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

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. 

Like proton packs crossing the streams, the film tries to establish itself as an original YA piece bridging to the original, but before you know it becomes all consumed by connecting every dot towards a throwback. Nerdy and awkward Phoebe Spengler (McKenna Grace) and her friend Podcast (the amazing Logan Kim) drive what could've been a deadbeat summer into an spectral-fighting adventure, unlocking the clues of what her misunderstood and ostracized grandfather left behind.... while everyone else starts out as compelling characters but then end up unraveling as time goes on (Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, and Celeste O'Connor). Reitman aims to unravel a new mystery Egon left behind, but can't do so without rehashing the past to the point that the easter eggs run the extreme gamut between earned and forced. Every time the story moves towards establishing more of the new characters, there's always another moving piece that takes it backwards too much. It never quite feels like this cast or characters enacting on a new adventure gets their due.

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.

Rating: ★1/2☆☆

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

No Time to Die (2021)


James Bond (Daniel Craig) is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica after leaving active service. However, his peace is short-lived as his old CIA friend, Felix Leiter, (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and asks for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond on the trail back to a past love Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and her connection to a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) who's armed with a dangerous new bio-technology.

This review contains spoilers for No Time to Die.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)


Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) struggles to coexist with the shape-shifting extraterrestrial Venom. While on the verge of splitting up, deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) also becomes host to an alien symbiote that amplifies his psychotic behavior. Brock and Venom must put aside their differences to stop his reign of terror as Cletus strives to reunite with his long lost love Shriek (Naomie Harris).

The review below contains spoilers regarding the post-credit scene. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage was honestly one of my most-anticipated movies of the year because I enjoy the first one so much. The bar wasn't set necessarily low, to be honest, even in the wake of all of the terrible reviews since its release this October. I wanted more of Eddie and Venom's relationship, or double the Tom Hardy, and I got it. There were more than enough scenes where his real tattoos were peaking through his shirt collars, so that alone made me happy. But more than that, his performance as Eddie and Venom remained hilarious and heartfelt. Harrelson and Harris' relationship was sorely under-developed but offered enough layers for their crazy-love story to explode from the screen. And the action scenes featured some cinematography that manages to be refreshing in the ever-expanding comic book genre. As a movie goer, I'm at a point right now where I would rather choose an imperfect movie and enjoy its flaws, rather than suffer through boredom and tears to a formulaic film trying to be perfect. I couldn't help but imagine and looking forward to watching this back-to-back with the first film.

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. 

Now, I'm not saying Venom was a game-changer, but it did carve its own space, even as a movie that critics loathed and fans loved. Somewhere along the way Venom: Let There Be Carnage starts cutting corners, sprinting between Brock or Kasady moving from place to place, and intention to intention, to the point that there was smaller in-between moments left on the editing room floor for no reason. Any semblance of scenes would've slowed down the pacing. It's more understandable for a film to be over two hours long and to know which scenes need to be cut than for a movie to barely graze the 90 minute mark and clearly see gaping holes where more could've filled in. The subsequent headlines and critics aren't talking about what the film had to offer or the potential it had outside of the post-credit scene like it did for the first installment - only what Kevin Feige has to say about the post-credits. The merge between Sony and Marvel's different worlds isn't going to be as seamless as one used to hope. And that's disappointing. Venom: Let There Be Carnage getting caught in the middle is a result of that.

Rating: ★1/2☆

Monday, October 11, 2021

Cured (2021)


Coming out has never been an easy feat. Identifying to the LGBTQ+ community can provoke ignorance as well a loss of job opportunities, marriage equality, and health rights. As much of a struggle as it is today for many, great strides have been made to ensure that pride isn’t just an annual celebration in June – but a generational one that continues to unfold and grow stronger.

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 Gold
Until 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
In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11th 2021, Cured will open PBS' Independent Lens series for the upcoming fall season on Monday night at 10:00 pm. This review was provided via a screener.

 ★★1/2☆

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Cruella (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)

(This review contains spoilers for Promising Young Woman).

Two different nights in Austin, Texas set the stage for Test Pattern – the first charming meet-cute between Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill) ends with the couple’s courtship blossoming into a loving lived-in relationship; the second similar night ends with Renesha drugged and sexually assaulted by a stranger during a girl’s night out at a bar. And the couple dealing with the health care system as they try to secure a rape kit.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Mama Gloria (Athena Film Festival 2021)


2020 marked the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-conforming individuals. Even with the emergence of trans entertainers and activists  likeJanet Mock and Laverne Cox in mind, how rare it is for LGBTQ+ youth to have a blueprint or example of trans icons who defy such unnecessary and transphobic circumstances. Just as equally rare is an inspirational documentary that Mama Gloria joyfully fills the void of. 

Told fully from her perspective, the documentary directed by Luchina Fisher affords Gloria Allen the opportunity to share her journey of transitioning in Chicago’s south side in the 1950s to her contributions as trailblazer today – now in her 70s. Most notably, she’s recognized for starting a charm school for her fellow trans women, especially homeless youth; the school also later became a play “Charm” which has inspired trans actresses to follow in her footsteps and come out as transgender. Where there is such glorious success, however, there are also adversities that have made her stronger including transphobia, sexual assault, and racism. The vulnerability, wisecracking humor, and honesty Allen exudes allows viewers to take a brief yet engrossing portrait of aging that offers insight and the process of recognizing gender and body dysphoria to gradually making the choice and having the access to transition medically.

For the most part, the film is able to capture Gloria's essence as a beloved mom to her "babies" -  students and trans youth who look to her for guidance - and the LGBTQ+ community at large. With letting Allen take the wheel of the film's structure, she’s able to hold the reigns of her story taking us through the nostalgic highs of her youth and the stark lows of challenges she's faced and continues to face in her older age. However, the documentary moves at a fairly brisk pace that doesn’t delve further where it could have. Though the film breaks up Allen’s narrative with a heartwarming high school reunion, interviews with her relatives, and archival footage of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood nightlife and drag balls, there are elements such as founding her charm school and Allen’s involvement in the Stonewall Riots that could’ve extended more context.

One of the most poignant moments of Mama Gloria is not only her ability to light the torch the next generation of trans women and men to carry, but also the resounding support and struggles she faced to ultimately fall in love with herself. Sadly, this is not always or commonly the same for so many. A conversation with a neighbor at their apartment complex brings the common thread and disparity of generations of LGBTQ+ individuals - “None of us when we were young ever thought about living to be this age, or what life experience would be in this age, and there were no examples.” Hopefully in the years ahead the world will become a place where it chooses to accept everyone for who they truly are and allow Gloria Allen’s story to be one of many examples of resilience, hope, and acceptance that the trans and LGBTQ+ community needs right now and always.

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)

For the second time in her life, Julia Scotti rocked the comedy world when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent in 2016. After drawing approval and laughter from the live studio audience and judges, her humbling revelation of having transitioned and comedic verve made her a beloved favorite and later a finalist that year. Though many might know her best from her original televised comeback, it’s one of just many that’s highlighted and explored in the documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

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.

Taking us back to the start of sorts, the documentary takes its time to explore Scotti living the dream as a headlining comedian appearing in club all across the U.S. in the late 1980s. Though it seemed like Scotti was on top of the comedy world, they struggled personally and professionally as issues of gender identity and sexuality came to light. At a time when gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery was rare, Scotti’s process to transitioning led to hormonal treatments, surgery, and a new identity as Julia Scotti at forty-seven. Along the way, she lost wives, family, and her career. After reinventing herself, she’s begun her journey back to the stand-up stage at fifty, while rebuilding relationships with her children after fifteen years of estrangement.

Using interviews with Scotti and her children as well as narrated animation and archival footage, Scotti explores the ‘blessing and the curse’ that happened the day she discovered who she was – how the liberation of enjoying every ounce of her womanhood also left lingering wounds such as the rift with her third ex-wife who supported her transition and gender-related issues that still play a role in her self-discovery today. Her reconciliation with her own misconceptions of gender, speaking out against transphobia such as a doctor misgendering her while recovering from spinal surgery, and helping her son with his own comedy career further opens up a conversation about the limits of what society considers masculine or feminine, transphobia, and homophobia. Though the film primarily centers on Scotti's life and experiences, it also presents further outlooks on society's attachment to vapid and ignorant ideas of "being normal."

As a first-time documentary filmmaker (at 72 years old), Sandler pieces together an inspiring portrait that finds a perfect balance between showing Scotti gaining a stride on stage and in her own life. She streamlines Julia Scotti: Funny That Way with candor, vulnerability, and empathy that lets you ride the wave of joy, compassion, regret, sorrow, and acceptance. Undoubtedly, comedy helps Scotti find her voice again as a comedian to her audience, a mother to her children, and a public speaker. But her whole story also shines a rare light that highlights the roadblocks of waiting too long to discovering your truth and imploring hope that it's never too late to accept who you truly are.

Screening Julia Scotti: Funny That Way 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 Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

17-year-old  William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party led by Fred Hamptom (Daniel Kaluuya). As O'Neal gains acceptance and camaraderie with Hampton and his comrades, the FBI pushes their campaign to criminalize Hampton that ultimately leads to his assassination.

Similar to Candice Frederick's review, I couldn't stop thinking about or comparing Judas and the Black Messiah to The Departed - its potential similarities and stark differences.

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

Due to the corona-virus, our regular summer of movie-going has been postponed. With cineplexes closing temporarily (or forever) and theatrical releases moving to streaming services, there's been a massive shift in the dates of movies going forward this year. From Marvel and Disney to DCEU and beyond, I've compiled a list of dates for films that will have a new opening weekend either later this year or further down the road. Mark your calendars (with a pencil - just in case!).

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)


Something special happens for a director or writer when they can probe deep memories into a compelling story, and the audience who has their eyes opened to an event or perspective we haven't seen before. Both of these are at the heart of director Tracey Deer's first film Beans, setting an appropriate tone as the first film chosen to open the Athena Film Festival.

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)


We don’t often learn of the opportunities and difficulties juvenile actors face until headlines show it or history becomes etched in memoirs. A rare chance to star in their own show or become a heartthrob leaves so many kids who love entertain discovering the risks and the realities of the industry before they're prepared to live in front of the spotlight. Kid 90, directed by Soleil Moon Free, brings us closer to taking a look behind-the-scenes and a generation of stars who learned to navigate the pitfalls of fame.

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.

Rating: ★★☆

Note: I was provided with a screener for review. Kid 90 will be available on March 12th Hulu.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words (2021)


“I’ve seen opinion polls that more people can name the Seven Dwarves than can name justices on the United States Supreme Court. “ – Dean Erwin Chemerinsky from Berkeley Law School opens an upcoming documentary directed by Academy Award winning director Freida Lee Mock. The obvious twist here is that if there’s one definitive iconic figure that hails from the Supreme Court Justice and we know of is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

From the famous meme of Notorious RBG to Saturday Night Live skits portrayed by Kate McKinnon and her history of breaking the class ceiling, she’s gained special notoriety in the general public over the past several years that makes her one of the most popular and empowering figures in U.S. government. How and why we know her name is as widely recognized as it is is exactly what Mock sets out to cement.

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words uses previously televised events and interviews with  Ginsburg to explore her careerIt begins with the line questioning she faced to be nominated as a Supreme Court Justice and the process of being sworn in by former president Bill Clinton. The centerpiece of the film leads with Ginsburg meeting with student groups inquiring about her career so far (in the mid 90s) and her outlook on the future such as the possibility of a female president. 

Using her observations the documentary taps into her achievements and the challenges she faced with "three strikes against her" as a person of the Jewish faith, a woman, and a mother who would go on to use her identity to persevere as a lawyer, working for ACLU, and eventually to earn the stature she’s recognized with today. What was used against her to keep citizens in line with outdated and prejudice laws, she used to the best of her abilities to help others attain their full rights in the face of gender, religion, and race discrimination. When original footage or photographs aren’t used, illustrations step in to elaborate on the court proceedings of cases she fought for. Ginsburg offers her unique perspective about what she was proud the wide range of cases that she was proud of and those that helped her cause as she furthered her career - one in particular includes a father working part-time and was denied social security to care for his infant son after his wife passed away.

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. 
Rating: ★★1/2☆

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)

There are moments where we'd do anything to know what the walls would say if they could talk. Sometimes films gives us the opportunity to piece together history as best as possible or simply imagine what might've been. For Regina King making her directorial film debut, she sets her sights on capturing a seemingly everyday get-together that just so happens to feature four of the 20th Century's biggest icons.

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.

As an ensemble, each actor shines individually and together as a group. Though One Night In Miami centers around four historical figures, a good portion of the story belongs to Malcolm X and Sam Cooke. Abdir maintains a good sense of Malcolm X with the familiar "prophet-mode" reputation he's popularly recognized for and the emotional toll of seeking Black excellence for all - you could say the movie is told mainly through how he sees his fate and struggles with the finality of his friends' influence enduring long after they're gone. Odom Jr. completely breaks free of his performance of Hamilton's Aaron Burr, letting us see Cooke as the powerful yet conflicted icon he was and still is. Their fellow castmates - Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge are just as influential but are used more subtly. Clay could've been a caricature, but Goree makes him well-rounded as well as boisterous and spirited; Hodge gives a soft yet stern performance to Brown - he isn't given much to do, but when he's on-screen, it's hard to turn your attention to anything else. This isn’t to say that Goree and Hodge aren’t as influential, but they’re more like tag team partners used to be the voice of reason as the tension builds between the main duo.

If we know who these men are by hearing or reading their name, the film doesn’t buy into making them larger-than-life or using their names for clout. Over the film’s running time, screenwriter Kemp Powers (who also wrote the play) captures what could’ve occurred between the four friends since no record of the conversation or what happened exists. The Civil Rights movement serving as the film's setting naturally invites a reflection of our current social and racial climate, but doesn't make the characters or what they express too over-the-top or heavy-handed. Powers explores a wide breadth of experiences and choices that let us see their vulnerabilities as real human beings and their influence as future icons, and does so with an equal amount of banter and tension that makes their evening together intriguing and entertaining.

One Night In Miami relies mostly on script and actors to hold your interest, but this doesn’t count King out as a solid director. The film might not helm a huge budget or showcase all the style in the world for the story, but she and her team (cinematography, costume design, and production design in particular) know exactly what they want – where the camera should be, the seamless blocking, etc. Even though it’s based on a play, it doesn’t feel like King forcefully wants you to feel like you’re at the theatre. Instead she lets the characters become three-dimensional on their own and works with them or around them, and leaves you with an impression of how the evening would unfold realistically and on stage. The film isn’t the darkest drama, riotous comedy, or meatiest biopic, but it’s an engaging exhibition of her efforts in front of, and now behind the camera, that's been worth the wait.

Rating:
Have you seen One Night In Miami? What did you think?
One Night In Miami is now on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

So, Tenet (2020) Happened


CIA Agent and the Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a word – tenet – and the objective to  trail a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who communicates with the future. As Sator sets his sight on obliterating humanity, the Protagonist does everything he can to save the world with the help of a fellow agent official Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Sator’s estranged wife (Elizabeth Debicki).

“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. 

What works in favor for Tenet also works against it. Unlike his previous films where the hero had some semblance of humanity tying him to the world outside of saving it or a decent redemption arc, The Protagonist is the hero not because of some special inner calling to care about anyone’s particular fate but mostly it’s his duty and he’s the best at it; Neil shows up to begin and continue their beautiful chaotic friendship whenever he’s needed; Andre comes across as terrifying until his punishment via global annihilation falls down the trap of a 1960s Bond villain; Katharine is limited as the abused wife who is treated as a damsel-punching-bag for 2/3 of the story until she can “save herself” and the world (honestly one of the most offensive female roles I've ever seen). The cast does well with their roles but mostly because of they're given to work with. The action scenes are good, but they’re also too sparse to outdo what other end-of-the-world flicks have done before and more entertainingly. 

Tenet is memorable for Nolan continuing his reputation to conjure a labyrinth of ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact that this is his niche. But a complex film is not necessarily smart if the most resounding reaction is either confusion or accusations that everyone else who dislikes the film is  not smart enough to understand. Contrary to common film bros' defense of Nolan, some to most movie goers understand what he’s delving into - we've just learned to accept that intricate concepts without a satisfying pay-off aren't always worth our time.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Tenet? What did you think?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Wild Mountain Thyme (2020) Is Just Plain Wonky

Going by social media reviews and hype, it seemed like director and writer John Patrick Shanley’s latest film was a perfect runner-up to a crazy it’s-so-bad-it’s-good hit like the notorious Cats. If you hear a flick is bad enough you got to check it out for yourself – almost as a litmus test of how much pain you can put yourself through. While Wild Mountain Thyme doesn't feature floating-heads-on-cat-bodies, it does get a Serenity for sheer wonkiness.

Out in the Irish countryside, Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) has had the hots for her next door neighbor Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) since they were kids. The problem is he’s never made a move. His lack of romantic interests is so disheartening his father Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken) threatens to sell their farm to an American nephew (Jon Hamm) instead of his own son.

This review contains spoilers…

Monday, December 7, 2020

Deep In Vogue (2019) Gives a Front Row Seat to Voguing

Inclusive spaces where LGBTQ+ and people of color can fully express themselves are an increasing rarity. Yet in pockets of club scenes and houses around the U.S. and the UK, vogue ballrooms continue to offer an exceptional underground beacon of hope and a lifeline. Taking a dive into a radical revolution of diversity and self-expression, Deep In Vogue explores the origins of voguing and peeks behind-the-scenes of the Manchester and Liverpool based houses as they prepare for their ICONS Vogue Ball.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Happiest Season (2020) Misses the Point of Queer Holiday Joy

With Christmas right around the corner, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) hopes to treat her longtime girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) to a special weekend getaway with her family. There’s just one problem: Harper hasn’t come out to her parents yet. To save face until she’s comfortable enough to own her sexuality, Abby goes along with pretending to be a straight roommate while hoping to seek her family's acceptance to eventually propose.

Tis the season to be jolly and gay. At least, that’s what Happiness Season would like a lot of us to believe. Marketed as a holiday movie for the gays (and straights) – yay! – it’s hard to believe how much nuance is packed into the first major studio backed lesbian holiday flick – another yay! – and yet makes a total ba-humbug mess of this coming out tale. 

(This review contains spoilers)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Nest (2020) Proves The Family Makes A House into Home-Sweet-Home

Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) has everything going for him – healthy and happy kids Samantha and Benjamin (Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell, respectively), and a wife Allison (Carrie Coon) who challenges him. Their life seems like paradise from the outside looking in, but an endless nagging of unfulfilled potential convinces Rory otherwise. Despite the challenges of uprooting his family across the world to start over, he takes a chance on a job opportunity in the United Kingdom even though it could potentially cost him the peaceful life they already have.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Once Upon A River (2020) Unleashes A Promising Debut

Based on the novel by Bonnie Jo Campbell, 15 year old Margo Crane (Kenadi DelaCerna) lives on the Stark River bank with her father Bernard (Tatanka Means). After she endures a family scandal that leaves her ostracized from the community and other relatives, she goes in search of her mother who left a year earlier. As she winds down the river, she encounters strangers who help her heal and start over.

As Once Upon A River is told from Crane’s perspective, the film primarily belongs to Kenadi DelaCerna. She occupies almost every frame from beginning to end, which is a tall order for an actress making her screen debut. Crane is a quiet and thoughtful heroine who internalizes her experiences, leading most of DelaCerna’s performance to rest in subtle expressions, and to do so without losing your attention of what she is thinking and feeling. DelaCerna possesses a mature presence that brings Crane to life. A solid round of supporting actors also strengthens DelaCerna’s presence on-screen from a gentle teacher who takes her in as a hitch-hiker (William) Ajuawak Kapashesit to a trailer park dweller Smoke (John Ashton) who becomes one of Crane’s greatest allies and glimpses of hope.