Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Barbie (2023)

Humans have only one ending. Ideas live forever.

Contains slight spoilers

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Nope (2022)

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 . 

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Gray Man (2022)

For the past four years I’ve been playing a torturous one-sided game of 'Where in the world is Ryan Gosling?' Without hesitation or any expectations, The Gray Man answered that question. And the answer is pretty much everywhere - Bangkok, Hong Kong, Croatia, Berlin, Florida. Despite the impressive array of settings for the Russos' latest Netflix project, and the streaming service making me wait two years for this with barely any promo tours of my baes Ryan and Chris...the film itself is spectacularly bland. Fun? Yes. But bland.

My long-awaited return of Gosling brings him to play a so-called violent prisoner picked up from the CIA to do their dirty work as Sierra Six aka American Bond. On a mission to kill another target, he realizes his time is up. A hotshot new director is hunting the agents in the shadows like Six ~for reasons~ and is forced to go on the run as a rogue assassin Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) guns him down.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Batman (2022)

Is Batman overrated? Aren't there more superheroes to make movies about? Isn't a big reason why some feel Batman is overrated is because he's gotten so many adaptations - almost as much, if not more, than Superman? It's hard to ignore these questions as another reboot releases this Spring and takes the world by storm. However, when its long-awaited hype promises to do something different with the Caped Crusade and delivers, it's almost impossible to not acknowledge how an iconic character can once again seem new.

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.

Rating: ★★1/2☆

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Cosmic Dawn (2021)

We’ve been looking towards the cosmos to understand ourselves since the beginning of time. For those who have venture closer than admiring space from afar, abductees or the families left behind try to make sense of what happened and why. It can be a tumultuous experience struggling to believe their own encounters and facing skeptics who question them.

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.

Rating: ★★☆

Thank you to Cranked Up Films for providing a screener. Cosmic Dawn is available to watch on-demand and limited in theaters.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

52 Films By Women Challenge Year-End Recap

Earlier this year, I set up a few film challenges for myself. The major one was watching 52 films by women - one film a week for a year. 

I thought it'd be a pretty seamless challenge - find a movie every week and watch it. But it took quite a few different turns. Streaming services or rentals dropped a lot of titles before I got the chance to watch them, or movies I wanted to check out at random were difficult to find. More often than not, my work  schedule took over my days and nights, so squeezing in time was tougher than it was a couple of years ago when I was mainly working from home. Covering the Athena Film Festival gave me a bit of an edge in Spring. But, my original list looks absolutely nothing with what it looks now.

Consciously trying to watch more films by a wide range of directors truly put into perspective just how much more movies (usually by male directors) are out there and easily available. Browse any genre across Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, etc. and it's dominated by one gender instead of a spectrum. That's not the same with films directed by women. Many don't get a second time to helm another feature, even if they're first is a financial success, making movie goers opportunities to find unique films in multiple genres extremely limited. Want to watch animated movie by a woman? They're out there, definitely, but harder to access.

Besides some of the cons, there were also pros. There is such a great variety of stories to be told. Every time a female director steps behind the camera, the representation on-screen and off becomes more normalized yet remains inspiring. Even if a film didn't land with me, I still appreciated knowing a female director was behind the camera and was putting a piece of her ideas and work or a female-lead out there, and to cover more ground with a focus on women of color, LGBTQ+ community, etc.

I didn't quite keep up with a side-goal to review every movie - as I just really lost my sense of writing this year. Anxiety became so bad that I restarted my letterboxd and deleted my other one. While I wish I could specifically talk about the movies I watched, my heart wasn't just in it beyond brief recaps of when I watched what.

One of the biggest habits that I have is waiting to watch a film when the time is right - whatever that means. But this challenge opened me up to watching movies that sounded interesting and just checking it out without putting any preface and expectations on the experience. I found that it gave me a lot more freedom to watch whatever I felt I was in the mood for, and not worry about whether it was good or bad, if I could write about it or not.

Out of the 52 films that I watched, these stood out to me the most: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Love and Basketball, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way, Test Pattern, Abominable, The Piano, But I'm A Cheerleader, A Vigilante, Miss You Already, Our Friend, and Shiva Baby. 

A few honorable mentions: All Too Well short film, D.E.B.S, Home for the Holidays, Mamma Gloria, Beyond the Lights, Mudbound, Leave No Trace, Somethings Gotta Give, Eves Bayou.

I'm definitely going to watch films by more directors this year, but I'm not sure I'll continue this specific goal. There are still several late releases I wished to have checked out and pushed me over the finishing line - Passing, The Power of the Dog, The Lost Daughter, Petite Maman. But I just didn't have time with work and holidays taking over in December...I guess I know where to start in 2022.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Holiday Party

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week's theme is Holiday Party.