Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Gentlemen (2020) Is A Typical Guy Ritchie Movie

Guy Ritchie The Gentlemen movie review
STXfilms (United States)
With the exclusion of a few titles under his cap, director Guy Ritchie has mostly replicated his plots for the past twenty-five years. Having his universe of copy+paste indie-mob flicks, based solely on the cast and how many times they can find new entertaining ways to curse, isn't the worst career to possess in film these days. But it's not necessarily the most exciting either.

Sleazy private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) tracks down the dirty business arrangements between cannabis tycoon Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) and an American millionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong). With the intel he discovers, he attempts to bribe Mickey’s right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), and that's just not going to sit well with at all.

Like most of Ritchie’s movies, The Gentlemen throws you into the middle of the action, and then sets up the story and characters as it moves forward. Told in a non-linear perspective, Fletcher narrates his version of a wide range of events between Pearson and Berger, and a few other side-villains (too much divulging of the plot might create spoilers). At first glance, the set-up is predictable. Using a charismatic, sketchy narrator like Grant brilliantly draws us into accepting that what Fletcher says goes – he’s a pure outsider, but he’s collected good evidence to even attempt challenging the kings of the jungle. But over time as Person, Raymond, and Berger have cards up their sleeves too, a realization dawns that everything is not what it seems –some mice are making their own mouse-traps (no help required by its prey), some cats have a lion on their tail. It's not brilliantly or refreshingly setting up twists and surprises, but it's enough to keep the endings feeling satisfactory.

For the most part, however, The Gentlemen is paint-by-numbers straight-forward. As much Ritchie's movies like to unfold at all angles and keep you on your toes, too much of the film relies on the drama between Raymond idly listening to Fletcher’s one-man play, and the audience falling down their rabbit hole. The plot is intriguing enough, but there aren’t big exciting twists to hook you along the way – not a lot of comedy or action to keep the pace rolling. Any build-up to potential violence is unevenly edited out. The roundabout story lives up to the hype, but the tension never fully plays out like it could've. Everything about the film's tone is just ‘enough’.

Mainly, Ritchie's betting on us to invest in the cast and their characters– who are the stockiest stock of gangsters a movie can have: Grant's Fletcher is the comic relief, McConaughey’s Pearson is the head honcho, Hunnam’s Raymond is the all-knowing right-hand man, Dockery’s Rosalind is the biting femmefatale, Farrell’s the gruffly unconventional fighter – and many more. They’re not boring performances by any means (though Strong as the mustache-twirling Berger is atrociously miscast); they’re having fun, so it’s okay for them to exist in their element believing in a project as much as Ritchie does. (The film also utilizes an impeccable score by Christopher Benstead  to add much-needed tension, and costume design by Michael Wilkinson adds a cheekiness boldness to every his/her character’s natural over-the-top personality.) Ritchie aces some elements, he bluffs at others.

Sometimes it's okay to watch a director stay in his lane. Sometimes it's unchallenging and monotonous. This is the thought-teeter-totter I had while watching The Gentlemen. The film checks-off every box you’d expect: Set in and around London. A magnetic cast. One to-two female leads in a sea of male leads (Dockery's done a disservice here, but won't go into because spoilers). After two hours of feeling like a Larry David gif, I ultimately left the theater shrugging expectantly but also having had fun. The good news about The Gentlemen is that it falls into the director and writer's formula of mob flicks only he can make. The bad news is that the final results are the same as always. It's a Guy Ritchie movie, what do you expect.

Rating: ★1/2
Have you seen The Gentlemen? What did you think?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Quick Movie Reviews

From stealing the Declaration of Independence to escaping your psychotic in-laws, these are my quick movie reviews for National Treasure, Tremors, and Ready or Not. They're great picks for a fun night at home, and if you're looking for some action/adventure over the weekend. Have you seen these films? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Little Women (2019) Revitalizes A Classic for A New Generation

Sony Pictures Releasing
Every generation of bookworms experience a new adaptation of Little Women. As Hollywood brings author Louisa May Alcott's tale to the big screen for the seventh time, it's easy to believe the beloved story fulfills another quota for the reboot machine. Unlike most recent flailing remakes that fail to step out of the box or honor the original, director Greta Gerwig instills enough changes to revitalize the classic as well as stick to its roots.

Set during the Civil War, the March sisters face trials and tribulations with their place in the world. While Jo (Saoirse Ronan) aspires to be an independent writer, she struggles alongside her sisters Amy (Florence Pugh), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Meg (Emma Watson) to follow their passions or find economic stability through marriage.

As with an highly-anticipated book adaptation, the first question that comes to every loyal reader's mind is if the movie stays true to its source. Though I've never read the classic novel before, and only familiar with Gillian Armstrong's 1994 version, Greta Gerwig's Little Women remains familiar to the original story and how it's been explored on-screen before. With a story as universally recognized as this, the film hits key scenes that almost everyone's expects to see, and a few newer ones that have been overlooked. Primarily, this latest version sets itself apart by its non-linear storytelling. Instead of dutifully using the novel from chapter-to-chapter, the script maps out Jo's life from the middle as she grapples with becoming a respected writer and uses flashbacks to explore her adolescence. Less focused on driving the plot, this new take acts as a love letter to the March family, Louisa May Alcott, and the passion it takes to be a writer.

For the most part, the film's non-linear angle is where the story succeeds and falters. As the film's most common criticism is the flashbacks, for me, it's less that flashbacks are used at all but more of how they're used. With Jo tying the film together between her own dreams and her sisters' lives, the script tries to build tension between each March sister of how they want to approach their troubles. As the film tries to recreate Alcott's narrative as a collage of memories, the flashbacks often removes us from the main storyline just as it begins or continues. The characters exploring the past is often in parallel to how their lives turned out as adults, and it's very worthy quest. But the style of flashbacks also varies too often, sometimes being told solely from Jo's point of view to switching between other characters can be jarring. Gerwig's approach doesn't damage the film entirely, but the inclusion of plots isn't as smooth as it could've been.

Where Little Women remarkably sets itself apart from the earlier versions in the most timely way possible is exploring the character's motivations and personalities. We mainly get a sense of the March sisters through their different vocations - writing for Jo, painting for Amy, music for Beth, and homemaking for Meg - and what it means to each of them and their future. While most of the adaptations kept the inner-workings of society as a backdrop, the main thread here explores how the March clan rejects or accepts their place as women - the economic practicality of getting married to someone rich versus someone poor, how marriage also makes a woman and their children property to their husband, and how it's frowned upon for a woman to pursue passions outside of a family life or service to the community. Not only does the film offer nods to Alcott's possible queerness and original intention for her novel's ending, Gerwig's version could be considered the most feminist so far with inspiring messages of a woman's freedom or lack-thereof to choose their fate that perfectly aligns with its author.

The variety of timelines also gives the cast a chance to shine both individually and as an ensemble. Though it's impossible to pinpoint a bad apple in the bunch, the film truly belongs to a select few. With Jo at the center, Ronan cements another transformative performance in an unstoppable career of wondrously complex roles that spotlight her range. Following her, Pugh as Amy gives more dimension of the character who's commonly regarded as superficial and spoiled, and Timothee Chalamet delivers a demure yet awkwardly charming turn as Laurie. (Chris Cooper as Teddy's grandfather, who is often portrayed as stern and distant, also gives a remarkably warm and unique performance.) Some of the supporting roles - Watson, Scanlen, and Laura Dern -  are a little lost in the shuffle due to the script's structure, but they are nonetheless wonderful as well, and complete the portrait of why the March family has endured for almost 150 years.

Heartfelt, humorous, and tear-jerking, the film aspires to appeal to hardcore literature fans as well as  general movie goers who might only be familiar with past films. Despite the script's uneven handling of timelines, the film has Gerwig's indelible fingerprints all over it - the way it's able to move between so many different emotions and arcs, never lags or rushes the plot, and has a keen sense of her unique strengths behind the camera to offer a love letter to life itself (for Lady Bird it was independence, family, and coming of age, for Little Women its writing and Louisa May Alcott). In a little under two years, Gerwig's not a director to "watch out for" anymore, but someone who has established a vibrant spirit and female voice in film that's sorely lacking. No matter how many times Little Women has been remade and will be refashioned in the future, Gerwig's vision carves out her own spot and lives up to Alcott's legacy.

Rating: ★
Have you seen Little Women? What did you think?

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019) Is Not The Finale You're Looking For

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker movie review
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Since legendary filmmaker George Lucas changed movie history with a little space opera called Star Wars (1977), generations of fans have been obsessed with the imaginative sci-fi universe he created.  Slated to tell the story of the Skywalker clan over the course of nine movies, it’s been written in the stars that the epic saga would eventually close this chapter forever. Expected to stick the franchise’s landing with the latest trilogy The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), its final film The Rise of Skywalker is not the finale many of us were looking for.

In 2015, the Star Wars legacy was reignited with director and writer JJ Abrams’s The Force Awakens. A ragtag group of heroes fighting against the Empire 2.0 hit too close to home with A New Hope, but offered a chance to connect with a younger generation of characters and explore new plots. Namely, why did Luke Skywalker disappear? How did Ben Solo’s relationship with his uncle turn him to the dark side of the Force? Who was Rey from nowhere? The film was filled with endless possibilities that unraveled in the divisive follow-up The Last Jedi. Trying to answer as many questions as possible while also subverting expectations, director and writer Rian Johnson planted fresh ideas about failure in the Star Wars mythos. It gave us the chance to imagine Star Wars if it didn’t act like a formulaic blockbuster Star Wars film. Given full reigns to reinsert his own character development and plot, Abrams returned to throw everything at the wall and give fans the climatic finale they wanted. But it’s also one that we never imagined and might not have realistically needed.

After The Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) escapes The First Order, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is tasked with completing her Jedi training to take down Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). When the prince of darkness makes an unexpected reunion with the invincible Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine, both Rey and Kylo's connection to The Force will drive them to confront their biggest fears and darkest secrets.

This review contains spoilers from the film - read at your own risk.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Joker (2019) Makes Clowns Of Us All

Joker movie review
Warner Bros. Pictures
Box office dominance, Academy Award victories, and a stream of superhero movies slated for the next five years. All signs point to comic book movies not going away any time soon. As traditional filmmakers call out the formulaic scope of CGI thrills, it seems like the genre is still due for a timely swing in a different direction - a grim character study, subtle comic mythology, and a thought-provoking message about the state of the world. Joker is the first to step up to the plate, and then misses the mark on such an impressive scale, I was left laughing until it hurt.

Living in the slums of Gotham City with his troubled mother, social outcast, party clown, and aspiring comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) struggles with his mental illness. As ruthless street punks, his boss, a late night talk show host, and society seemingly have out for him, Fleck wrestles to fulfill his aspirations of putting on a happy face and making the world smile. Subsequently, the ostracization he endures drives him closer to becoming the nihilistic criminal he abhors.

Director Todd Phillips leaves the comedy world behind to take on a complex comic book icon who blurs the lines between villain and anti-hero. In pop culture, Joker's earned a status of cool by swatting at the privileged classes while having a laugh at the city's expense. Despite his unhinged personality and behavior, Joker's maddening method to the chaos easily gains legions of fans who believe anarchy can dismantle the system. By following in The Dark Knight's footsteps with a gripping portrayal, Phillips tries to tackle mental health for the Joker's origins. But the root of his film's problems is that there's not much here except untapped potential.

To start, the story preemptively bets we'll automatically be on his side simply due to the plethora of reasons for how Arthur's unending and mounting suffering - a traumatic brain injury leaves him with a condition where he's triggered to laugh at the most inopportune times. Residing with his mother who has her own mental health problems, he's a relative shut-in with no social skills or social life. He gets beat up at his job, the people he works with hates him, and just when you think life couldn't kick him down anymore, it does, and he increasingly doesn't have any more ha-ha-ha's to give. Despite what he faces, Arthur supposedly has aspirations to make Gotham better than what it is - to be kinder, less cynical, and make people smile. But when given the opportunity to truly step in and help others, he doesn’t. He remains focused on himself, internalizes all the world's problems around him, and then starts violently lashing out.

What ends up happening here is that the film does little to give you something to root for why Arthur might not or shouldn't have a breakdown even though it's inevitable. Phillips's only draw for tension is that Arthur's stability is cracking or cracked beyond the point of no return, and we're just there to ride it out. In turn, the city of Gotham itself and every supporting character no matter if they are a group of Latinx kids, a dwarf, another white guy at Arthur's gig, or a single mother of color exists purely to be a bystander of Arthur’s destruction. He doesn't even take a public stand against the film's biggest foe-in-the-background Thomas Wayne who wants to use the 99% as his own white savior project, but Arthur gets the credit for it for a real crime he committed that happens to go "viral." Anything that potentially appears good for Arthur is eventually twisted into a device that doesn't aid him and never intended to do so in the first place. This is advantageous for a film that aims to use the final straw as a climax for his breakdown; it's a disadvantage when Arthur's non-existent non-movement for peace or chaos is so incidental, the explosion of rebellion feels inserted into the plot rather than a result of his actions. Gotham exists so much in Arthur's peripheral that his mob of copycat clowns is just violence as a means to a disturbing end.

While I’m all for a film exploring how a character can't pick themselves back up again despite their best efforts or their mental state used to shift plot structure, alter timelines and create illusions (Memento, Black SwanShutter Island, American Psycho), Joker relies on a performance that's absolutely hollow in carrying out its intentions. Despite his massive weight loss and vacant expressions, Phoenix is shockingly void of a personality and internal struggles, and especially “finding some real”. His cringe-worthy laughs and abstract dances mean to signal his increasing loss of reality, but remains a repetitive running gag that doesn't stem from any real source of psychosis or deeper expression of self. Phoenix's lack of depth only calls back to why Heath Ledger’s version delivered a fulfilling complex portrayal - it wasn't just the voice and make-up that got him the Oscar, but every laugh, lie, and seed he planted had a resonating motivation to turn Gotham in on itself. For Phoenix, there’s nothing going on beyond the veil of Arthur’s misfortune (several of which are his own silly mistakes and not imposed on him because the world is ~evil~).

With Phillip's overall direction that manages to maintain an even pace without utilizing an iota of tension or action to support it, Joker isn't a total waste. In the middle of all the tomfoolery is a script by Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver that's terrifyingly relevant to our current era of Arthur Fleck's in the news. There are small tricks with his transformation and the setting that creates a palpable and enigmatic energy where you're waiting for something exciting to happen - the NYC atmospheric edge of the 1970s, the idea of his laugh as an uncontrollable response, the thinnest re-examination of Arthur;s connection to the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents. Besides the clown make-up and the inclusion of Batman characters, that's all you're going to find of DCEU here. Surrounding the scraps of a decent script is an an all-encompassing cinematography by Lawrence Sher and heart-pounding score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that makes Joker hard to turn away from, and delivers on being different than the formulaic superhero movies we're used to.

Phillips and Phoenix admirably attempts to solve the superhero flick problem by making a non-CGI spectacle, but they barely graze the surface of anything they’re trying to say. Instead of digging deep into Fleck's development into Joker, the movie parks itself on the corner and dances down the street while the film world goes up in flames. As much as Arthur wears a mask to the rest of the world, Joker wears one too - by trying to make a point about the disenfranchised (white males) without actually making one. It's also unsurprising that this becomes an example of the pseudo character study we're left with when following ex-producer Martin Scorsese's idea of traditional storytelling - genres actually blur together. In the end, Joker’s too boring to be considered brilliant, not worth the hot-take hype culture, and too pointless to be cancelled. It just makes clowns of us all.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Joker? What did you think?

Friday, November 29, 2019

(Spoiler Free) Knives Out (2019) Resurrects The Who Dun It Genre

Knives Out movie review
Knives Out / Lionsgate
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that manages to hit all the right spots - funny, suspenseful, detailed production design, fantastic cast, a real entertaining thrill ride. As the film industry is in the throes of artful cinema versus blockbuster cinema, sometimes you need a director who can kind of do both. Enter Rian Johnson.

On his 85th birthday, acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies unexpectedly and leaves his entire family grasping at straws over his passing. Renown detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) comes in to investigate and teams up with local Thrombey fanboy Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) and Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) to find out the truth. With a massive estate on the line, what is initially ruled as a suicide unravels into a much deeper mystery where everyone - Thrombey's goodhearted nurse Marta (Ana De Armas) and his whole family Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), Walter Thrombey (Michael Shannon), Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), Meg Thrombey (Katharine Langford), Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell) - are a suspect for Harlan's murder.

After the divisive reception to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, taking over the murder-mystery genre is a step in the right direction for director and writer Rian Johnson. His longtime familiarity and appreciation of the genre is evident in Knives Out from beginning to end. From the lone antique-filled house on a hill in the midst of a cold Boston winter to the unraveling plot that manages to stitch itself together act by act, Johnson has total control over the film. Even when the plot ventures in directions you never imagined, he manages to keep it on track but keep you guessing.

At the film's heart and as a true source of zest is the fantastic ensemble. The Thrombeys are teeming with greed, ignorance, and entitlement. A death in the family doesn't necessarily show their true colors, but instead makes their genuine personalities grow more self-absorbed. There are a few sympathetic faces among the selfish elite, but doesn't necessarily dim just how dysfunctional and passionate the family truly is about their own self-interests and their patriarch. Despite the massive undertaking of making sure the characters are treated as evenly as possible, every supporting character feels like a person on their own with potential motives for killing Harlan. They also feel like a part of a whole, and surprisingly, nobody gets too lost in the shuffle - their audacious behaviors almost makes you want to see more of how this family works from the inside out.

Their chaotic dynamics are spectacularly balanced out with Marta and the detectives - Benoit Blanc, Trooper Wagner and Detective Lieutenant Elliot. While the film is definitely an ensemble piece, it's not difficult to see who the film truly belongs to - Ana De Armas, Daniel Craig, and Chris Evans. Even though Marta is apart of the family, she's also clearly an outsider excluding Harlan. She manages to survive their prejudice through a test of wills, courage, and kindness, and becomes of the best written characters and performances of the year. This role, combined with her next stint in Bond, will make it hard to believe her career does anything but skyrocket. Next to her is Blanc, a detective clearly pulled from the archives of every murder mystery detective ever, yet manages to be his own quirky, trusting, enigmatic, sprightly character on his own. (For those who aren't familiar with Craig's work outside of Bond, he's finally going to turn a lot of heads.) And, even though Evans carved out great performances outside of Captain America, it's refreshing to see him emerge from the Marvel umbrella even more; Ransom attracts everyone into his web with honey and vinegar, and Evans's charm makes you trust and question his every move. The trio's chemistry together truly acts as the film's glue.

Expectantly, as a murder mystery, Knives Out runs the risk of audiences figuring out the plot early, leaving the rest of the film to feel boring and uninteresting. While I was left generally guessing all the way through, the main plot is surprisingly answered quite early in the two hour running. Initially, this might give off the impression that the rest of the film will struggle to add up. However, with time and every act afterwards, Johnson's script is a true beast at connecting all the dots; his plotting shines with the full breadth of twists that never stop unfolding.

However, this is also where some of the story decisions works for and against itself - sometimes the direction or script is too obvious for its own good, or sometimes subtle enough to let the atmosphere and dynamics take on a life of their own. Where Johnson goes right is fleshing out the main mystery into a wider plot that weaves Harlan's death into a full circle. As stones are turned, there's always another that has to be turned again. Every act in their entirety is suspenseful and thrilling, even if the revelations themselves might be predictable for some moviegoers. Where Johnson struggles, and only slightly, is when compelling moments are spelled out directly and come across as unnatural and forced instead of letting them be subtle and take on a life of their own - (one regurgitated gimmick that'd probably work on SNL isn't as smart as it thinks it is, and a Thrombey-fueled debate on immigration feels forced rather than a natural extension of how ignorant they are.). There is a slight imbalance with tones that Johnson employs to infuse the moment with wit and tension that doesn't always stick the landing. Even with the smallest details that aren't as strong as they could be, the film combines humor, heart, and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat.

From beginning to end, Knives Out does as it promises by taking movie goers on an absolute rollercoaster ride. Its immaculate casting, splendid production and costume design, and dauntless performances is a refreshing jaunt outside of beloved franchises and stream-worthy series as of late. It's difficult to not love the film as it is, but also question if its non-stop praise is due in part that we haven't seen a film like this in a while (a la Clue, Gosford Park, etc.), and not because it's absolutely flawless as many claim. That said, Johnson still delivers a funny, suspenseful and relevant murder mystery that breathes new life into the Who Dun It genre.

Rating for Knives Out: ★★★
Have you seen Knives Out? What do you think?

Monday, November 25, 2019

Maiden (2018) Shows Courage Against All The Odds

Maiden documentary review
Sony Pictures Classics
Rarely does history feel like its shifting when the status quo remains the same. Yet when we look on the past as a kaleidoscope of groundbreaking events in politics, entertainment, and sports, culture is transformed because a few ordinary people were called to forge their own path. A small moment creates a ripple effect that lasts for generations. Maiden tells the inspiring true story of Tracey Edwards and her bid to race the 1989–1990 Whitbread Round the World Race with an all-female crew for the first time.

Much more than a documentary, Maiden captures Edwards’s journey before she changed the competitive nature of sailing forever. As the crew’s cook Jo Gooding says, “If you believe in everything people tell you, you can't do, what would humankind have achieved?”. With captivating footage exploring the chapters of Edwards's life from childhood to adulthood, Maiden dives deep into the courage of the women who dared to do something different: not only be a woman stepping into a man’s world but compete the best that they could.

As much as the film is a documentary, it also works as a biopic, capturing the essence of someone's life and the challenges they faced to become who they are today. The trajectory of gates being closed to Edwards dates back to her childhood when her father passed away and her mother couldn’t take over his HIFI business. Like sailing, it was a male dominated field. Similar to the ocean, there’s a fire burning within her that made her not want to give up. After Edwards tried to make it on her own as a teenager with a clan of misfits, nomads, and dropouts all running away from something on the sea, the environment of skippers and father figures spurned her to go a step further: charter her own all-female crew and race with them.

The Whitbread Round the World Race maps out 33,000 miles from Southampton in South East England to Uruguay, and then Ft. Lauderdale in Florida. Divided into different courses, teams push each other and fight against mother nature to navigate the ocean for top prize. Sliced in between real footage of their journey are interviews with Edwards, her crew members, journalists, and male competitors who give you a full portrait of the hurdles to commandeer their own ship as spectators and critics placed bets they wouldn't survive the first leg.

The Maiden's trials are as big as its triumphs – when they first rally together to prepare, no company or brand steps up to sponsor them; while the male competitors are asked questions about their skills; the media looks for jealousy and catfights for the women; everyone thinks they won’t make it, and when crewmates have to literally be tied to the ship to avoid being thrown overboard as they battle massive waves, there is a genuine chance they might not survive one part of the race let alone the whole expedition. Their small victories also add up: finding the right sponsor who believe women can do anything, overcoming injuries and learning to work as a team. Through every step of the way as the Maiden races around the world, the voyage Edwards starts is far different physically, emotionally, and socially then when they finish.

Though she's not a fictional character drawn from a novel or comic book, the film is a wondrous character study of Edwards, her crew, and the state of the world for women both in 1989 and now. The calling for the Maiden team to have a natural freedom to do what they love grows into a subtle movement, one where they don't just want to participate; they want to make an impact and to be seen for more than the generic stereotypes of being a woman. Maiden sets out to become an example of what people can do when they work hard and aren't hold back by their gender or other societal stats. The film also sets a lasting impression that you don't know you're changing the world in the moment, but sometimes there's nothing else you can do except to trust your instincts and go further than anyone else has gone before.

Rating for Maiden: ★★★
Have you seen Maiden? What do you think?

Please Note: I was provided with a screener in order to watch this film. This is not a sponsored post. My opinion is my own. Maiden is currently available to watch on Amazon, Youtube, Netflix DVD, and GooglePlay.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Film Spotlight: The Fare (interview with Brinna Kelly)

In the middle of nowhere, a charming woman Penny (Brinna Kelly) hails a taxi from a world-weary driver Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi). Though their initial encounter is only fleeting, their chemistry is suspiciously electric - almost as if they’ve met before. Soon, the duo come to an unsettling realization that they are trapped reliving the same moment over and over. The search for truth about what’s happened will undoubtedly change their lives forever.

Directed by D.C. Hamilton, The Fare immediately grabs your attention with its nostalgic atmosphere. A lone cab out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but two passengers, a mysterious radio show, and an electrical storm blocking their trip makes you feel like you’ve been transported into The Twilight Zone. There’s the natural sense, like with any sci-fi flick, that something else is brewing underneath the surface of what’s occurring on-screen. The use of special effects between the stretch of road Harris’s cab cruises over and over again as well as the black and white cinematography gives The Fare a production value of a much larger studio. Yet, as Penny and Harris’s relationship unfolds, the film also holds onto the intimate character experience of an indie, and lets the film unfold more than the initial sci-fi impression. Despite the seemingly simple premise, there’s a lot at play with the production between the characters and story, and Hamilton manages it with ease.

Similarly, some films falter when its cast can’t live up to the story, or the story engulfs the characters. But as a two-person show (three including the voice-over of Jason Stuart), it’s hard to believe how much the film relies and thrives on the deft performances of Brinna Kelly and Gino Anthony Pesi.

For Penny and Harris to work as individual characters reliving the same moment, as well as a partnership that evolves and flows with the story, their chemistry has to shine from the start. Even though the characters have been trapped together for an inordinate amount of time, their connection must be strong enough to sense that something else is going on between them – it’s not too fresh or too worn down to ruin the allusion of how long they’ve running into each other. They have a real interest in each other as well as a light-hearted banter and connection that makes you root for them. Both Kelly and Pesi exude that balance as their characters grapple with the routine of what they’ve experienced before as well as the startling discoveries that come along. It’d be difficult to believe that Kelly and Pesi don’t break out into the wider span of what Hollywood has to offer at some point, and hopefully The Fare will give them a bigger launching pad.

While this film works seamlessly together with the actors and production, The Fare’s greatest strength is its script. The direction and look of the film will grab your visual attention, and the performances will hook you emotionally, but the set-up of mystery and drama unfolds throughout Kelly’s plot with an impressive amount of pacing. The story rarely lags or feels overdone as the sci-fi element of a time loop gradually explores the loneliness of Harris’s lifestyle, the loss and yearning for connection, and contemplating the unknown. Kelly offers enough questions to keep you guessing about why and how the characters are trapped together, but doesn’t limit the characters’ own story. As the movie moves towards the ending, it’s surprisingly fitting how the film doesn’t throw in a twist just to be shocking as many sci-fi films manage to do. By all means, there is a twist - it’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but you also can’t say for sure you saw it coming. It fits well into the story that Kelly lays out, and depending on your guesses, should still leave you feeling satisfied.

Hamilton’s work on the production offers a visual appeal for longtime fans of The Twilight Zone, while Kelly’s script digs just as deep as Rod Serling’s character studies. Being forced to relive a moment or being trapped by the limitations of time has been done before throughout film and various genres – Memento, Groundhog’s Day, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and About Time, to name a few – yet none of them can quite compare to The Fare.

As always, I provide an honest critique for every film that I screen, and hope that you will check out the review and interview below. The Fare is currently available on YouTubeGoogle Play, and Amazon.

Rating for The Fare: ★★★

Friday, September 27, 2019

Judy (2019) Reminds Us Of the Woman Behind the Stardom

Biopics is one of the trickiest genres. Directors aim to pay homage to someone they admire or whose work speaks to them. But if a film exerts too much creative freedom, the story blurs lines between  fiction and reality. If creative pursuits are limited too much, reading a Wikipedia page would be more exciting. For an American icon like Judy Garland, there's more than enough exaggerated lore director Rupert Goold's Judy could've pulled from. And yet for the first time since the last salacious profile, the film finds a good balance between exploring the myth of Judy and showing the real side of her.

Based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, Judy covers the last year of the legend's rollercoaster life. Facing homelessness, bankruptcy, and a custody battle for her children, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) takes on a five-week engagement of sold-out shows at London's Talk of the Town. As she grapples with one more comeback and falls head over heels for a sketchy entrepreneur Mickey Deans (Finn Witrock), Garland struggles to keep her head above water as her final spotlight starts burning out.

With all that has been gossiped about Miss Showbusiness, how a biopic would grapple with her legacy is a question I've asked myself as a longtime fan of "Joots." At worst, I expected a repeat of scathing tell-alls that are more concerned with melodrama and anonymous sources; so much so that they ignore her humanity and tarnish her reputation. At best, I just wanted it to be better or just as good as other musical biopics. A well-organized, entertaining, and emotionally-driven tribute doesn't seem like a lot to ask for, but the last time I wished for a biopic of a favorite icon, I got Bohemian Rhapsody... To  my great delight, this film hits most of the right notes.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Geek, And You Shall Find (2019) Celebrates the Power of Superheroes Within

Geek, And You Shall Find (2019)
Superhero Faces Productions / Geek, And You Shall Find
Superman. Spider-Man. Captain America. Wonder Woman. These are just a few super-heroic characters who have become beloved icons for children and adults alike. From the famous Hall H at San Diego Comic Con to breaking box office records, it’s almost impossible to believe the arduous and inspiring evolution of geekdom. And yet, fandom not only started with the humble origins of comic books, but has also catapulted the way in which we navigate our everyday lives and the world around us.

Geek, and You Shall Find explores the fascinating past and future of comic books. Its creators and their stories have made a lasting impression on generations of readers, but where did it all start? How do the stories we love reflect society and vice versa? What can we truly gain from admiring characters that wear masks, don capes, and try to save their fellow man? Superhero Faces Productions journeys into the depths of Marvel, Westeros, Star Wars, and more to understand the life-changing impact behind our galaxy's biggest fandoms.

Starting with The Great Depression and the initial creation of Superman, Geek, and You Shall Find uncovers the rich history of beloved larger-than-life characters becoming an antidote and answer to society's greatest ordeals: war, racism, class disparity, immigration, and gender inequality. In speaking with the late Stan Lee, George R.R. Martin, Roy Thomas, and Kevin Eastman, the documentary examines the rise and challenges the comic book revolution has overcome and still faces. From censorship to international conflicts, comic books have not only withstood the test of time but also influenced reality far more than we could ever consider. Beyond the breaking down the timeline of how comic book creators imagined the fictional heroes we revere today, the film also implements Joseph Campbell’s heroes journey and how it mirrors our lives in mythological terms.

Drawing strength from comic books is no different than seeing ourselves in religious, historical, or public figures. Despite the fantastical or science-fiction approach to reflect the best and worst traits humans possess, comic books aren't often recognized as 'real' entertainment. When examining political issues, expanding inclusion, and challenging the status quo, the genre's critics are often the first to protest that 'serious' issues don't belong in their fandom. Outside of connecting with the genre's 'godfathers', the documentary also features creators standing up for what they believe in, psychologists  using comic books to help patients deal with trauma, and fans reaching out to each other for support and camaraderie. The worlds escape with on-screen and on the page prove to inspire real activism, practice compassion, and break barriers with their personal views.

As a self-proclaimed geek, it’s difficult to not find one area of my life that isn’t influenced by movies, books, or shows. When we connect with superheroes, Jedis, hobbits or wizards on their adventures, we become a part of their story and vice versa. Their ability to face against greedy corporations, evil masterminds, and stand up after being knocked down gives us strength to handle our own setbacks and victories. By participating in fandom over the years, I've grown out of my introverted cave to express my love of pop culture to write, cosplay, and try to inspire others to be the best that they can be. Comic books re-affirm what I love about fandom is as true and meaningful as I think it is for myself and fellow geeks as well.

Geek, and You Shall Find celebrates the rich history of storytelling in general and profound lessons and transformation comic books has on humanity. Superhero Faces Productions creates a positive affirmation about our unique passion for storytelling, and also invites those who don’t believe in the power of geek culture to reconsider. Their work maintains a wonderful balance of personalizing fandom from its roots to its present day success. We might not literally have spiderwebs shooting out of our wrists or take it to the streets against caped villains. But when we geek out, we are embracing a part of our identities in a whole new way and reminds us to embrace the superhero within.
Rating for the film: ★★★
Have you seen Geek, and You Shall Find? What do you think?

Please Note: I was provided with a screener in exchange for an honest review. Geek, and You Shall Find is available to watch on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Quick Movie Reviews

I happened to catch a few older and newer movies in July, but felt my thoughts were better if they were laid out simple reviews. A part of me is hoping I can keep this up to complete my 2019 bucket list, so I'll see where this goes. These are my quick movie reviews for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Thelma, and Ali. The review for Thelma contains spoilers. Have you seen these films? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Us (2019) Works Best in Fragments But Not As A Whole

Us movie review
Universal Pictures
In 2017, Jordan Peele made the unforgettable switch as a comedy veteran to masterful horror director. His debut film Get Out stunned audiences with complex storytelling, attention to detail, and ability to set an allegory of the real world into the horror scene. While it’s natural to expect just as much from him for his next film, Us turned out to be a lukewarm experience in its story and script. Much of it works on paper, but what's presented on screen leaves as many open-ended questions as it answers.

The Wilson family – Adelaide (Lupita N’Yongo), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) - venture to a lake house near Santa Cruz for a fun vacation. Their harmless trip to the beach turns deadly when mysterious clones emerge around the country to hunt their other halves down. A traumatic event from Adelaide’s past, where she encountered her own doppelganger, brings back haunting memories, but they also might be the key to their survival.

If you haven't seen Us, read at your own risk. This post contains spoilers!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Katie Says Goodbye (2016) Strives to Find Meaning Out Of Misery

Katie (Olivia Cooke) dreams of leaving her past behind to move to San Francisco and attend beauty school. While pulling double-shifts as a waitress where her tips are wasted by her alcoholic mother, the seventeen-year-old supplements her savings as a prostitute. As she reserves every dime she can for greener pastures, falling in love with an ex-convict Bruno (Christopher Abbott) spirals her life out of control.

Everyone in Katie Says Goodbye has to forge their way in a claustrophobic nowhere town in the middle of the desert. There’s little to do for its residents except serve travelers on the road, drink, have sex – either for fun or as a gig. Left to fend for themselves with the basic necessities, Katie makes the best of what she has always looking for the silver lining. A few glimpses at her day-to-day life of monotonous waitressing, and excitedly gleaming at passing trains offers no rhyme or reason as to why she remains abundantly hopeful, and yet the film lovingly sets up this infectious charm only to gradually deconstruct it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Booksmart (2019) Is A Genuine Revelation

Booksmart Movie Review
Photo Credit: United Artists Releasing
Every generation has a coming-of-age movie that speaks to them - Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Mean Girls. Joining a solid pack of recent flicks exploring girls' complex emotions and moving into the real world - Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Olivia Wilde's directorial debut with Booksmart explores even the bookworms don't know it all.

From earning admission into Yale to doing charity work in Botswana, best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have high aspirations for themselves and their classmates. When Molly discovers that the slackers have also leveled up into amazing post-high school opportunities without sacrificing fun, she encourages Amy to squeeze four years of partying into the night before graduation. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rocketman's (2019) Imagination Almost Burns Itself Out

Rocketman movie review
Paramount Pictures
Biopics tend to play it safe. They're afraid to veer too off from presenting the facts by the books and  rests on its laurels about whoever the story is based on. Given the freedom to delve into Elton John's colorful and bold life, Rocketman explore more than thirty years of the iconic musician's life. Combining elements of music and story, director Dexter Fletcher's goes all in, to the point that you wish he reeled it back just a little.

Growing up with his cold father and self-absorbed mother, a young Elton John finds refuge, imagination, and identity in his musical gifts. The lack of love he didn't received as a child, homophobia, and toxic relationships turns into a devastating recipe for substance abuse as he rises in the music industry. (Read the full review below)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

John Wick (Chapter 3 - Parabellum) Is Back So Tell A Friend

John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum
After making a name for himself on a bus with Speed (1994), as the Chosen One in The Matrix (1999), and fighting demons in Constantine (2005), Keanu Reeves headlining a spy movie was an absolute no-brainer. But nobody could’ve probably anticipated the unstoppable resurgence his career would’ve taken with John Wick in 2015. The start of a non-stop action chronicle where his character brutally, endlessly assassinates other assassins is just something we can't get enough.

The John Wick series is unlike any other spy movie. In one-fourteenth of the time of James Bond’s legacy, fans have gobbled up John Wick and all the new ways he can kill someone over the past four years. It isn't that he just massacres bystanding hitmen; it's the intense choreography Keanu and the stunt crew perfect for every action scene; his enigmatic reputation and the relateable relationship Wick has with his dog; the slick direction of Chad Stahelski; the sleek production design as Wick sheds blood in a nightclub, on the city streets, or by a dockside that keeps us wanting more. While John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum carries over all of the stunning elements from the first two films, it also proposes that idea that sometimes story can damper the action.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Isn't It Romantic (2019) Knows How To Be A Copy But Not Exactly Original

Warner Bros. Pictures
Natalie (Rebel Wilson) cherished romantic comedies as a young girl, watching Pretty Woman with wide-eyed optimism and believing her own life could turn into an epic fairytale. When her mom shatters her dreams that women like them don’t get their happily-ever-after, she grows up to be cynical about love and the genre she used to adore. And then she suffers a traumatic concussion and wakes up in her ultimate nightmare: a rom-com. Her life is flipped upside down with an apartment straight out of Architectural Digest, a bustling career, and an impending engagement to a hot yet superficial millionaire (Liam Hemsworth). The only way Natalie can return to reality is to fall in love, but that’s a little hard when it’s the last thing she wants.

As much as romantic comedies have found resurgence on streaming services, the typical genre of a woman searching for the love of her life has changed drastically over the years. Landing Mr. Right while living in a fancy apartment and having a career of every woman’s dreams has made way for rom-coms to feature more realistic views of dating, singledom, and marriage. Modern stories have commonly explored imperfect relationships with female characters struggling to balance work, love, motherhood, and friendships. By trying to take a page out of the chick flicks that have paved the way with tropes and running gags, Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t quite know how to be a parody of the traditional genre and say something new.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Is A Fine Finale But Not Marvel's Finest Hours

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
With The Snap of Thanos’s fingers, Avengers: Infinity War flipped from a typical superhero flick into an unforgettable event that no Marvel fan or casual movie-goer would ever forget. To say that Avengers: Endgame has been an event of its own is massive understatement. Its unbelievable hype has a lot to live to up since we saw half the universe dusted into oblivion in 2018. As Marvel draws its Infinity Saga to a close, this twenty second film is without-a-doubt a funny, action-packed and tender farewell. But in good ways and bad, it doesn’t necessarily capture the same magic of its sister flick.

As Paul Bettany once wisely said, “Snitches end up in ditches” if they spoiler Avengers: Endgame. Taking my fate into my own hands, I’m breaking with the requests from the Powers that Be (Marvel Studios and co.) to say: this review contains massive spoilers. Read it your own risk.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ekaj (2015) Offers An Intimate Portrayal of Love and Hardship Among LGBTQ Youth

How do you find a sense of belonging when you’re not accepted by your own family, let alone society? Veteran fashion photographer turned writer and director Cati Gonzalez puts homeless LGBTQ youth under the microscope in a vivid portrayal of a too-often overlooked community.

After being kicked out by his homophobic father, a young teenager Ekaj (Jake Mestre) drifts on the hustling streets of New York City struggling to get by. When he befriends Mecca (Badd Idea), a thief and artist diagnosed with AIDS, the naïve Ekaj learns about the hardships of love, loss, and survival.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Meeting Brown (2019) Personalizes the Divide between Love, Race and Racism

What do you do when the one you love turns out to be the opposite of what you thought? Great relationships can feel like they’re built on honesty and trust, but one brief meeting with her fiance’s best man Richard (Andrew J. Cornelius) changes everything for Alex (Diana Gonzalez-Morett) – a hopeful Latinx bride who sees her white partner’s true colors about their cultural differences.

Meeting Brown draws attention to the complex lines drawn between love, race, and racism. Director and writer Ana Lydia Monaco, a rising Latina filmmaker, tackles diversity by bringing representation to women of color to the screen with experiences from her own community. Realizing how often she didn’t see herself and fellow people of color onscreen, Monaco’s transformed her observations with bicultural couples to create a distinct narrative about life as a woman of color.

Nervous yet excited for her doubtful maid-of-honor to meet her fiancé John (Sean Dube) and his best man, Alex believes John is exactly the man she wakes up to every morning. Life is seemingly smooth between the two of them until that fateful evening when the four of them spend time together – or rather, Alex and Rocio (Sonia Diaz) try to navigate Richard’s ignorant remarks about their heritage and identity while John goes along with the "jokes". His continual dismissal of his future wife's feelings and invites an alarming realization to Alex about his own excuses about Richard’s behavior. Monaco’s script paces well between the dreamy state of bliss Alex thought her life was and the slow realization of John's beliefs aren't what she ever imagined.

Even though the film’s primary focus of the cracks deepening in a romantic relationship, there’s a genuine relevance, especially in our current political climate, of how much we might be expected to accept other people’s behaviors as they are. It might be out of fear of losing or creating a rift between a family member, friend, or acquaintance, there's a personal responsibility of recognize what individuals of other communities withstand and persevere. How we treat someone’s culture in our own lives speaks to how society treats minorities on a whole – women, people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities. Meeting Brown is succinct and to the point of how what most consider microaggressions, small acts of ignorance, start to add up whether we are bystanders or in the direct line of dangerous judgement and attacks.

As a ten minute short film, Meeting Brown presents a thorough examination of what Latina women encounter. Her cast carries the story well with performances by Gonzalez-Morett, Sean Dube, Sonia Diaz, and Andrew J. Cornelius. Even though there is an increasing divide between the film's leads, the actors share a palpable chemistry together as their idyllic relationship starts to present true issues. Monaco’s attention to detail and the experiences she has witnessed in her own life creates a refreshing defiance of the typical roles women of color are presented with on-screen and shines a light on the daily conflicts they encounter in real life.

Please Note: I was provided with a screener of this movie in exchange for an honest review. Meeting Brown is currently making the rounds at film festivals this year. Check out more of Ana Lydia Monaco past and current work at her official website.

Rating: ★★☆