The muddled execution of Us didn't make me question what Jordan Peele could do next. He's only three films into his career, and doing all right for himself despite the divisiveness surrounding his last film. Still, with so little time to prepare my hype in these 'The Myans Were Wrong' times, Peele has regained stride from Get Out .
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Sunday, March 13, 2022
The Batman (2022)
Director Matt Reeves had a very specific vision that made Warner Bros want to take another shot at the eternally brooding Bruce Wayne. It's that vision which makes going to the cinemas worthy again, especially after the past two years we've had. His universe is designed specifically for a cinematic experience with Michael Giacchino's unpredictable score, larger-than-life cinematography, and visceral production design. Set against the darkest days Gotham faces, this doesn't take us back to the roots of Wayne's origins as Batman - it drops us right in the middle of his second year with the "Gotham Project", trying to etch a legacy through his family name as his alter-ego as the Riddler uses the bodies of Gotham's elite as pawns in an ambitious cat-and-mouse game.
Brought to life by a top-notch ensemble, the familiar faces we've seen before come to life on-screen with a few twists - Zoe Kravitz's Catwoman wanting to escape and avenger from the power-hold of her crooked bosses (the character is slinkier and graceful than ever before yet just as bad-ass as Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfieffer, and Anne Hathaway (sorry Halle Berry). Jim Carrey's over-the-top and very gay Riddler is usurped by Paul Dano's 99%er plotting and murdering his way to justice. Colin Farrell's Penguin doesn't see the light of day as much as Danny DeVito's sympathetic villain from Batman Returns, but it's a character turn that's refreshing for the blockbuster-turned-character actor. Jim Gordon still maintains his right-hand-man status with Bruce Wayne investigating crimes, but Jeffrey Wright feels just as grounded and palpably anxious to rid Gotham of its devils. Not to mention - Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgarrd, John Tuturro, and whoever is silhouetted as the next possible villain before the ending credits roll. Oh, and then there's Robert Pattinson. Known for his weird quirks and insane choice of freakish roles, Pattinson slips into the scarred and damaged Bruce Wayne almost as easily as Christian Bale - if not more so. When that light hits the sky, it's not just a call, it's a warning. While the rest of the film certainly roll along, he manages to exude elements of past actors - their awkwardness, pain, hope, resilience, humanity - and also adds new layers of fear, intimidation, and anger.
As grim and raw as The Batman is in the wake of his predecessors more family-friendly vibes, it's not as revolutionary as so many reviews point out for me. Story-wise, I didn't find the plot much different than Christopher Nolan's trilogy. The script still heavily focuses on corrupt cops and government needing to be overthrown, not putting to use supporting characters of color, the seediness of Gotham's underground taking advantage of the system and disadvantaged as Nolan's series did. In the same vein, as much plot as this film tries not be as formulaic as the MCU or DCEU recent entries, some of the characters fall to the wayside - Riddler is terrifying but his re-appearances grow repetitive; Farrell's unrecognizable as The Penguin, but he's mainly a lackey who will have his own familiar rise to power soon. The winding road of 'see another victim, get a new clue' rinse and repeat runs the plot for the most part, which makes the running time run pretty smoothly. However, the big reveals wasn't predictable - it's like realizing halfway through a maze, you already know where the exit is.
In looking towards the future of the new Batman slate, we also have to look at the past...and it's refreshing that The Batman managed to give a whole arc to its leading character in one-go rather than resting on the whims of the studio bouncing from director or actor to another, or inhabiting the same type of themes throughout a trilogy. We've come so far with these films, it's a disservice to say this one is merely better when it's merely adapted to audiences' tastes and technology over the decades. Yet Reeves's approach does not detract from its subtle humor and effective character development. Two and a half hour plus running time seems excessive in the beginning, but the film remains intriguing enough from beginning to end that the time simply flies by with suspense, action, and romance peaking at just the right moments. After my showing, someone on the way out of the theater mentioned that they'd like to see a five hour cut, and I have to agree. Even if every frame is utilized to its best advantage, it doesn't stop me from wanting more, more, more.
Tuesday, February 8, 2022
Cosmic Dawn (2021)
In writer/director Jefferson Moneo’s latest film, Aurora (Camilla Rowe) has been searching for answers since she was a young girl and witnessed her mother inexplicably disappearing into the night sky. Years later as an adult, she’s compelled to join a UFO cult The Cosmic Dawn seemingly finding the community she's needed until she discovers its leader Elyse (Antonia Zegers) is not who she seems to be.
Aurora is the central anchor to take us through the effects of her life before joining the group, her indoctrination, and the escape attempt afterwards. Largely a model before turning to film, Camille Rowe only has a few credits under her belt, but it's tough to not imagine roles eventually coming her way. She balances Aurora’s naivete to be swept up by the group’s unusual practices with desperation of seeing her mom again through a cosmic connection. It helps that she is joined by Emmanuelle Chiriquí as Natalie – a mysterious young woman who recruits Aurora into the group – and her husband Tom, played by Joshua Barge. Both are mindful to tread their roles ambiguously enough to doubt whether they are merely pawns in Elyse’s web or using Aurora for their own gain.
At the core of Cosmic Dawn, Jefferson Moneo (who’s own experience inspired the film) searches for meaning towards why someone would join a cult and what they’re looking for – answers, community, a part of themselves that’s been lost. He also infuses the world-building with details that are both familiar with other cult-inspired films and well-executed on their own. This deep sense of personalization flows throughout that makes you question the world around them, but not necessarily the characters' trauma. His vision - styled with a synth-led score by Alan Howarth and MGMT, cinematography framed in bold neon, and drug-induced hallucinations – becomes a downright trippy experience.
Even though the cast and production brings sufficient substance to the story, they are hindered by its style at times. The film primarily anchors to Aurora’s vulnerability as she searches for her mother in others, primarily Elyse as the group’s leader. Antonia Zegers invites a warm maternal presence that shows what Aurora sees in her, but her leadership also comes across as a rough amalgamation of ideas rather than a fully-realized process to fully flesh out their individual circumstances. More than that, the script divides into exploring Aurora both joining and leaving the group. Consistently flash-backing, or flashing-forward, becomes gradually haphazard to adding suspense to Elyse’s intentions and what’s to become of Aurora.
Cosmic Dawn features performances and production design that hold your attention, mixing the awe of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and trippiness of Midsommar. Moneo isn’t asking or plodding for viewers to come away believing in aliens – only to explore the plausible after-effects to those who encounter them. His plot and style is led astray at times, struggling to juggle the atmospheric sci-fi elements with drama. Aurora’s emotional journey might be divisive for some but ultimately engrossing enough for the concept to be worthwhile.
Thank you to Cranked Up Films for providing a screener. Cosmic Dawn is available to watch on-demand and limited in theaters.
Thursday, December 2, 2021
tick, tick,....BOOM (2021)
Even though I'm a musical nerd, I've never been an avid Rent fan. #blasphemy However, I am Lin-Manuel Miranda trash, so the two was easily a mixed bag to convince me to watch. Like it or not, he's doing things with musicals across every medium that just isn't being achieved by one person. And that is both a good and bad thing.
The level of creativity in lyricism and storytelling explodes from his mind at a frenetic unmatched pace, but that doesn't always spell 'accessible' to most audiences especially when it comes to musicals (an already divisive genre). For his directorial debut, the story of Jonathan Larson's (Andrew Garfield) life is right up his alley. He filters the composer's creativity as he tortures himself to produce his breakthrough Broadway show (a couple of years before Rent) and the sacrifice of never giving up on his dream even if it means paying a significant price to make it come true.
As a musical first, it works. Miranda provides a wealth of inner-genre homages and styles that helps Andrew Garfield go balls-to-the-walls in a performance that...nobody probably expected to pour out of him. For Miranda's first step behind the camera, it doesn't surprise me that he wants to maximize his experience from the stage. Throughout most of the film, I was awed by his sheer imagination to transform songs in a multitude of ways most would never dream to string together.
But as a film told part flashback, part-prophecy of the now-recognized genius, the plot plods along from one musical sequence to another that makes Larson range from a destitute artist to insufferable know-it-all as the world and his friends struggle as much, if not more than him. The story holds the promise of what it means for creative types to never give up because one day that dedication above all else will be worth it, but other than that, it's tough to see the forest from the trees several pivotal moments of his personal arc. Garfield commands the role effortlessly, balancing a breakdown of his character's own journey and the journey itself - it might be one of his best yet. Somehow, he doesn't let Miranda's complex vision drown him out and instead leads the parade to make Larson's workaholism as heart-racking as possible.
However, couple a character that's not the most likable with occasional confusing, occasional brilliant staging and editing choices that simply needs more restraint, tick, tick...BOOM!'s build-up to the spark of inspiration for Rent doesn't feel as contextually layered as the film leads on. Some elements that work on stage might not work on film and vice versa - it's still a lesson that most adaptations or musicals need to accept. Of Miranda's works so far, that also split audiences between musicals versus their subjects, tick, tick...BOOM! will primarily pack a punch for the theatre kids crowd. Even this one.
Rest in peace, Stephen Sondheim. Thank you for way too many 3 am nights where I should've been studying but was listening to your work and pretending I was on stage in my bedroom instead.
Monday, November 29, 2021
The world knows everything there is to know about Princess Diana. Hollywood has certainly exhibited its fair share of arthouse films and hot-gossip biopics of her life to have all of the bases covered. Where could another movie delve into that hasn't been explored before? Enter: Pablo Larrain, who does not settle for a paint-by-numbers biopic and goes all out with a psychological mindfuck.
Set during the weekend of December 1991, the British Royal family is spending the Christmas holidays at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Instead of bucking to the traditions of showing up on time, weighing-in on arrival, and hunting escapades, Diana becomes consumed with the image of herself - in the mirror, all the ways the house hears and sees her every move, what the world will think of her in the future - and trying to break free from it.
Where his former biopic Jackie is a spiritual monument to American royalty, here Diana eats her giants pearls for dinner, convinced Anne Boleyn is sending her messages from the beyond, and breaks into her dilapidated childhood home to say goodbye for good. This is far from a dysfunctional-family drama, even a royal one; it's a gothic-esque horror with Johnny Greenwood's haunting score, and Claire Mathon's claustrophobic cinematography. Rarely is there a moment where any interaction Diana has doesn't pivot close to Kristen Stewart like you're climbing the walls with her or towards the house staff conversing with the ghostly bartenders in The Shining - eery one-on-one probing interrogations and endless heresy. There isn't a second that this movie doesn't let up with Diana's tribulations and what she needs to shed before the weekend is over - her royal responsibilities, the ghosts of her past, any vague prophecies she thinks the world will have of her.
All of this certainly feels like a hefty subject matter, and for bigger Diana fans, they will automatically try to carry the burden that she had to. However, as much as the film is a visceral cinematic treat, I also found it lacking in its effectiveness to make me lose myself in the story. With Jackie, Larrain was both bold and subtle in its symbolism; there was a drive for Jackie Onassis to enshrine John F. Kennedy's legacy into his funeral, to not leave the White House quietly in the night like the Johnson administration wanted her to - but with a bang. And, her decisions to do so, losing Jack and their hot' n cold marriage played into that all-consuming grief. For Spencer, the plot is very much static - almost too much. There's symbolism, there's intense isolation and paranoia, there are plays on imagery and what is reality vs Diana's imagination. The film opens as a "fable based on a true tragedy" and drops the audience into her nervousness right off the bat. As the running time goes on though, it doesn't necessarily capitalize more on fictionalizing the facts to create tension or drive a palpable unease in the script. Maybe because Diana has had more than her fair share of B-list drama and lies surrounding her name, the film veered away from that. But I kept wanting "more" I can't put my finger on - more stakes placed on Diana and her breakdown/breakthrough, tension with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles or the new Equerry Major, less of a carousel of symbolism to carry me to the end. Something to give me more than Stewart's performance to go on.
Understandably, Stewart is one of - if not the - front runner for the upcoming Oscars season, and for good reason. The film leans on her to bring us into the surrealist fold of Diana's life and that specific weekend. And, she does so by achieving what so many in biopics who have won Oscars has achieved - capturing the likeness to a tee that it makes you forget and at times remember this isn't the real person - it's an actor. But, it's also not enough for me to confidently say she carries the film on her own. Around the half-way mark, the story and performance trying not to to summarize her life as the tragic princess by fictionalizing a lot of the tragedy...just felt like her portrayal was going around in circles. (Sean Harris's stern yet tender performance as the royal head chef and Sally Hawkins as her dresser stood out to me portraying the commonfolk rooting for Diana to survive the royal circus. But the supporting cast isn't featured enough to be an ensemble).
When Diana's liberation to reclaim her name arrives, the ending is an earned wish-fulfillment of a future she struggled to achieve. I understood everything that was conveyed, but that catharsis didn't burrow itself as deeply for me as it has with many critics and admirers. I'll revisit this in the upcoming months and years to see if another viewing will change my mind - I'm open to it. Vague familiarity with the real events is suitable for anyone who wants to see this, but fans with advanced degrees in all things Diana will walk away the most satisfied with this refreshing arthouse take.
Rating: ★1/2 to ★☆
Friday, November 19, 2021
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Do throwbacks make the movie? is a question that has been on my mind with the current string of beloved franchises - specifically ever since Avengers: Endgame . Since the 22nd Marvel film and the end of an era delivered a soul-satisfying ending for me as a Captain America fan, I shouldn't complain. But it's lack of a tight script and loose threads back down memory lane simply doesn't compare to the leaner, meaner and more tension-driven conflict of Avengers: Infinity War that always leads me to question 'what if sequels didn't focus so much on fanservice'. And, it's something that came up repeatedly with Ghostbusters: Afterlife.With director and writer Jason Reitman's personal attachment to the original 1984 film, it's obvious that this version would try to be a family affair both in production and plot - the grandkids and daughter of Egon Spengler are drawn into an old conspiracy that drove him to the middle of nowhere and face-off against another ancient 'inevitable' ploy towards the end of the world. Any personal connection between characters is a dead giveaway to build a foundation for the second reboot, but the script doesn't feel as confident in its choices.
It's not that this movie isn't a good time at the cinemas. It is. And, after the year-plus we've had with COVID, we shouldn't not feel good about having more harmless fun. There are plenty of laughs and fitting homages, and the beating heart of a disconnected family rehabilitating their legacy is wonderful (again, McKenna Grace embodies a heroine I love now as an adult and makes me sad that 15 year old me didn't have growing up). But eventually, the easter eggs mainly add up to satisfying hardcore fans who are divisive about Ghostbusters 2 and want to completely erase the 2016 reboot as if it never existed. Outside of that, there aren't many risks or originality that makes it stand out from the string of sequels-reboots struggling to follow the footsteps of their iconic predecessors. For a film that remains unmatched by the newer reiterations, when will we accept that the originals are free to be revered without something shiny trying to live up to its memory.
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
No Time to Die (2021)
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)
However, setting that aside, this is deeply flawed. Three different plots are taking place - Cletus Kasady's crimes, the cover-up of Shriek's death and her origins, and Ed/Venom's floundering relationship. Despite the fact that there's plenty of material to go-around, it's truly only the latter that's given room to grow. For everything else, the movie doesn't have time to flesh them out. The dialogue is spoken so fast it's like a tape-recorder stuck on fast-forward or the script assistant was holding a stop-watch. Once you settle into one scene, it's propelling to the next. The first two acts whirl by, that when the third act copy-cat battle from Spider-Man 3 hits, the pacing finally becomes steadier but tremendous whiplash kicks in. It's tough to recollect how much of the story leads to the ending because it feels like two seconds ago you arrived to the theater.
In comparison, Venom's running time is about two hours, where its sequel barely hits 97 minutes. The former was far from complicated with its paint-by-numbers origin story. But still, directing an actor talking to himself and trying to convey that he's half controlled by symbiote isn't an easy feat. And that running time lets Eddie and Venom's coupling grow stronger against their feud against Carlton Drake. Serkis' direction picks up where Ruben Fleischer left off with dry humor and CGI-packed action that the tone between the two films is almost seamless. Serkis aimed for the film to be lean to be as lean as possible, but if anymore of the story had been edited, there wouldn't have been a plot. Kelly Marcel's script doesn't feel it's the culprit as much as it could've been. Her script maintains the same vibes as the first film, which she was a co-writer on. She's helming this material as the solo writer and doesn't have trouble reigning in the different threads so they come together in an explosive showdown. But, it's that editing prowess that hinders what could've been.
But after everything is said and done, once the post-credit scene arrived with Tom Holland's Spider-Man, the race through the entire movie became somewhat clearer - Marvel wanted to plug in Spidey's next installment releasing this Christmas. Granted, the pandemic hasn't made movie-making or movie-going easy. Plenty of movies' production schedule and release dates have been bumped up, delayed, rinse, repeat. Venom: Let There Be Carnage wasn't an exception. But, Marvel is known for pulling in audiences with its cliffhangers for the past decade. And someone lost confidence in the film on its own to take its time to do what it needed to do for its fans before jumping into Marvel's ill-conceived timeline for phase 4. Now with the semi-average streaming machine of the Disney+ shows, What If?, and Black Widow (I have yet to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or The Eternals), there's nothing inventive or spectacular about Marvel right now. Marvel's going through the paces of keeping up with its own trajectory, and now other titles are getting hit with the consequences.
Monday, October 11, 2021
In the award winning documentary Cured, directors Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer shine a light on the campaign that lessened the stigma of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. In the first edition of “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality under mental illnesses – more specifically, sexual deviation.
Using their standard of what was ‘morally acceptable,’ it led the church to deem homosexuality a sin, a crime by the government, and as a neurotic disease by psychiatrists. With these motions in play, millions of individuals struggled with the shame of being found out, forced into inhuman cures and conversion ‘therapies’, and overall treated as second class citizens.
Nothing makes you sick like believing you are sick. - Ron GoldUntil activists and psychiatrists started to fight back. With archival photos and footage, the directors thread the line of multiple organizations rallying to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from its directive. Interviews with activists who experienced these events firsthand – Charles Silverstein, Rep Magora Kennedy, Barbara Gittings and her partner Kay Lahausen, Frank Kameny – further show the lengths of frustration, passion, and purpose to transform the ‘status quo.’ Their efforts as well as the influence of Dr. Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker's research to ratify liberation with demonstrations and shifting the public narrative of mental health with allies became a campaign to reform the APA. As more waves of freedom-forward activism for civil rights, women's rights, and against the Vietnam gained ground, and two decades of advocacy work around the United States, the APA made a landmark decision to finally remove homosexuality as a mental illness from its directive in 1973.
Cured delves into the voices who vied to be heard, as well as the surprising duality of psychiatrists using “scientific” diagnosis to provoke and solidify false claims of mental illness. The documentary takes its time to cover as much ground as possible in a chronological effort, weaving in the wide range of activists who were all charging towards the same cause. However, it can’t help at times to feel that the topic could be further explored at length in a docu-series. Still, the film curates a range of a powerful account from several leaders before they passed away and for those who are still fighting to be heard. Even though the community still faces challenges, the activists’ revolution remains an inspiring catalyst to create a more compassionate and accepting world.
If you want to call attention to an issue and you want to make a change, take it to the streets. - Rep. Magora Kennedy
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Young trouble-maker Estella (Emma Stone) teams up with a pair of crooks Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) after a tragic freak accident leaves her orphaned. With a deep ambition to become a fashion designer, Estella is spurned to transform into her alter-ego Cruella de Vil as she faces off against the industry’s most influential designer Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson).
Though I’ve always had a soft spot for Disney’s villains, Cruella de Vil is my all-time favorite. Of all the antagonists who harbor reasonable motivations for why they turned evil, she’s always been point-blank ruthless for ruthless’ sake –there aren't too many ways to justify someone wanting to kill animals and dogs for their fur to satiate their ego. The news of her origin story in the works initially disappointed me because she'd inevitably be altered to be more marketable. But after finally seeing the latest version, this is the first in a long time I got that can't-help-but-smile kind of excitement when the credits hit. Because it’s not too shabby.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Test Pattern (Athena Film Festival 2021)
Monday, March 15, 2021
Mama Gloria (Athena Film Festival 2021)
Screening Mama Gloria was a part of my coverage of this year’s Athena Film Festival. Check out more of my reviews here and the official website to Mama Gloria here.
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (Athena Film Festival 2021)
Shot over a period of five years, director Susan Sandler’s documentary with Julia Scotti trails the comedian’s comeback and her complicated journey of transitioning, identity, and healing. Going primarily from the title, humor is an easy way ‘in’ to enjoying the documentary. There are plenty of jokes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, as well as heartwarming meetings with comedy pals and stand-up routines, that will put a smile on your face. But underneath the surface the duo – Sandler and Scotti – dig deep to show not just the stand-up Scotti’s spent a lifetime honing, but the multi-faceted journey of compassion Scotti strives for with herself and the world around her.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Both films share the core structure of the spy story. For the former, William goes undercover into the Black Panther Party, and is continuously upended by his involvement. Even though William believes he is the rare example of an undercover agent, there are others lurking all over the place, forcing him to watch his back and always feel threatened by the potential of blowing his cover or having someone blow it for him. With The Departed, centered on the 'rats' trying to dismantle an Irish mob boss ring, there's always a lingering question and conflict of how the entire operation will fall apart. Despite the split focus on multiple characters and their motives, there's always a steady tension of three things - the suspicious intentions of multiple agencies trailing Costello, the true identities of cops surrounding him, and if Leonardo DiCaprio's frenzied character can maintain his sanity until he's free (which he will never earn). You never quite know what anyone's next move is, and everyone feels like they're fallen into a never-ending trap of cat and mouse. No matter how many spies we follow or twists the story takes, the leads are what glue you to both films.
UPDATED: New Rescheduling Dates for 2021+ Movies
If you see a film missing from this list that you think I should add, feel free to share below. Which movies are you looking forward to seeing? This updated list has been expanded to include 2021 dates and beyond.
Beans (Athena Film Festival 2021 Opening Night)
Inspired by her own childhood, writer-director Tracey Deer mends the gap between a traditional coming-of-age tale against the backdrop of a historical event. In the summer of 1990, twelve year old Tekehentahkhwa's (Kiawentiio) adolescence unfolds with complicated friendships, standing up to oppression, and family dynamics against the backdrop of the Oka Crisis - a 78 day standoff of Mohawk people protecting their sacred burial grounds from overturning into a golf course by the White Quebec population.
Through Beans, the audience is taken through the familiar territory of adolescence as well as the terrifyingly frontlines of this under-regarded moment in Canadian history. She’s on the cusp of entering a prestigious white-led school for young girls – a decision that she feels called to fill by her independent-driven and courageous mother. We see her in the beginning wide-eyed and innocent; enjoying the play time she gets to spend with her younger sister and wary of disappointing her parents. Like most pre-teens who eventually learn to forge their own path, especially one away from their parents, her mature awakening begins with befriending a group of older rebellious teenagers she tries to fit in with by learning to fight, curse, and dress provocatively and show the deep-seeded anger that comes with her family being oppressed.
Beans, portrayed by Kiawenti:io Tarbell, gives an empathetic performance. She’s able to evolve the character’s sweetness into the unbridled frustration and pain that comes from the events surrounding her. The ensemble itself is more of a female-driven narrative as well – with her mother (Rainbow Dickerson), sister (Violah Beauvais), and her friend April (Paulina Jewel Alexis) are with her on the journey as they try to find refuge away from the violent protests they’re surrounded with.
To balance the familiarity of Beans adolescence with the Oka crisis, Deer interjects the drama with real news programs. Unlike some biopics that struggle to mesh the live action story with historical context, Deer connects the two by mirroring the protests through the characters' journeys. As the Mohawk people protect their land from Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army, Beans and her family realistically encounter the frontlines at every turn. The mix of both tangibly creates more general tension around both plots and drives each other forward, and lets Beans claim her heritage on her own terms.
To move from an idea to pre-production and (hopefully) a theatrical release, film debuts are often a deeply personal experience from the filmmaker that needs to be told. Similar to director Haroula Rose's debut Once Upon A River, young adult films centering on indigenous and native experiences is a burgeoning genre that's ripe for stories we haven't seen featured in cinema before. Deer’s entry balances the vulnerable touch of her own perspective that the audience can delve into and come away with a wider appreciation of the world at large.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Kid 90 (2021)
As a teenager in the 90s, actress and director Soleil Moon Frye carried around a video camera everywhere she went and saved diaries, journals, and voice mail messages. After locking away the footage for almost 20 years, she revisits her childhood as a teenage star and presents an unprecedented time capsule of growing up in Hollywood and New York City.
From her early days of starting out as Punky Brewster to nabbing smaller roles in B-horror movies, Frye shows us life through her eyes. Though she had a normal upbringing at home with a loving mother, busy father, and supportive brother, her life in front of the camera took a turn as she became a teen with a developing body, trying drugs, and gaining more independence. As a young woman growing up in Hollywood, Frye highlights her experiences of bullying and being sexualized at 15, the painful reconciliation of losing friends to suicide, surviving sexual assault, and finding creative freedom. Her footage also captures the joys to everyday activities like getting breakfast, going to parties, and asking her friends of their philosophy about life. Joining her along for the ride are fellow stars from the 90s - Stephen Dorff - Brian Austin Green, David Arquette, Heather McComb and more – who provide their perspective – rejections from auditions, seeing their names splashed in the tabloids, enduring unwarranted backlash, and facing failure.
Frye's choice of a chronological format is easy enough to follow as she takes us from her rise of stardom until her late teens. Picking up a camera was Frye’s way to control everything – being unloved and loving others, her career fading away, relationships coming to an end, losing friends to suicide; and in some ways this is still true for Frye today. As both subject and director, she's able to explore her memories and assess what is appropriate to share and what is okay to keep close to her. At the same time, the documentary struggles with a stronger cohesive structure. As much as Frye does share, the compilation of footage and interviews often only underscore the possibility that there are layers more to discover. Insight by longtime friend and co-star Brian Austin Green recalling the first time he encountered failure when he broke out on his own to release a rap album, and the backlash he faced, is very few and far between. What you're left to grapple with as a viewer is the openness that Frye has about her life and a familiar awareness of the all-too-common reasons that many are led to suicide driven by mental health and/or substance abuse issues. The conversation between her and other Generation Xers about the impact of being a teen star transitioning into stars but it's not as comprehensive as it could've been.
Part walk down memory lane, part documentary, Frye challenges the assumptions we make about our memories – if they are real or if they are stories we want to tell ourselves. From the outside, the trials and tribulations of teen stars might not seem relatable. But underneath the notoriety, Kid 90 explores there’s more beneath the façade of stardom and celebrity culture. Even in our own lives, reflecting of who we once were can help us understand who we are today and how far we've come.
Monday, February 8, 2021
Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words (2021)
More than merely showing how Ginsburg effected the clients she represented, Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words also shows the effect she had on people directly or were inspired by her impact. Interviews with those who worked with her such as a law clerk Goodwin Liu, former law volunteer M.E. Freeman, Cadet Jennifer Connolly who was able to attend Virginia Military Institute after the court ruled to expand its male-only enrollment to women, meme creator of Notorious R.B.G. Shana Knizhnik and author Irin Carmon, offer more insight into the woman behind the icon from her love of opera to her marriage to her husband Marty. Real life examples of the cases Ginsburg were apart of are also used. In one prominent case of United States v. Virginia, the Supreme Court Justice ruled in favor of Virginia Military Institute extending its males-only enrollment to include women.
Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words revolves around some of the same topics as another documentary titled RBG, which was released in 2018 and focused on a chronological examination of her life from birth to (then) present-day. Most of the latter likewise unfolds in a linear fashion, but focuses more on containing the narrative to Ginsburg's career ambitions, pursuit for equal rights for all, and expanding the court to include more women. The two documentaries share the same subject matter, but Mock creates a worthwhile film to be enjoyed on its own or as a companion piece. Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words instills a needed message of inspiration to those who dare to follow in her footsteps and become the next generation of dissenters.
Please Note: I was provided with a screener to provide an honest review.Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words is available in virtual cinemas on 2/12 and TVOD on 3/9. STARZ will also air the documentary on 3/15 at 8 PM ET/PT on what would have been Justice Ginsburg’s 88th birthday.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
One Night In Miami (2021)
Based on a fictional account of a real event, boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), and activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) join together for an evening in Miami, Florida. The former three assume their reunion is to celebrate Clay winning his first world heavyweight championship bout, but Malcolm X has a more laid-back idea in mind - ruminate about their lives including faith, racism, Black excellence, and their futures.
Similar to a musical, dialogue-driven films can be hard to suspend our disbelief, especially when it's based on a play. One location with a limited amount of characters can feel heavy-handed. It might not be the biggest source as a box office draw or draw the most amount of movie-goers, but it’s a good start for a Hollywood veteran to make her mark behind the camera.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
So, Tenet (2020) Happened
“Don’t try to understand it,” as scientist (Clemence Posey) declares in Tenet, the most concise way to approaching a Christopher Nolan film. You know that you’re going to get characters navigating a timey-wimey unraveling plot filled with exposition, amazing stunts, an ear-blasting score, and a suitable cast to carry it all on their shoulders. Where Nolan slightly fails with his latest mind-boggling adventure is with the following phrase, “feel it.”
Ironically, everything here is right out of Nolan’s staple of work. Similar to the clique of Inception led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Jordan Gordon Levitt (or any of his previous casts), this ensemble meshes well together. John David Washington’s charisma draws out a tedious conflict with Kenneth Branagh, a friendly camaraderie with Robert Pattinson, and trusting warmth with Elizabeth Debicki. Despite the heftiness of Nolan’s script, they make a suitable crew who are easy to watch as their various cahoots unfold. Nolan also always packs his films with tactile stunts you won’t find anywhere else. With a story that helms the concept of moving forward and backward in time, there are sequences here that are on the same level of “the kicks” in Inception or the race to dock the Endurance in Interstellar - they'll baffle you with their practical effects yet ingenious execution. And instead of a dynamo score by the always-reliable composer Hans Zimmer, Nolan steps out of the box with Ludwig Gorannsson, who crafts an action-packed futuristic score that also blows out the dialogue.
Even though Tenet has these elements that are fun on their own, where the film goes “wrong” is how little there is to care about anything. While Nolan's plots are always a source of confusion for movie goers, I hate to flex I've never particularly struggled with them. So, Tenet isn't that hard to follow when the concept boils down to a cat and mouse chase locked in a time loop. But the script is too concerned with battening down the hatches to drop exposition and a completely forgettable subplot of an arms dealer using The Protagonist for their own means, that the story is left dry and cringe-worthingly cliché.