Sunday, October 20, 2019

Eli

Movie Name: Eli
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Ciaran Foy
Starring: Kelly Reilly, Lili Taylor, Charlie Shotwell, Max Martini, Sadie Sink, Deneen Tyler, Katia Gomez 
Genre: Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
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Synopsis and Review:
Netflix continues its steady release of feature films, with a new horror feature which hails from Paramount Pictures, and director Ciaran Foy. The film follows the story of Eli, a young boy with a medical condition which prevents him from being outside (the contact with air, makes his skin almost burst into flames). His parents discover a miraculous cure, which comes in the shape of Dr. Horn, who has been successful at curing others with similar ailments. Eli and his parents arrive at the mansion where Dr. Horn practices, where they are informed that for in order for the treatments to be successful, there's three intense stages Eli has to go through. From the onset there's something ominous about the mansion, and Eli starts noticing reflections in the mirrors, ghosts, which start manifesting themselves with progressive intensity. As the treatments continue, Eli becomes more fragile, and the ghosts manifest themselves more demonstrably, much to his parents disbelief.  In the meantime he makes a friend with a neighboring girl, who warns him of the prior patients whose fate is unknown. Eli manages to discover that all the prior patients died, but upon confronting Dr. Horn and his parents, what he discovers is beyond everything he could have imagined.
Ciaran Foy made his directorial debut with Blumhouse's "Sinister 2", and after a television foray, this is his proper follow up. The film has a big reveal towards the end, however it's a film that at a first glance, tries to be a mix of Jeff Nichols's "Midnight Special" with Alejandro Amenabar's "The Others", but one where these influences and styles never really marry or gel effectively. While the film starts promisingly with a quick showcase of the constraints plaguing Eli's young life, once the story arrives at the mansion, it quickly takes a different turn, only to once again take a very different turn by the third act. It its attempts to be so many things, the film ends up not establishing credible characters, none of which have  much to define them, from the parents, to the staff, to Eli himself. We never really understand how he lived before, or get much context into his existence prior to when we witness them on route to the facility. Once the supernatural events start taking place, they're also staged without much inventiveness. The director smartly cast Kelly Reilly and Lili Taylor in pivotal parts, but sadly not even them can bypass the somewhat inert script. For all the talent assembled, this is a sadly missed opportunity.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Movie Name: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Joachim Ronning
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harris Dickinson, Sam Riley, Robert Lindsay, Ed Skrein, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jenn Murray, Juno Temple, David Gyasi, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Judith Shekoni, Miyavi
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
The first "Maleficent" came out in 2014, and it was a surprise hit that year. The sequel immediately started being discussed, and the result is now out for everyone to assess. The narrative takes place after the events of the first film, with Aurora now firmly established as Queen of the Moors, attempting to maintain peace over the magical and non magical parts of her kingdom. Her suitor, Philip, proposes, much to her happiness. Upon hearing of this Maleficent, her godmother, shows apprehension but agrees to go along with a dinner invite to meet Philip's parents. Unbeknownst to any of them, Philip's mother has an agenda of her own, and has set some sinister plans in motion, with the intent to remove Maleficent, and in the process destroy all magical creatures in the kingdom. As Maleficent is attacked and recovers, she learns of others like her, and what her origins are, whereas Queen Ingrith is in full battle mode, ready to destroy everything in sight. It will take all of Maleficent's prowess and powers to detain her.
"Maleficent", which was directed by Robert Stromberg, had a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, who adapted the story from "Sleeping Beauty" by french author Charles Perrault (and these stories were themselves based on popular and rural storytelling from the 17th century). The sequel, again signed by Linda Woolverton, this time aided by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, follows the slim events of the first film, and decides to further establish the mythology of Maleficent as a fantastical creature. The film however, can never decide what it really wants to be: on one hand, there's the Disney enchantment aspect of it (with all the fairies, magical creatures and so on), the feministic aspect of the story (a mother learning to let go and letting her daughter make her own choices, a young woman coming of age, and even a woman making tough decisions to hold on to her semblance of power), and a magical creature of sorts understanding where she comes from. Sadly these three aspects of the story not always gel together, and while the enchantment/syrupy aspect shines through, the edgier aspects of the story, namely Michelle Pfeiffer's rough, power hungry Queen, and Angelina's Maleficent, her combustible temper and dark origins, are never truly explained or probed deeper. The screenplay sadly is where this film falters the most - Michelle Pfeiffer never truly gets a chance to show that her character is malevolent because she wants to protect her kingdom and son (instead it opts to make her a very recognizable and almost over the top villain), whereas Angelina Jolie's though creating a more nuanced and dimensional character, never gets a chance to get as dark as her character deserves to be. It's a film that ends up being fairly generic, one where the direction and point of view from Joachim Ronning is barely visible (and his strongest calling card to date was "Kon-Tiki"). The supporting cast, including Elle Fanning, Sam Riley and Chiwetel Ejiofor are solid, but have little to do, while the film itself, while looking visually fantastic, lacks substance. The costumes from Ellen Mirojnick are wonderful as is the cinematography from Henry Braham. A passable, yet forgettable entertainment.  

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Train to Busan

Movie Name: Train to Busan
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Su-an Kim, Eui-sung Kim, Woo-sik Choi, Sohee, Gwi-hwa Choi
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Korean director Sang-ho Yeon who made a name for himself directing animated features, made his transition to live action with "Train to Busan" which premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. The film follows the story of Seok-woo, a young divorced father who is taking his daughter back to his ex-wife, and who decides to take the train to Busan in order to do so. It's his daughter's birthday, and Seok-woo who is focused mostly on his career, starts realizing a series of odd occurrences. Turns out there's a massive zombie outbreak taking place throughout the country, and that infects some of the train passengers. Seok-woo alongside a small group of other passengers have to unite forces and resources, in order to survive as they cross the country on their way to Busan, one of the few cities still resisting the outbreak.
"Train to Busan" manages to put an interesting spin on the zombie genre, by establishing the focus of the narrative as a train that is carrying all the passengers across the country. The train carries a variety of passengers, from different backgrounds of society, different demographics, all attempting to survive an outbreak that is unstoppable and unexpected. The central figure, a career driven man, is forced to grow up, reassess his priorities and come to terms with the well being of his daughter but also of the people who surround him. It's a film that unlike "Snowpiercer" from Joon-ho Bong, doesn't highlight the class divide as much, or the social workings of society, but it does force us to look at what modern living has forced us to focus on, and how dramatic occurrences bring out the humane aspect of everyone. The film is at times maudlin and overly dramatic, but the director successfully creates an aura of surprise, danger and despair. The cast is uniformly consistent, as are the visual effects that create the surprisingly realistic hordes of zombies (at times reminiscent of Marc Forster's "World War Z"). Worth watching.

Joker

Movie Name: Joker
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Leigh Gill, Glenn Fleshler, Josh Pais, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Sharon Washington, April Grace, Douglas Hodge
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
The much celebrated and discussed "Joker" is finally in the movie theaters, after a rapturous response at the Venice Film Festival of 2019, where it walked away with the award for best film. This film follows Todd Phillips's latest directorial effort "War Dogs" which was met with a tepid response. The film takes place in the early 80s, in Gotham City, and it follows the story of Arthur Fleck, a man who works as a clown, someone who has had a past filled with harshness and some dramatic situations. He has a medical condition which prompts him to start uncontrollably laughing when under duress or stressful situations. Arthur lives with his mom, caring for her, all the while she's constantly writing to Thomas Wayne, her previous employer, whom she compliments while also mentioning he's bound to help them both once he finds out the conditions they're living in. The city is under strain and duress, with constant strikes, a wave of homelessness and unemployment. Arthur sees himself as a standup comedian, but he is ultimately a prisoner of his dreams, and a lonely figure. His progressive disenchantment with reality sends him on a path that is ultimately punctuated by violence. 
"Joker" is an interesting film, in the sense that while being a comic book adaptation, it has deliberately shied away from abiding to the formulas typically associated with the genre. Instead, it's a film that wears its homage to auteurs and filmmakers on its lapel, showcasing films by Charlie Chaplin, Brian De Palma specifically on the film, while thematically it drinks in style and ambience from the work Martin Scorsese did in the 70s, specifically with the superb "Taxi Driver" (but also "The King of Comedy"), and even a dash of what William Friedkin did with "Cruising" in 1980. The film takes us on a bumpy ride, keeping track of the trials and tribulations of Arthur Fleck, a smallish figure of a man, who progressively descends into a spiral of violence, after a lifetime of abuse, ridicule and being ignored. It's a film that portrays itself as a character study, but one that hits all the same notes, without much nuance to how the character actually evolves. The director is successful in capturing and portraying a decaying city, filled with drama, violence, where the economic strains and class struggles threaten to destroy its fine balance (or whatever is left of it). All of this of course would not make this narrative as impactful save for the wonderful Joaquin Phoenix who dominates and touches every single frame of this feature with a sense of despair, sadness, rage and longing. Phoenix has long been one of the best working actors, with Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" being one of his most rapturous performances. While not achieving those heights, "Joker" allows him to probe and shine light on the life of someone with a lot of problems, and ultimately someone who just stops controlling his actions and surrender to instinct. The supporting cast, particularly Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy are equally fantastic, while the cinematography from Lawrence Sher and score from Hildur Gudnadottir are superb. A film worth watching.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Gloria Bell

Movie Name: Gloria Bell
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Starring: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Holland Taylor, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Barbara Sukowa, Chris Mulkey, Jesse Erwin, Sean Astin, Cassi Thomson, Alanna Ubach, Sarah Lowe
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Sebastian Lelio who made waves with "A Fantastic Woman" which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2017 for Chile, directed two films in 2018. The second to see the light of day is "Gloria Bell", a remake of one of his most well known films, "Gloria". The film follows the story of Gloria, a divorced woman in her 50s, who goes dancing quite often, and who's enjoying her life, trying to date men, and generally keeping up with her children and their lives. While her adult children have problems of their own, and somewhat avoid discussing them with her, Gloria is nonetheless always available, in good spirits, also providing support for her own mother, and a few of her good friends. While out and about Gloria meets Arnold, a somewhat quiet man, whom she becomes enamored with. He's also divorced, though more recently, and is still very much attached to his previous life, particularly his ex-wife and adult daughters. As Gloria tries to bring him into her life, by introducing him to her children, ex husband, Arnold suddenly disappears, leaving Gloria firstly shocked and then enraged by his behavior. He tries to apologize, but she's having none of it, until she decides to reconsider. As they enjoy a weekend away, Arnold's ex-life pops up again forcing yet another combustible situation.
"Gloria" placed Sebastian Lelio's name on the map, and this remake is a translation of that feature into the North American reality. The film is successful in depicting and capturing the universe of Gloria, a woman in her 50s, who after being divorced for 12 years, and living alone, is actively pursuing her relationships, both familial, but also on the dating world, attempting to find people to engage with and possibly even have a romance with. Her adult children are somewhat distant, but her mother is still an ever present figure in her life, and she's surrounded by good friends. The director manages to illustrate this universe succinctly, imbuing all the relationships with authenticity and warmth. The film never derails itself into a glamour view of the life of this woman, choosing instead to portray her and her life filled with insecurities, longings, pleasures, with a genuine sense of discovery. Julianne Moore fully inhabits this role without overdoing it. Gloria is a genuine creation of hers, one that is firmly grounded in reality, with her sadness, fears, romance, humor, sexiness, which make her more than just a simple typical character. The supporting cast is top notch, and the cinematography from Natasha Braier is wonderful as is the score of the fantastic Matthew Herbert. Worth watching.

Judy

Movie Name: Judy
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Darci Shaw, Bella Ramsey, Andy Nyman, Gaia Weiss, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Royce Pierreson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Rupert Goold has followed his feature directorial debut "True Story", with this adaptation of the play "End of the Rainbow", by Peter Quilter. The film follows the story of Judy Garland in the late 60s, as she is struggling financially, and as result has no place to live, and has to take her young children to stay with her ex-husband. Unable to find film roles, Judy finally acquiesces and decides to take a run of shows in London, in order to gain financial stability to provide her a better living arrangement, and therefore keep her children. Judy's performances remain iconic, but she's perpetually unable to sleep, and is constantly haunted by her past, the decisions that were carried from it, and her constant resort to alcohol and medical prescriptions to live. She's also profoundly alone, and the excitement and attention from a young American suitor spark some attention in her, but that relationship also fizzles. As her performances are met with ups and downs, Judy questions what her next steps are going to be.
Like most biopics, "Judy" follows a somewhat conventional structure, even if a somewhat predictable one. The film introduces us to the last few months in the life of the iconic Judy Garland, someone whose life has been documented aplenty, and whose sad demise has also already been captured in other mini-series. This film does present the opportunity to capture a bit of the longing, loneliness and stage presence of the performer, as her life was nearing its end. The screenplay, or for that matter the director, never truly capture or go beyond the topic that succinctly can be described as "show business ruined my childhood and corrupted my adulthood". It would have been interesting to see a bit more about the motivations and struggles surrounding Judy as she matured, experienced motherhood and the disappointment of the marriages she had. We get a brief glimpse into that, primarily through the central performance. Renee Zellweger has always been a great actress, and this film once again showcases it. She dials herself inward, and truly becomes someone else, beyond the artifice of the exterior, beyond her great singing ability. She carries a burden, a sadness and melancholy that sticks to her, on every frame, even when she's on stage. It's a riveting embodiment, particularly considering this is the same performer who did Rob Marshall's "Chicago" and Sharon Maguire's "Bridget Jones's Diary". The film is lit by her presence, and does a solid work of illustrating both her performances and her epilogue. Worth watching.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Movie Name: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater, Geraldine McEwan, Michael McShane, Brian Blessed, Michael Wincott, Walter Sparrow, Nick Brimble, Sean Connery
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Longtime Kevin Costner collaborator, director Kevin Reynolds followed his well received "The Beast of War", with this film which turned out to be one of the biggest hits of 1991. The film follows the traditional and iconic storyline, which had already been adapted on film in the iconic "Robin Hood" from Michael Curtiz and William Keighley (which made its debut in 1938). Robin Hood is fighting the crusades, but this time around upon his escape, he flees with a sidekick, in the shape of Azeem. Upon his return to England, Robin quickly discovers that the absence of King Richard, has allowed for Prince John to ascend to the throne, and for the Sheriff of Nottingham to rule the land with forceful cruelty (the sheriff has his cousin Guy of Gisbourne as his helpful assistant, as well as the witch Mortianna and the corrupt Bishop of Hereford). He also discovers his father has been attacked by the sheriff's men, who try to imprison him. After escaping, Robin and Azeem take shelter in the woods, where they become acquainted with a series of men who are rebelling against the sheriff's regime. They both end up leading the group, and start pillaging the sheriff's convoys, and distributing the proceeds to the populations. Robin also manages to meet Marian, the sister of one of his crusades comrades, and falls in love with her, not realizing that she's also the target of the Sheriff's attention. 
"Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is a film that got made on the heels of Kevin Costner's massive success with "Dances with Wolves". The film in itself takes a series of liberties with the tale, introducing new sidekicks, half brothers, on top of witches, all with the sole intent of creating a story that is entertaining and ultimately escapist. The film half succeeds in those goals: it does feature robust action scenes/sequences, but the characters have little to no depth, and ultimately the chemistry between the main performers is non existent (particularly between Robin and Marian). The late Alan Rickman is the only one who is clearly relishing his role and having some fun with it. His Sheriff is more like a deranged rock star of the 80s and he truly brings some bite to the film, even if there's never a real sense of menace or danger throughout the whole endeavor. It's a breezy and lighthearted film, that is quickly forgettable. 

Unbelievable

TV Show Name: Unbelievable
Year of Release: 2019
Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant
Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, Blake Ellis, Dale Dickey, Liza Lapira, Kai Lennox, Omar Maskati, Eric Lange, Danielle McDonald, Connor Tillman, Elizabeth Marvel, Annaleigh Ashford, Bridget Everett, Bill Fagerbakke, Brent Sexton, Treisa Gary, John Hartmann, Tate Ellington, Tim Martin Gleason
Genre: Crime, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis and Review:
Netflix continues its cadence of regularly releasing new shows. While the cadence of their releases is consistent, the same can't be said for the shows themselves. However, and following the second season of "Mindhunter", "Unbelievable" is a great new addition to the best ones they have produced and distributed thus far. Hailing from the creative minds of Susannah Grant (who wrote Steven Soderbergh's "Erin Brockovich" and Curtis Hanson's "In Her Shoes" to name but a few), Michael Chabon (responsible for the novel "Wonder Boys", but also for the scripts for Sam Raimi's "Spider Man 2" and Andrew Stanton's "John Carter") and Ayelet Waldman, the show is based on a 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning story (and its follow up) by authors T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. The show focuses on the story of Marie Adler, a young adult woman who is raped, and the aftermath of events that occur upon her reporting the occurrence. Marie who lives in Washing State and has had a very difficult upbringing with a run through a series of foster homes, is eventually forced to take back her testimony, when the police can't find enough evidence to sustain her story (and when upon further scrutiny, there are inconsistencies in Marie's report). Marie is also fined and charged with false reporting, on top of the crumbling of her living arrangements and abandonment of friendships. A few years later, a case similar to Marie's is unveiled in Colorado. Detective Karen Duvall responds to it, but this time around, the victim has witnessed some physical aspects of the suspect. Duvall is informed that another Detective, by the name of Grace Rasmussen is also investigating a similar case to hers, and they both join forces in order to identify this criminal. They realize this is a series of cases that have gone by unresolved. Their task is tremendously challenging, as the suspect leaves no DNA behind, there is no forced entry and aside from the birthmark, he has no physically differentiating marks. It takes all of their resources, frustrations and persistence to start unveiling the case.
"Unbelievable" is a show that captures the attention of its audience, primarily because of its intelligence which comes across in the way it populates itself with characters who have depth and are multi layered. It's also a yarn, in the sense that it's an enigma, one that is apparently virtually impossible to solve for the characters (and for the audience). The show smartly weaves a story that engages both the research and forensics side of it while simultaneously illustrating the disintegration of Marie's life, who witnesses first hand that downward spiral, when no one believes her statements, and suddenly all that she considers habitual/routine is taken from her. It's a show that depicts these characters beyond their typical cliches, probing deeper into who these people actually are, with their ambitions, principles and fears. Even if the ending of the season veers off into a somewhat Hollywood style ending, it's nonetheless an affecting and very well rendered show, featuring great performances from Toni Collette, Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Wever. Worth Watching.

Ad Astra

Movie Name: Ad Astra
Year of Release: 2019
Director: James Gray
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, John Ortiz, Liv Tyler, Kimberly Elise, Loren Dean, Donnie Keshawarz, Sean Blakemore, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Finn
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis and Review:
Director James Gray is back, after his latest feature "The Lost City of Z" flew under the radar. "Ad Astra" which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to solid reviews, may be his best film yet. The story focuses on Roy McBride, an accomplished and renown astronaut who survives a dramatic accident from a space station where he's working from. Upon his recovery, Roy is informed that what actually caused his accident was originated by a device from a remote space ship, located on the orbit of  Neptune. That remote ship, commanded and headed by his father, Clifford McBride, was long suspected lost and disabled, but is now potentially dooming the entire human race. Roy is tasked with going to Mars, and attempt to communicate with his potentially still alive father, and get him to disable the ship. As Roy goes through these different steps to get to Mars, he analyzes his life, his relationship with his father, all the while overcoming obstacles that appear and threaten to derail the whole mission. He eventually learns of crucial information, which propels him to go find his father, and try a rescue mission.
"Ad Astra" is an interesting film, one that mixes some of the topics that have been present in most of the director's films, while also having interesting influences from some classics of the sci-fi universe. The film is in essence a dissertation on how unresolved familial relationships can haunt an individual for his whole life, preventing him from connecting and establishing resonant and meaningful relationships of his own. Roy is unperturbed for most of the film, since he chooses not to relate to anyone. He is emptied out for most of the film, and as he becomes more wrapped up in the notion of saving his father, the more that façade begins to crack and his emotions, namely longing, fear, sadness, loneliness, break through. It's an intelligently constructed film, filled with nuance, one where the director is far more interested in understanding why this man has to cross half the universe to get in touch with a father who was never present. There are influences from Stanley Kubrick's "2001", Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" and even Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris", but the film is aesthetically stunning on its own. The cast is uniformly superb, with great performances from Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga. The cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema is impeccable, as is the score from Max Richter. A very good film worth watching.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

It Chapter II

Movie Name: It Chapter II
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Bill Skarsgaard, Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jess Weixler, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Peter Bogdanovich, Stephen King, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Joan Gregson, Martha Girvin
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
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Synopsis and Review:
Following the astounding success of the first feature, and since the first chapter only focused on the lives of the characters when they were children, the closing chapter to the Stephen King adaptation was more than expected. "It Chapter II", takes place 27 years after the occurrences of the first feature. Pennywise starts appearing once again, killing individuals from Derry, but also luring the Losers club to come back to the city. Mike who is the only one of the club to have stayed in the city, calls each and every one of the friends, warning them of what is occurring, while also asking them all to come back. They all (but one) make their way back to their hometown, to understand the severity of what is actually occurring, and collectively discuss a strategy on how to defeat Pennywise once and for all. Mike is aware of a ritual on how to make this creature disappear, and goes about explaining the whole group what to do. Pennywise however has ideas of his own, and plays with their fears in order to best create division and swiftly get rid of them.
The second part of the adaptation of Stephen King's lengthy novel, turns the focus of the story from the young children to their adult counterparts. Whereas the book goes back and forth between the two timelines, the film adaptations clearly divides them. Also where the first film and adaptation had a merger of different sensibilities to the screenplay, the sequel comes from the penmanship of Gary Dauberman, who has also written the films of the "Annabelle" series and also "The Nun". Whereas the first film took its time introducing us to the young heroes of the story, letting us slowly understand what made them all so unique, this continuation places their adult selves in the middle of an ongoing menace/threat, not giving much time to understand where they are in terms of their lives and how they actually matured. Their introduction feels somewhat rushed and therefore the connection with these characters is less impactful than the first chapter. Something that is also less effective, is the creation of an overall menacing environment. Whereas the first chapter, every corner of the small town was an opportunity for something to lurk or something to occur, 27 years later, the adults walk around the somewhat deserted city without any qualms, revisiting memories and locales. When the suspenseful and disturbing moments do occur, and they are effectively rendered, they look less integrated into the fabric of the narrative. Andy Muschietti has managed to get an effective cast, with Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and James McAvoy creating strong performances, alongside the younger cast who steal the spotlight. The cinematography of Checco Varese is impeccable as is the score from Benjamin Wallfisch. A less accomplished version of the adaptation of the Stephen King novel, but still worth watching.

Late Night

Movie Name: Late Night
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Denis O'Hare, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Paul Walter Hauser, Amy Ryan, John Early, Ike Barinholtz, Marc Kudisch, Jia Patel, Luke Slattery
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Nisha Ganatra who made a name for herself with "Chutney Popcorn" 20 years ago, and who in the meantime, has directed a series of television shows (including "Transparent", "Better Things" and "The Last Man on Earth", to name but a few), has partnered with actress/writer Mindy Kaling to bring to life her first feature length screenplay to life. The film made its splashy debut on the Sundance Film Festival, where it was one of the priciest acquisitions of the Festival. The story focuses on Katherine Newbury, a late night comedian/TV show host, who after decades of headlining her own show, is at the verge of losing her place due to declining ratings, loss of relevance and her own icy facade. Her writing team, who barely know her, are tasked with turning the boat around, and that starts with hiring women to diversify the composition of the team itself, while also writing jokes that actually align with who the host is. Onto this scenario arrives Molly Patel, a former factory worker, who manages to get an interview and eventually a job, thanks to her candor and incisive insight. Molly's initial handlings of the team and the job land her on some awkward positions, but soon the team collectively starts gelling and creating material, segments for the show, that bring Katherine's perception up. That all hits a roadblock when a scandal threatens to overturn and topple all their hard work.
It's easy to understand what made "Late Night" such a hot purchase for Amazon Studios at the Sundance Film Festival. The film features a fantastic cast, and features a screenplay that is witty, recognizable, even if at points falters to the tropes and clichés of every romantic comedy ever done. Still, it's a film that reflects the actual state of society in general, and relationships in the workplace in particular. It tackles issues such as ageism, sexism, minority discrimination, all with humor, levity, never making it feel excessively didactic or an educational pamphlet. The film does lack a bit of a bite, and stops shy of actually showing the nastier side of all those topics, but it gives Emma Thompson one of the best roles she has had in quite some time, while also allowing John Lithgow, Denis O'Hare to shine as they usually do. It's a funny, though quickly forgettable film.  

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Dolor y Gloria/Pain & Glory

Movie Name: Dolor y Gloria/Pain & Glory
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Penelope Cruz, Julieta Serrano, Nora Navas, Cesar Vicente, Cecilia Roth, Asier Flores, Susi Sanchez, Raul Arevalo, Pedro Casablanc, Julian Lopez, Eva Martin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
In a year of returns for great film makers, Pedro Almodovar is back with another feature, following "Julieta" which was released in 2016. "Dolor y Gloria" follows the story of Salvador Mallo, a film director of a certain age, who is riddled with health issues and chronic pain. When the local Cinematheque decides to run a remastered copy of one of his earlier films, Salvador gets in touch with the lead actor of that film, whom with he had a fall out after the release of the film, so they can both introduce it to the audience (and do a Q&A afterwards). As both men revisit the experience and try to patch their relationship, Alberto, who has always had substance abuse problems, passes some drugs to Salvador in order to help him deal with the pain. Salvador starts using it frequently, while intermittently remembering his past and growing up under the tutelage of his mother. When Alberto uncovers a short story from Salvador and wants to perform it on stage, that also triggers more memories, while coincidentally brings back some past loves to Salvador's life, forcing him to evaluate where he is, and where he wants to go with his life.
Pedro Almodovar has a career filled with stunning films, with a lot of them being based on his own life, growing up in Spain, his relationship with his mother, and his irreverent approach to film making and art (and his love of cinema). "Dolor y Gloria" follows in the footsteps of other autobiographical/inspired by films from his career such as "La Mala Educacion". Salvador Mallo, much like Almodovar, has had a series of health setbacks, which have prevented him from moving on with his career, and is haunted by the ghosts of his mother, his childhood, and the loves that he had to move past, in order to survive and live. The character is an older version of Enrique Goded, Fele Martinez's creation from "La Mala Educacion", but one burdened by physical pain, and emotional scars from failed relationships and loss of loved ones. It's a film that captures both the loneliness of the central character's life, but also the joyous upbringing that character had in Spain in the 50s, with the ever central presence of women, who shaped him to become the man he is. It's a film where the stylistic touches that Almodovar always had, have been toned down, focusing more on the universe of the characters he's showcasing. The cast is uniformly excellent, with a fantastic Antonio Banderas creating one of his best characters yet. The cinematography from Jose Luis Alcaine is impeccable, as is the score from Alberto Iglesias. A very good film from a true master.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Mindhunter Season 2

TV Show Name: Mindhunter - Season 2
Year of Release: 2019
Directors: David Fincher, Andrew Dominik, Carl Franklin
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith, Joe Tuttle, Cameron Britton, Joseph Cross, Stacey Roca, Alex Morf, Happy Anderson, Michael Park, Marianne Bayard, Sonny Valicenti, Michael Cerveris, Albert Jones, Zachary Scott Ross, Lauren Glazier, Dohn Norwood, Gareth Williams
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
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Synopsis and Review:
Following an acclaimed first season, "Mindhunter" is back, following a two year hiatus. Again under the tutelage and creative leadership of David Fincher and show creator, Joe Penhall, the second season picks right after the events of the first one. Holden Ford is reeling from his interaction with Ed Kemper, while Bill Tench's family starts cracking. All the while Wendy Carr's attempts at credible investigation processes continue, while her personal life also has some shuffles, as she meets someone. The team is also placed under new direction, with someone who wants to make their stance, perspective and methodology a staple and impactful for the credibility of the bureau. As the team continues to perform their interviews, and building their profiling templates, using arrested serial killers, including Charles Manson, this time around, they get the opportunity to be brought in, and assist with a gruesome ongoing investigation. Holden and Bill are tasked with assisting the local police with the Atlanta Murders of 1979-1981. This shocking case, which resulted in the death of 28 persons, including children, requires them to utilize all their emerging profiling skills, with Bill in particular going through a challenging situation, due to his son being involved in a gruesome death and the aftermath of that event in his family life and where his family lives.
If the first season of "Mindhunter" invited its viewers to understand how profiling actually started, and the lives of the main proponents of this activity, the second season, further expands upon it, providing a deeper look at their impact on actual cases that were taking place as their department gained more widespread acknowledgment and recognition. The show also dives deeper into the lives of the three main characters, showcasing the humanity lying behind their tireless professional endeavors. If the first show focused on Holden's path, the second season, allows Bill and his family to occupy more screen time, particularly as their reality starts unraveling due to a gruesome accident. The marriage of the scenarios underlying the three lead characters, with the continuous profiling and the recreation of the Atlanta Murders, is particularly effective, since it generates an overall tone of unease, angst wherever the characters go and whomever they interact with. David Fincher, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin who directed the whole season, manage to create a stylistic, consistently detailed tone to the show, that makes it all the more memorable. The performances from the entire cast continue to be solid, with Holt McCallany in particular having the opportunity to make Bill a nuanced character, one trying to remain afloat in the midst of very troubled times. The cinematography from Erik Messerschmidt is impeccable as is the score from Jason Hill. A very good show, worth watching.

The Prince of Tides

Movie Name: The Prince of Tides
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Barbra Streisand
Starring: Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, Jeroen Krabbe, Melinda Dillon, George Carlin, Jason Gould, Brad Sullivan, Maggie Collier, Lindsay Wray
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following her directorial debut with "Yentl", actress/producer/director Barbra Streisand, decided to tackle another feature, this time with an adaptation of Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides". The film follows the story of Tom Wingo, a teacher and football coach from South Carolina, who goes to New York at the request of his mother, to help with the recovery of his twin sister, Savannah, following a suicide attempt. Savannah is being helped by a therapist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, who wants to understand what is propelling Savannah's issues, including a different persona which she has created, and under whose name she writes books. Tom himself has avoided thinking about the family's past, since it's filled with abuse and violence, which have tormented his adult life, the same going for his siblings (his oldest brother has already passed away). As they start uncovering their past, Tom and Lowenstein become closer, since they're both going through marital difficulties. Tom also starts coaching and helping Lowenstein's son, who wants to break away from a pre-arranged life and focus on things that he actually loves. As sessions continue and as emotional ties get deeper, Tom and his family's dramatic past become clearer, suddenly clarifying many of the issues that haunt the Wingo family.
Barbra Streisand's feature directorial career has thus far been comprised of three features (the third being "The Mirror Has Two Faces"). "The Prince of Tides" which is based upon a very successful book by southern writer Pat Conroy, is filled with a richly layered storyline, centered around domestic abuse, traumatic childhood events, and the ghosts of certain situations that scar children and trouble them for the rest of their lives. This story could have easily been depicted as an harrowing drama, with enough grittiness but also with demonstrable hope, ultimately proving that ghosts and past traumas can be battled and overcome. However, Barbra Streisand goes for a Lifetime type of film direction and approach, focusing the story at some point more on the Lowenstein/Tom Wingo amorous relationship, as opposed to the actual core of the story, the root of all the issues that made all of those family members so dysfunctional. The material in itself required someone with a stronger point of view, since ultimately the film becomes so manicured and polished, that it looks like a Nancy Meyers film taking place in the South. It's overly manicured look and feel, ultimately rob this film and its relevant topic, of the impact that it could have, the same way it also robs the cast of delivering performances that are truly resonant. Nick Nolte manages to overcome the restraints of the sappiness, creating a character with a heart, the same going for Blythe Danner, but Streisand, Kate Nelligan and Jeroen Krabbe, have very little to do. The cinematography from the immensely talented Stephen Goldblatt is at times overly golden, but the score from James Newton Howard is effective. A somewhat forgettable endeavor.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Point Break

Movie Name: Point Break
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty, John C. McGinley, James Le Gros, John Philbin, Bojesse Christopher, Julian Reyes, Chris Pedersen, Anthony Kiedis, Lee Tergesen
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
In the early 90s director Kathryn Bigelow started getting bigger budgets and started tackling projects with bigger visibility, the first being "Blue Steel" with Jamie Lee Curtis, which was followed in 1991 with "Point Break", featuring two actors who were then riding a wave of popularity, namely Patrick Swayze (fresh from the hit that was Jerry Zucker's "Ghost") and Keanu Reeves (who was coming off from Ron Howard's "Parenthood", Stephen Herek's "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and Lawrence Kasdan's "I Love You to Death"). The film follows the story of Johnny Utah, a former quarterback, now a young FBI agent who is tasked with going undercover, and discover if a group of surfers is in reality, moonlighting as a group of bank robbers who call themselves The Ex-Presidents. As Johnny gets to know these individuals, he creates a brotherly bond with Bodhi, the charismatic and somewhat new age oriented, leader of the group. He also falls in love with Tyler, who originally taught him surf and was familiar with Bodhi and his group. As Johnny uncovers the truth about the surfers, so does Bodhi about his FBI job and surveillance. What follows is a game of mouse and cat, where one man tries to catch and the other one evade its predator, until the final confrontation.
"Point Break" turned out to be a very successful film, not on the coattails of the originality of its screenplay, but primarily due to Kathryn Bigelow's  ability to bring this story to life. The director was able to quickly understand and define the universe of these characters, perfectly depicting their communion with nature, and their rebellion against institutions, while also depicting Johnny Utah's quest, his perseverance to do the right thing, against all odds. Even if the characters didn't have much depth to them, Kathryn Bigelow managed to visually create a film that is enticing, riveting and filled with beautiful shots that have since at times attempted to be copied, but never quite with the quality of what is seen here. It's a muscular thriller, with a strong sense of rhythm, that perfectly captures these two individuals on a collision course. Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves were both well cast, and find characters that while not exactly a stretch, allows them to bring their uniqueness to the roles, the same going for the colorful Gary Busey. The cinematography from Donald Peterman is stunning as is the score of the underrated Mark Isham. A good film from a very talented film maker. 

Naked Lunch

Movie Name: Naked Lunch
Year of Release: 1991
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren, Peter Boretski
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
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Synopsis and Review:
Acclaimed director David Cronenberg followed one of his most well received films, "Dead Ringers", with an adaptation of William S. Burroughs' novel of the same name. The narrative focuses on the story of Bill Lee, a writer who is making a living by exterminating bugs. The powder Bill uses for the extermination is highly addictive, having seduced his wife into a constant usage, the same going for Bill. The powder creates hallucinations, one of them making Bill believe the typewriters are these huge talking cockroaches, who tell him to kill Joan his wife (according to the cockroach, she is an enemy agent). That does end up happening, due to an unfortunate accident. Bill finds himself in the Interzone, in North Africa, where he again meets a variety of characters, including Dr. Benway, Tom and his wife Joan Frost, a doppelganger for his deceased wife. Once again his hallucinations manifest themselves, with other talking cockroaches and people who may actually be monstrous centipedes involved. Bill has to navigate these murky waters and somehow flee the Interzone towards Annexia. 
"Naked Lunch" is a film adaptation that mixes elements from the novel with other elements from the life of its writer, William S. Burroughs. The novel had long been considered impossible to adapt, due to its surrealism, drug usage and gay overtones, but David Cronenberg somehow manages to digest it into something quite interesting and still very much in line with his own universe. In his capable hands and unique point of view, this film becomes a story about someone experiencing mind/reality altering situations, in a way, constantly shifting his perception of what bodies, sex and gender actually are. The surreal tones are peppered throughout the film, as are the ties with the life of Burroughs, which includes the episodes that showcase his friendship with writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It's a film that has a non linear approach to itself, due to the larger than life aspect of its characters, but it's nonetheless visually compelling and finely acted, with great performances from Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm and Roy Scheider. The cinematography from Peter Suschitzky is impeccable as is the score from Howard Shore. A very interesting film from a phenomenal director. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Naked Gun 21/2: The Smell of Fear

Movie Name: The Naked Gun 21/2: The Smell of Fear
Year of Release: 1991
Director: David Zucker
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, Robert Goulet, Richard Griffiths, Jacqueline Brooks, Anthony James, Lloyd Bochner, Tim O'Connor, Peter Mark Richman
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the well received "The Naked Gun", director David Zucker again collaborated with writer Pat Proft, to make this irreverent sequel, using the characters from the wonderful and underrated tv show, "Police Squad" (which hailed from the creative minds of David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, which lasted 6 episodes in 1982, before being cancelled). The film finds Frank Drebin being honored at the White House for heroic achievements. Frank who separated from Jane, runs into her once again when there's a terrorist attack, and she is one of the surviving witnesses. Unbeknownst to both Frank and Jane, there's a conspiracy being devised, hailing from figureheads associated with the Oil industry, who want to prevent a consulting scientist to the President, to announce recyclable alternatives as the energy investment to tackle for the government. One of these figureheads is the man Jane is currently dating. It's up to Frank and his team to uncover this massive plot and once again, save the nation.
Coincidentally "The Naked Gun 2" came out the same year as "Hot Shots", the latter being another feature from the mind of Jim Abrahams and writer Pat Proft. "The Naked Gun" obviously made a mark and continued to do so in this sequel, as a direct heir from the work of the short lived TV Show created by the trio collectively known as ZAZ, but also and foremost, as a direct descendant of the classic "Airplane". What's always been a testament to David Zucker's mind and ability, is how even subverting the tropes of different genres, in what can be considered a spoof, he always embeds it with a sense of rigor that most other spoofs can't even comprehend. His films, much like this one, never rely on vile or excessively crude jokes, always aiming for a type of humor that is derived from situations and parodies, and not cruelty or scatological type of humor. As always his films are perfectly cast, with Leslie Nielsen once again proving to be the perfect blend of nonsense and dashing, Priscilla Presley and George Kennedy rounding out the trio of central performances. This film touches on relevant points, topics important then as now, but does so without taking anything or anyone very seriously. It's an entertaining, breezy film worth watching. 

Little Man Tate

Movie Name: Little Man Tate
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: Jodie Foster, Dianne Weist, Adam Hann-Byrd, Harry Connick Jr., David Hyde Pierce, Debi Mazar, Celia Weston, George Plimpton, Josh Mostel, Bob Balaban
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The same year that saw the release of one of her most iconic film roles, Jodie Foster also made her feature directorial debut with "Little Man Tate". The film follows the story of Fred, a young boy with amazing intellectual abilities, who lives with his young single parent mother in New York. His mother Dede is a waitress, and upon noticing his capabilities, allows with some reticence, for him to enroll in a school for the gifted, run by a former child prodigy herself, and now a psychologist, Jane Grierson. While Fred starts socializing a bit more, with both the joys and letdowns that derive from it, he also realizes ultimately where his heart is.
"Little Man Tate" was originally a project to be directed by celebrated director Joe Dante, who ended up vacating the project, allowing Jodie Foster to make her directorial debut. It's a film centered around a character who is clearly intelligent, sensitive and gifted, and yet somehow at odds with the world. The narrative positions itself as if the world doesn't really understand what to do with this unique set of characteristics from the central character. It's a topic that has surfaced in other films throughout Jodie Foster's career as a director, namely "Home for the Holidays" and even "The Beaver". One of the most rewarding aspects of this film, is the quiet assurance and easiness that comes across from all the actors in the situations that Jodie Foster captures so well. She manages to create this universe, filtered through the eyes of a gifted child, who yearns to be loved, accepted and just be part of everything. All the central performances make this film a treasure to be watched, with Foster, Dianne Weist, Adam Hann-Byrd and Harry Connick Jr., all successfully creating more than just two dimensional archetypes. The cinematography from Mike Southon is effective as is the jazzy score from Mark Isham. A great directorial debut from a terrific actor/director.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Get Carter

Movie Name: Get Carter
Year of Release: 1971
Director: Mike Hodges
Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Alun Armstrong, George Sewell, Britt Ekland, Dorothy White, Geraldine Moffat, Rosemarie Dunham, Bryan Mosley, Glynn Edwards, Bernard Hepton
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After a career started in Television (much like many celebrated British film directors, such as Stephen Frears, Michael Apted and Alan Parker), director Mike Hodges ventured into feature film making with "Get Carter", an adaptation of the book by Ted Lewis. The film follows the story of Jack Carter, a lethal London-based gangster, who goes back to Newcastle, to attend his brother's funeral. He suspects that his brother's death was not accidental, and starts investigating in order to get to the bottom of things. His niece is in shambles, but he manages to start uncovering the workings of the criminal life of Newcastle, and slowly starts peeling away of what has truly occurred, not stopping at anything to get what he wants. What he uncovers is a shocking revelation which sets him on a path of vengeance with no stop.
"Get Carter", much like William Friedkin's "The French Connection", which also made its debut in 1971, would capitalize on a fresh perspective on the world of crime - gone were the glamour or humor driven views of the seedy underbelly, replaced instead with a more dramatic and visceral view of that reality. Both films went in the direction of a grittier, more violent and ultimately, realistic of that lifestyle, with all that it comes with it (including violence, death, greed). "Get Carter" and director Mike Hodges, manage to capture the reality of Newcastle impeccably, grim and grey, with Jack Carter aiding to this portrait, since he is the narrator, one who takes us through his views of the investigation, while also allowing us to view the city through his eyes, a city he had long left behind (the same going for people he pushed aside, in order to become the person he now is). Michael Caine dominates the film with a performance that goes from charming to lethal fairly quickly. He's charismatic, brutal, funny and fearless, all of which make this character unforgettable. The supporting cast is equally effective in their brief depictions. A solid film always worth revisiting. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Movie Name: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, Nicholas Hammond, Luke Perry, Maya Hawke, Lena Dunham, Scott McNairy, Rumer Willis, Rebecca Gayheart, Zoe Bell, James Remar, Michael Madsen, Perla Haney-Jardine
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Quentin Tarantino is back, 4 years after the release of "The Hateful Eight". Where his previous film was a lengthy chamber piece with a series of despicable characters, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a view/homage of life in Hollywood at the end of the 60s, distilled through the director's sensibility. The film focuses on Rick Dalton, a character modeled after Clint Eastwood's career. We find him in 1969, following a successful run on TV, playing a cowboy/lead on a TV show which has given him plenty of exposure and fame. Rick meets with a successful producer who wants to cast him in a series of Italian features, where once again he can be the lead star, starting with some spaghetti westerns. Rick overdrinks, oversmokes, and his sole friend is his constant and loyal stuntman, Cliff Booth, a handsome, charming man, who has a somewhat colorful past. Cliff has remained best friends with Rick through trials and tribulations, and has a very low profile, easy going vibe, which draws him to a group of hippies (under the mentorship of Charles Manson) living in what used to be a set for cowboy films. Rick lives on the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by well known neighbors, such as Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate who is just now starting her path to fame. As Rick, Cliff and Rick's new wife return from their Italian experience, they're all in for more than they expected.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is, unlike Tarantino's previous films, looser and scope and narrative. Though the film focuses on the story of Rick Dalton, and his relationship with his best friend Cliff, there's not much advanced in terms of who Rick, or for that matter Cliff, really are. The film cuts a slice of what life in Hollywood was in 1969, and provides insight into the life of an actor trying to find his bearings, someone who feels precociously aged and out of sync with the life/career he aimed to live and have. The film also has a series of supporting characters who show up, all aiming to create a more diverse universe, one where hippies, cults and their followers co-exist without much friction. What is the most fantastic thing about the film, its fluid style and seemingly ease by which the story gets told, is also its downfall: there really isn't that much to tell. As much as Rick's fascinating character and life may be, and Leonardo DiCaprio brings him to life impeccably, as a mixture of loneliness, fear, excitement, insecurities, alcoholism, all bottled to amazing dysfunction, the film veers off into other plot lines, such as Cliff's encounter with the cult (which basically goes nowhere) or even Sharon Tate's, both of which are inconsequential, lack insight or generally feel underdeveloped or superficially looked at. The film is indeed a postcard to a bygone era, but much like postcards, it's up to the viewer to make the story or imagine what has happened in that postcard. Robert Richardson's cinematography is phenomenal, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, make this film worth watching, but this lacks the punch or visceral response that Tarantino's previous films caused. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Vigilante

Movie Name: A Vigilante
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Sarah Daggar-Nickson
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Morgan Spector, Kyle Catlett, Tonye Patano, Betsy Aidem, Judy Marte, C.J. Wilson, Chuck Cooper
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following a few shorts, "A Vigilante" is Sarah Daggar-Nickson's feature directorial debut. The film follows the story of Sadie, a woman who helps women (mostly but not exclusively) escape domestic abuse situations. She lives precariously in motels, where she trains incessantly and has some devastating breakdowns. Through a series of flashbacks, we witness Sadie's heartbreaking story and how she eventually escaped her own devastating abuse story, embodied by her violent husband. 
"A Vigilante" is a film filled with good intentions, showcasing a topic deserving of all attention possible, domestic abuse. It's also a film that capitalizes on what Patty Jenkins did with the complicity of Charlize Theron on "Monster": showcase through grittiness and as much realism as possible, the devastating effects that some brutal events have on women's lives. However where "Monster" succeeded in creating a universe and populating it with characters, "A Vigilante" is comprised of snapshots that never provide much insight into Sadie's plight, who she was and ultimately her sudden transition into the vigilante that we find her as. Olivia Wilde tries her hardest to make Sadie believable, someone living with unbearable pain and ghosts, but there's a hollowness to her performance, something that lacks substance and dimension - she forgets that in order to showcase pain, you have to draw a path that demonstrates an evolution of a person/character. Unlike Charlize Theron who loses herself in Aileen Wuornos, Olivia Wilde's performance is a more calculated one and one note, while the supporting characters are sketches and barely defined (including her ex husband, the catalyst for the situation she's in). There are glimpses of possibility, but it's a film that could benefit from a stronger point of view. Forgettable.