pryce is really good in the lead role as Pope Francis. He looks a lot like the real pope and his chemistry with Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) is fun to watch. Watching where Francis came from in his history and the choices he made leading up to succeeding Benedict was effectively conveyed on-screen by director Fernando Meirelles. You rarely get to see the lives of cardinals and bishops in such a raw format. I'm sure a lot of this isn't totally authentic but it makes for riveting cinema.

Make sure to watch through the credits scene to see a hilarious back-and-forth with the two popes watching the 2014 World Cup Final following the papal transfer of power. I learned a lot watching this film and it's well worth a viewing on Netflix.

Parasite, 2019 - ★★★★½

Bong Joon Ho spins an original tale of class dynamics in modern-day Korea with this interesting look at an entrepreneurial family taking advantage of an opportunity that falls in their lap. Getting into all the plot details here will ruin the experience for a first time viewer so I'll just touch on the asthetics which are remarkable. The crisp, well-paced narrative rolls along with effective from performances from a talented cast.

Bong's production design is excellent and the sleek modern home that sets the stage for much of the movie's events is filmed beautifully. So much so that the house itself becomes a key character in the film. The story is the standout aspect of this movie as there are clever twists and turns throughout. I found myself enjoying the ride and marveling at the high-level craftsmanship of Bong's work.

The only slight issue I had with this film is the over-the-top violence we see towards the end. I'm not usually one who is put off by violence but I don't really know if the film really needed to go to that level to be effective. Still this is a remarkable achievement from a foreign language entry and hopefully this gets rewarded by the Academy next month.

Monday, January 13, 2020

1917, 2019 - ★★★★★

This movie blew me away. Sam Mendes' personal recounting of stories his grandfather told him is at the same time sentimental, moving and utterly thrilling to experience. The film (which plays out over a single day in 1917) focuses on two young British soldiers in World War I. Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman aka Game of Thrones' Tommen Baratheon) are given an order to hand-deliver a message to a different regiment, calling off a planned attack against German forces that would end in massive bloodshed if carried out. The premise is simple but the cinematic execution here is world class.

I felt very much like I did in watching 2013's Gravity when viewing this film. I was riveted to the screen from the first frame and there is an underlying tension and realness that Mendes and his amazing cinematographer Roger Deakins brings to life. You are experiencing war first-hand and get to witness all of the chaos that war brings despite several scenes and settings that portray beautiful landscapes and haunting visuals.

What is so technically amazing about this film is the choreographed fluidity of the film-making involved. From start to finish the camera is right there up close and personal with Schofield and Blake. We see them exploring the trenches in familiar territory at the start and then are right there with them with each new landscape and area of France they explore first-hand. There are numerous scenes that go on for long periods of time without a visible cut in filming. Mendes lets Deakins do his work and through some technical tricks it's almost as if the whole movie is one long take. The scene you see in the trailer of Schofield running through a charging battalion near the end of the film is totally amazing to witness on the big screen. It's a virtual lock that Deakins will take home a well deserved 2nd Oscar win for his work here.

Mendes really should be rewarded as well. In a very similar vein to what Alfonso Cuaron did with Gravity, Mendes orchestrates tragedy, conflict and beauty in a seamless sequence of rich landscapes and realistic battle scenes. At times I felt like I was playing Battlefield or Call of Duty on my PS4 during sequences in this film. While not totally filmed from a first-person perspective there are First-Person-Shooter elements in this movie. Thomas Newman's effective and brilliant score ties in perfectly with the sprawling narrative.

The acting here is serviceable but this is certainly not an actor's movie. MacKay and Chapman give a raw sense of panic and resolve and make you feel like the third Lance Corporal along for the ride with them. Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch all show up for brief scenes but add a sense of authenticity and importance to the film. This film is all about the journey though. The path these two young soldiers have to follow to complete their mission. Through day and night, they experience battle and conflict but also moments of clarity and kindness that contrast the horror of war.

Simply put, 1917 is a masterpiece. A poetic symphony of site and sound that brings you along with the two heroes of the film in a totally immersive experience that flies along at a rapid pace (this felt like an hour-long film). I can without-a-doubt say that this is right up there with Saving Private Ryan as the best war movie ever made. I really liked Dunkirk, but Mendes one-upped Christopher Nolan here. This is easily the best film of 2019 and I hope Oscar rewards this extremely high-level of film-making.