Friday, December 31, 2021

E stata la mano di Dio/The Hand of God

Movie Name: 
E stata la mano di Dio/The Hand of God
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luiza Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betty Pedrazzi, Enzo Decaro, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Biagio Manna
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Director Paolo Sorrentino has returned, after working on his mini series "The Young Pope/The New Pope" and the films "Loro" (focused on the life of Silvio Berlusconi). The film which takes place in the 1980s, focuses on the life of young Fabietto, who is still in high school, but is focused on soccer, as his most of his hometown of Napoli. The film follows the every day adventures of his extended family, including his loving parents and siblings, but also his uncles and aunts, cousins, grandmother, all of whom have their own dramas taking place. His father and himself, alongside most of the country itself, are very focused in figuring out if Maradona is indeed coming to play soccer to Napoli or not, since they believe him to be touched by the hand of God. When that event happens in 1984, it's a general jubilation, even if Fabietto soon realizes that his idolized father isn't as perfect as he made him up to be. Following a dramatic incident, Fabietto and his family are left wondering what they want to do with their lives, and how they can continue on living.
"The Hand of God" has the ability to immediately invite us to the nest of a close knit family, one where the ties that keep those individuals together are clearly visible. Paolo Sorrentino, who is clearly telling a very autobiographical story, is also very successful at portraying/illustrating life in Italy, specifically in Napoli in the mid 80s, where everything revolved around soccer, the never ending Summers where people went to the beach, danced away and generally speaking, just idly watched life serenely move. It's a film that also carries with it the nostalgia of making films themselves, in this particular case the great Fellini who also influences the narrative being told (and towers over everything in Italy, as far as cinema is concerned of course). As the stories and relationships between the family members become clearer, Sorrentino also demonstrates how youth is sometimes easily influenced, but also easily broken hearted. It's a film that is peppered with humor, tenderness, lust and warmth, that somehow walks a fine line between being very authentic, but also somewhat idealized, though it always remains vibrant and heartfelt. The cast is uniformly excellent, with highlights going to Filippo Scotti and Toni Servillo. The cinematography from Daria D'Antonio is solid as is the music from Lele Marchitelli. Worth watching.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Movie Name:
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Will Sharpe
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Phoebe Nicholls, Stacy Martin, Sharon Rooney, Aimee Lou Wood, Hayley Squires, Adeel Akhtar, Asim Chaudhry, Taika Waititi, Crystal Clarke, Nick Cave, Julian Barratt, Dorothy Atkinson, Olivia Colman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Will Sharpe is back, following his work on the show "Flowers" and his previous feature film, the little seen "The Darkest Universe". The film which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, focuses on the life of British artist, Louis Wain. Louis who was born in 1860, has a large family, which includes 5 other siblings, all girls. While his father had worked in textiles, Louis soon starts making a name for himself as an artist, being able to draw animals and country scenes, working in the process for different publications. He becomes the protege of Sir William Ingram, who while admitting to finding his personality quirky and different, also loves his work. At 23 Louis decides to marry his sisters' governess Emily, something shocking for the time, due to their social differences, and the fact that she was 10 years older than himself. They move to a small house outside of London, while Louis still provides for his mother and sisters, since their father has passed away. However Emily soon becomes ill, threatening their happiness. Around the same time, Emily and Louis decide to adopt a stray cat, and he starts drawing him frequently, which Emily encourages him to publish. As Louis' popularity increases, Emily's health declines and she soon passes away. Due to his lack of business prowess, all of Louis' success and prints provide little revenue, something that shocks his sisters since they're now relying on him alone to provide for the family. Louis decides to go to America and try his talent there, as publishers there have shown interest in his work.
This biopic on the life of the artist Louis Wain, while narratively fairly straightforward, tries to add a layer of difference or quirk, by focusing on a particular aspect of what Wain in the film considers, "the electricity" which runs across everything in life. Whereas Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" for instance focused on the journey of artist Margaret Keane, specifically in reclaiming her own name and reputation on the art market and in society in general, Will Sharpe chooses to detail Louis' journey as somewhat of an innocent person, always seeing the world in a unique manner, particularly more so when he starts capturing cats. As Louis' life goes through its ups and downs, his focus on his art, and making sure his family is provided for is unwavering, even if the outputs of his initiatives are not always the best. It's a film that is sadly fairly generic, considering the universe of this particular artist's life and the controversy which surrounded his later years with same claiming the onset of schizophrenia may actually have been toxoplasmosis (a disease precipitated from cats and their feces), while doctors to this day claiming otherwise. Aside from the central character, the supporting ones get very little dimension to themselves, though the trio of Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy and Andrea Riseborough, all manage to create compelling performances, with good support from Phoebe Nicholls, Stacy Martin and a nice cameo from Nick Cave. The production team is solid, including the cinematography from Erik Wilson and costume design from Michael O'Connor. Watchable but ultimately forgettable.


Don't Look Up

Movie Name:
Don't Look Up
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Rylance, Ron Perlman, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, Himesh Patel, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Robert Joy, Paul Guilfoyle, Conor Sweeney
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Director Adam McKay is back, following his previous film "Vice", which focused on former vice-president Dick Cheney, and featured great performances from both Christian Bale and Amy Adams. This new feature, which Netflix has produced and is releasing, is packed with big name actors and is a broad satire on the greed of the world and corporate malfeasance that is permeating across society. The film focuses on the story of two scientists, Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky. Kate currently working on her PHD, uncovers a meteor hurling towards our solar system, and immediately notifies Dr. Mindy of her discovery. As he makes his calculations in terms of the trajectory of the comet, he and his team come to the horrifying realization that the comet is in fact going to hit Earth, and its impact will destroy life on the planet. They quickly set a plan in motion, which includes notifying the authorities, which eventually gets them in touch with the White House. The leadership of the country is currently under the direction of populist President Orlean, with support of her nonsensical son, and this team takes the news in a much different manner both scientists anticipated. As they devise a plan to destroy the comet, with the cooperation of worldwide governments, things suddenly take a different turn, when the comet is found to have minerals which can boost the profitability of BASH, one of the biggest companies in the world, and a major donor for the current President's campaign. 
Adam McKay has managed to assemble a terrific cast to lead this somewhat blunt satire on American greed, politics and generally speaking, the corporate mercenary type of ideology which seems to dominate not just the American society, but the world in general. The film, which has at its core a very "Armageddon/Deep Impact" type of premise, tries to anchor its narrative on the two scientists who uncover the pending catastrophe, but fails to provide much dimension or much of an arc for what they're actually going through. While both Randall and Kate are supposedly the sensical eyes witnessing the surreality of what is taking place, sadly they're somewhat of a blank canvas, aside from very generic persona/character definition that is assigned to them from early on: Randall is the middle aged scientist, with a rather suburban existence, who gets thrown into the spotlight, is dazzled by the popularity and attention, becomes an endorser for a series of lies, loses his soul, only to somehow redeem himself as the world is coming to an end. Kate is somewhat a no-nonsense student, who detests politics, cares for the environment, but in the process, loses her opportunistic boyfriend and rebels against the political web of lies being crafted, only to find herself pushed out, until she eventually comes to accept the end of it all. Most of the supporting characters are broad satires from well known personalities, including political figures, CEOs, TV Hosts, Entertainers, everyone gets thrown in the massive blender, and yet not one of these characters particularly registers, since they're mostly crafted as puppets. The biggest issue with this film isn't the fact that the situation isn't ripe for satire: it is, and we all understand the players on/of the game. The main issue lies with the fact that in order for this scenario to actually resonate, the characters have to be more than just a collection of tics, and somewhat shocking antics. What we collectively have witnessed in real life has surpassed some of the nonsense that the director has put on display here, so for a satire to be impactful, there needs to be a point of view that is both acidic and corrosive in what it depicts but also humane, in order for us to be moved and humored by what is illustrated. And that requires looking a bit deeper, and showing us more than just the obvious. While the cast is willing to play along, Leonardo DiCaprio who is always so brilliant, is wasted here, the same going for the supporting turns from Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, both of whom go very broad in their interpretations of their characters. Jennifer Lawrence manages to remain consistent with her type of characters even if her role is a bit of a waste. The production team is impeccable, including cinematography by Linus Sandgren and score from Nicholas Brittell. While not a terrible film, it's not a particularly memorable one, once again proving that Netflix has an odd track record for what it produces, versus what it buys. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

tick, tick... BOOM!

Movie Name:
tick, tick... BOOM!
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Michaela Jae Rodriguez, Ben Levi Ross, Judith Light, Bradley Whitford, Laura Benanti, Danielle Ferland
Genre: Drama, Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Lin-Manuel Miranda who of course has made a name for himself on Broadway as the creator of "Hamilton", finally makes his feature directorial debut with "tick, tick... BOOM!", a quasi biopic of Jonathan Larson. Larson, himself an American composer who prematurely passed away at the age of 35 in the mid 90s, just as he was about to experience a grandiose success with "Rent", which went on to win numerous accolades and be a tremendous commercial success. The film introduces us to Larson, as he is working in a diner in Soho, NY, to try to make ends meet, all the while he's continuously writing his musical by the name of Superbia. His girlfriend in the meantime gets offered a teaching position in Massachusetts, and invites him to come along. Some of his friends are also moving on, to jobs in advertising and in the corporate world, since they're tired of living the artist life, with no money, no healthcare, and no future prospects. As Jonathan struggles with finding the inspiration to write a central song to his play, particularly as the play is about to be workshopped, he also has to contend with what he wants out of his future, and his self questioning if he'll ever make it or not.
Modern musicals are a difficult genre to tackle. Essentially because if done well, they can truly soar, and showcase the sometimes surreal mindset of certain characters, such as Bjork's Selma in Lars Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark". However they can also quickly turn sour, and become a kitschy experience, where essentially the film is like a long videoclip without much to offer in terms of character development or context building, which is the case of Tom Hooper's "Cats" or even Steve Antin's "Burlesque". And then of course, there's the antics of Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" which lives in between those two sides of the fence, but that ultimately benefits from the fact that Luhrmann has a very strong point of view, that comes across no matter what. And that is one of the main issues "tick, tick... BOOM!" has: it has a variety of topics that are very important to be aware of, namely the deaths caused by AIDS in the 80s and 90s, the mortgaging of artists' dreams, racism and homophobia, all of which are weighty and have to be handled with some sensitivity. However Lin-Manuel Miranda, for all his ability to illustrate the life of Jonathan Larson, fails to transport the action from whatever doldrum setting the characters find themselves in, to a place where music permeates across everything that it touches. Where Bjork's Selma was influenced by classic films, and imagined herself as part of one, morphing her reality to it, Larson never truly leaves NY, and most of he imagines are meant to illustrate the challenges he's going through to craft his oeuvre. There are some inspired moments throughout the film, but it's overall somewhat tepid, and feels like a rehash of Alan Parker's "Fame" for instance, but without the grittiness or joy that came with it. Ultimately it's a film that lacks that "jump" moment, the moment in which the director asks us to go on this journey with him to his imagination and universe, something Bob Fosse also did in "All That Jazz" for instance. What we're left with, is a nice homage to a talented individual, that is somewhat sentimental, but doesn't necessarily make for an interesting film. The cast is serviceable without being memorable, save for Judith Light, who simply lights any scene she walks into. While it's not a terrible film, it's not a memorable one. 

Nancy

Movie Name:
Nancy
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Christina Choe
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Ann Dowd, J. Smith-Cameron, Steve Buscemi, John Leguizamo, Virginia Kull, Samrat Chakrabarti, T. Sahara Meer, Tibor Feldman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"Nancy" is Christina Choe's feature directorial debut, following a series of shorts that got her noticed in several Film Festivals, including Sundance, where "Nancy" premiered in January of 2018. The film follows the story of Nancy Freeman, a thirty something woman who lives in upstate New York, caring for her mother who has serious health issues. She's an aspiring writer, however all her submissions to get published routinely get declined. After her mother passes away, Nancy sees a news report regarding a couple whose daughter was kidnapped some thirty years ago. When the age progression photo is shown, Nancy notices a vague resemblance, and decides to contact the couple. She mentions to the couple she suspects her mother wasn't actually her birth mother, and that she was in fact kidnapped when she was a child. While the couple initially has some reservations, they eventually ask her to stay, until they can figure out the legitimacy of her claims.
One of the most interesting and compelling arguments to watch this film, lies in the effectiveness with which Christina Choe creates a narrative that envelops us in trying to understand who Nancy actually is. She lives in this ambiguous territory, where we're not entirely sure if she's a swindler, or someone genuinely wanting to connect, or what exactly motivates her. She navigates life without much direction or purpose, aside from her focus on her short stories, so when suddenly the possibility of her life's journey possibly be something quite different than what was originally anticipated, it becomes a very interesting inflection point, both for the narrative, but also for the character herself. This uncertainty, this gray zone in which Nancy operates, makes her a bit of a puzzle, but it's also one of the most riveting aspects of the film. Sadly the third chapter somehow fails to deliver on the premise that the remainder of the film has crafted so well. The film benefits from a wonderful central performance from the underrated Andrea Riseborough, who gets great support from Ann Dowd, J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi. The cinematography from Zoe White is just desaturated enough to simultaneously illustrate the coldness of the area, but also the barren aspect of Nancy's life itself. It's an insightful and well acted film worth watching.

The Power of the Dog

Movie Name:
The Power of the Dog
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKensie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy, Peter Carroll, Alison Bruce, Alice Englert, Kenneth Radley, George Mason
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Director Jane Campion has returned, after her celebrated "Bright Star" and the mini-series "Top of the Lake". "The Power of the Dog" is an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Savage, and focuses its narrative on two ranch owning brothers, Phil and George Burbank. The story which takes place in 1925 in Montana, gains momentum once George falls in love with a widow by the name of Rose, who at the time is running an inn, alongside her young son, Peter. George and Rose soon marry, and Peter goes to college to study medicine. Rose moves to the ranch, and Phil can't hide his dislike of her, treating her rather cruelly. As Rose starts to get affected by these turns of events, a dinner party organized by George further cements her anguish, since she is unable to play the piano as she used to (something that Phil openly mocks her about). By the time Peter comes back to the ranch for Summer break, Rose has become an alcoholic. The meek Peter is openly mocked by everyone on the ranch, but Phil starts paying attention to him, and soon they're developing a closer relationship, which further sends Rose into a downward spiral.  
Jane Campion's films have always been uniquely insightful observations on the roles women play in society, and how patriarchy seemingly tries to box them and fit them into clearly categorized roles. That was something that permeated across "Sweetie", "An Angel at My Table", "The Piano", "The Portrait of a Lady" and even the maligned "In the Cut". In "The Power of the Dog" Ms. Campion turns her attention to a different canvas, namely she has chosen to tackle the roles of masculinity, homosexuality and once more, how they manifest themselves in insecurities and the oppression of femininity (both directly in women and men). It's a particularly rich canvas to work on, since the narrative takes place in the early years of the 20th century, when the advancement of technology, of roles in society, were all rapidly shifting, and at the core of this narrative, is a man who is living within roles he has accepted, but that he fights against. In a way, Peter and his meek and slender appearance, which to some characters in the film render him effeminate, both represent a transgression on these roles, but also the dawn of a new thought process, of an ambiguous way to interpret nature and relate to it. As Peter disrupts Phil's existence, Rose in her role both as a mother and as a female figure of desire, gets shaken to her core, for she too understands how the roles aren't quite as transparent as she initially thought. It's a beautifully rendered film, that slowly unveils itself, with a devastating final chapter, one that the director peppers with sensuality and eroticism, that extends beyond the characters themselves. The cast is uniformly fantastic, with Benedict Cumberbatch possibly crafting one of his most indelible roles thus far, with great support from the wonderful Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and the quietly unassuming Kodi Smit-McPhee. The cinematography from Ari Wegner is stunning, as is the score from Jonny Greenwood (though it does have "There Will Be Blood" flashes here in there), production design from Grant Major and costumes from Kirsty Cameron. A beautiful film from one of cinema's most uniquely talented voices. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Passing

Movie Name:
Passing
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Rebecca Hall
Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, Andre Holland, Alexander Skarsgard, Bill Camp, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
"Passing" is the feature directorial debut from actress Rebecca Hall, who has made a name for herself with solid performances in Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona", Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" and also Antonio Campos' "Christine". This feature, which she also wrote, is the adaptation of the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, and focuses on the story of Irene and Clare, two women who grew up together, but who have since lost track of each other. They're both mixed-race, but while Irene is married to a Black doctor and lives in Harlem, Clare chooses to "pass" as white, and has married a wealthy white man from Chicago. When they casually meet once again in a hotel in New York City, they suddenly become involved in each other's lives. As Clare starts to engage more and more in Irene's social gatherings and life, she starts suspecting Clare and her husband are having an affair. As Irene tries to cut off contact with Clare, her husband Brian loops her back in, exacerbating Irene's insecurities. Clare in the meantime, as she spends additional time in Harlem, she faces the threat of exposing her racial background, something her husband clearly despises.
There's a quiet assurance to how "Passing" is directed and illustrated, that clearly demonstrates the care and attention Rebecca Hall has devoted in bringing this narrative to life. Irene's life, her ambitions, her habits, are well defined, including her relationship with her husband, and how that also trickles to how they both raise their children, both in terms of activities, but also in terms of topics they choose to expose them to. While Clare as a character remains more enigmatic, it also serves the purpose of the narrative, since Irene never truly understands what Clare's actual intentions are (neither do we as viewers). It's a film that lives from the tapestry of the relationships established between these characters, at a time where racial integration didn't exist, and where people were forced to make challenging choices in order to live and survive. The epilogue of the film is also tremendous, leaving the audience with the responsibility of figuring out what they think happened to the characters. An open ended narrative that somehow feels perfectly in tune with what the film has established. The performances from Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are fantastic, and they get great support from Andre Holland, Alexander Skarsgard and Bill Camp. The cinematography from Eduard Grau is stunning as is the score from Devonte Hynes. A very good film worth watching and reflecting upon.

Being the Ricardos

Movie Name:
Being the Ricardos
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, Nina Arianda, J.K. Simmons, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox, John Rubinstein, Clark Gregg, Nelson Franklin, Jake Lacy, Ron Perkins, Jeff Holman, Jonah Platt
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the well received "The Trial of the Chicago 7", writer/director Aaron Sorkin is back, this time around tackling a new feature for another streaming giant, Amazon. The film centers around a particularly challenging week in the life of Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz, as they were going through the taping of their very successful show, "I Love Lucy". The film which takes place in the 1950s, focuses on a week in which Lucille Ball, then riding the wave of popularity due to the success of her show, is being investigated on suspicions of being tied to the Communist party. It's a week where she and her husband Desi, are having relationship issues, since she believes he's being unfaithful, while they're simultaneously working on their upcoming new season of the show (and her possible pregnancy being incorporated into the show). It's a stressful week for everyone, and as they navigate these various challenges, the creative process of getting the show running fluidly creates tension/friction with the writers, show runner, sponsors, other actors, not to mention the Broadcast channel itself.
Aaron Sorkin continues the path of writing and directing narratives centered on actual existing individuals (living or deceased), this time around focusing on the iconic duo of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Biopics are always challenging, since it can be quite a task to try to compress someone's existence into a 2 hour film. This particular mechanism of focusing on a challenging time on these characters existence, is a way to succinctly illustrate their relationship, but also to do so in a limited timeline. While I personally have to admit I've never watched an episode of "I Love Lucy" or any of her subsequent shows, I had some trepidation going into this film since I do admire Aaron Sorkin's writing, particularly what he did with David Fincher's "The Social Network" and also Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs". As it turns out, this film fails to both fully capture the relationship between the central characters, but also how they navigate the political and social environment of the 1950s. While the film does have its strong points, particularly when it comes to showcase Lucille's involvement in the creative process of shaping her own show, it also fails to make Lucille a fully fledged character, someone who is more than just a perpetually distressed or annoyed individual. For a film that is about one of the most well known comedians in Hollywood, this film is also devoid of any semblance of humor at all. Both Lucille and Desi are very much reduced to these two players on a game of their own, where one bickers and the other one deflects, never really properly illustrating how they lived together, what held them together, or for that matter, what even kept them going. The supporting cast is a bit more favored in this regard, since J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda, respectively playing William Frawley and Vivian Vance manage to create more compellingly flawed characters, even if once again their arc is somewhat limited. Nicole Kidman feels somewhat miscast in this role, since for all her efforts, she can't quite evade the "I'm Nicole Kidman playing a role" syndrome, whereas the enormously talented Javier Bardem, simply feels lost in a role where he has very little to do. The sprawling supporting cast, while illustrative fails to create much of a mark, since their onscreen time is so limited, which includes Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Clark Gregg. The production team is a solid one, with the beautiful cinematography from the wonderful Jeff Cronenweth, score from Daniel Pemberton and production design from Jon Hutman. While not a terrible feature, it fails to properly register or for that matter, truly capture the varied dimension of such iconic performers. 


The Matrix: Resurrections

Movie Name:
The Matrix: Resurrections
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Jessica Henwick, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Christina Ricci, Lambert Wilson, Toby Onwumere, Max Riemelt, Joshua Grothe, Brian J. Smith, Erendira Barra, Andrew Lewis Caldwell, Chad Stahelski, Mumbi Maina, Max Mauff, Telma Hopkins
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Director Lana Wachowski is back, following her previous projects she worked on alongside her sister Lilly, namely "Jupiter Ascending" and the Netflix show, "Sense 8". This time around Lana, alongside acclaimed novelist David Mitchell (who also wrote "Cloud Atlas", which the Wachowski siblings adapted in 2012 alongside Tom Tykwer) and Aleksandar Hemon, go back to the "Matrix" universe, in order to revisit where Neo, Trinity and all the characters from that iconic cinematic universe are. The narrative introduces us to Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, working as a well known game designer, the one who originally created the popular Matrix game twenty something years ago. The publishing entity which has distributed the game, Warner Bros. wants to go back to that universe, and will do it with Thomas or not. Unbeknownst to Thomas/Neo, the resistance has been trying to locate him in this new version of the Matrix, and when they finally locate him, they have to convince him, that while he indeed died the first time around, he was brought back to this new matrix. And so did Trinity, who has no recollection of anything, and currently goes by the name of Tiffany. As Neo contends to coming back to reality, revisiting old allies and foes, his main focus continues to be saving Trinity, and making sure she's at his side.
Going back to a cinematic staple of the last two decades such as "The Matrix", was always going to be a somewhat interesting task, primarily since the last two chapters of the trilogy, left the arc of many of those characters somewhat resolved. However Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon have chosen to go in a very different direction in this sequel, making the characters aware of the previous installments, as if the events of those chapters were themselves part of a game, essentially making the premise for this sequel itself, very meta and self-aware. However as the narrative unfolds, and as Neo progressively witnesses what lies behind this newly built Matrix, it's interesting to witness how Lana Wachowski, while revisiting some familiar elements, also introduces new ones, building upon the pre-existing mythology, namely the meaning of the "one", and what that actually means for the central characters. It's a film that while expanding on a well known universe, does so by un-peeling the different layers that surround this mythology, bringing back some characters such as the Merovingian, who is now suffering its own fate. The action set pieces continue to be very slickly executed, and while the film does continue to falter in terms of building characters that have enough dimension, motivation and a discernible path, it's nonetheless an interesting, unconventional way to revisit a very unique universe. The cast is uniformly solid, with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss leading a group of regular performers who typically work with the Wachowski siblings, including Christina Ricci, Max Riemet, Brian J. Smith, who are aptly aided by Jonathan Groff and Neil Patrick Harris, both of whom are conveniently ambiguous about their intentions. The cinematography from John Toll and Daniele Massaccesi is impeccable as is the score from Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. While it is indeed an uneven endeavor, it's a film that once again dares to think outside the standards, and one that is entertaining and worth seeing. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Movie Name:
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, Benedict Wong, Tony Revolori, J.K. Simmons, Angourie Rice, Paula Newsome, Martin Starr, Hannibal Buress, Arian Moayed
Genre: Adventure, Action
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
The new Spider-Man film picks up its narrative directly following the events from the previous installment, "Far From Home", where Peter Parker's secret identity got exposed for the entire world to witness. As a direct result of this event, Peter's life, alongside his family and closest friends lives gets turned upside down, with all sorts of unwanted attention. Wanting to correct the situation Peter seeks help from Doctor Strange. He suggests performing a spell which will make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but as he's casting the spell, Peter keeps wanting to add some exceptions, until the whole process goes awry. Due to the spell collapse, other characters from other universes start coming into this one, with different villains making an appearance. As Peter is tempted to send all these characters back to their own universes, he suddenly realizes some of these individuals perished and had some sad demises. With the help of his aunt, he decides to change the fate of these individuals, and gets some additional unexpected assistance. 
"Spider-Man: No Way Home" continues the tone previously established by Jon Watts, which is not substantially different from the previous versions shepherded by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb, though these versions, particularly Raimi's "Spider-Man 3" veered towards campy, while Marc Webb's version never truly solidified a particular point of view for the lead character. Aside from the fact that in Jon Watts' take on the character, Tom Holland actually looks like a teenager, there's also been a narrative benefit in the fact that this character inhabits a reality where other superheroes co-exist, and where the consequences of certain events percolate across everyone's lives. What is less successful in these films, is the decidedly formulaic, and lack of dimension that is given to most of the lead and supporting characters. "No Way Home" does try to break away from the mold ever so slightly, by giving a more dramatic arc to Peter's story, and giving some extra dimension to the lives of the somewhat cardboard villains from previous features, but even then it never truly strays very far away from the formula Marvel has now established. These are films that continue to be impeccably assembled, with wonderful production talent, including great actors, which in this case includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe and Marisa Tomei, solid cinematography and score, from Mauro Fiore and Michael Giacchino respectively, however, and for all his proficiency, it's somewhat difficult to actually discern what Jon Watts' point of a view as a storyteller actually is. "Spider-Man: No Way Home" utilizes a narrative angle that is somewhat different than the previous episodes, but it's ultimately a film that continues to live by the same formula that Marvel has established so well, which while making some of these films fairly entertaining, also makes them somewhat generic (and some quite forgettable). Worth watching.  

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sleepless in Seattle

Movie Name:
Sleepless in Seattle
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, David Hyde Pierce, Rosie O'Donnell, Frances Conroy, Barbara Garrick, Gaby Hoffman, Carey Lowell, Dana Ivey, Rob Reiner
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following her directorial debut with "This is My Life", writer/producer/director Nora Ephron, quickly returned to the big screen, with what turned out one of her most iconic and successful films, "Sleepless in Seattle". The narrative focuses on the character of Sam Baldwin, a respected architect whose wife passes away, leaving him to take care of his precocious and sweet son Jonah, who is 8. Wanting a change of scenery and life, Sam and Jonah relocate to Seattle. One evening Jonah calls a radio show, where a therapist is giving relationship advice, with the intent of helping his dad moving on with his life and finding someone else. The conversation turns out to be a lengthy confessional, and following that call, Sam suddenly sees himself swamped with letters from women from all over the country. Among them is Annie, a bride to be and a reporter in Baltimore, who also heard the show and was moved by what he said. She feels her relationship is missing something, and though initially reluctant, with the support of her friend Becky, she decides to discover more about Sam, eventually even flying to Seattle to meet him.
"Sleepless in Seattle" is a film that lives from the charisma of its actors, but also from a deeply felt nostalgia for a certain romanticism in cinema, one that goes back to the melodramas of the 1950s, such as "An Affair to Remember" from Leo McCarey, which the film refers quite a few times. Nora Ephron is quite successful at capturing relationships between all these characters, in a way that gives a sense of instant familiarity with what they're going through, even though for the most part, these characters motivations and plights, are all quite threadbare. Both Sam and Annie, are somewhat defined as these middle of the road, somewhat asexual characters, who while doing things that are borderline ethically suspicious, particularly Annie, still manage to sell it, mostly because they are doing it under the guise of a possible romantic attachment (there's quite possibly a much darker narrative of this feature waiting to be done), and because they're being portrayed by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Even if the characters are indeed barely defined, the film has a flow and a momentum to it, largely due to its very talented cast, including the always reliable Tom Hanks, the luminous Meg Ryan, and the supporting cast which includes Victor Garber, Rob Reiner, Gabby Hoffman, David Hyde Pierce and Frances Conroy. The production team on the film is equally impressive, with a jazzy score from Marc Shaiman and a beautiful cinematography from Sven Nykvist. An entertaining film always worth revisiting.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sweetheart

Movie Name:
Sweetheart
Year of Release: 2019
Director: J.D. Dillard
Starring: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford, Benedict Samuel
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Prolific producer Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Pictures, continue to deliver a series of genre films with a remarkable cadence, something that has found a wanting partner with Streaming platform Netflix. "Sweetheart" is writer/director's J.D. Dillard's second feature, following his debut with "Sleight". The film follows the story of Jenn, a young woman whom we first encounter washing ashore on what seems to be a deserted island. She soon discovers another survivor, but he soon dies. Jenn goes about exploring the island, and assesses there had been people in there before, from some of the remains they left behind (she also finds corpses soon after). As she tries to survive and find ways to sustain herself, she notices that at night some creature comes lurking around the island looking for sustenance. Very soon she is fighting for her own life, when she realizes that creature is looking for her as the next target. As she scrambles to figure out what to do, two additional survivors present themselves, including her boyfriend Lucas. Jenn desperately warns them about what's taking place in the island, but is met with incredulity, until night comes around.
"Sweetheart" is a feature that can be typically defined as a B-movie, since its plot is rather straightforward, and features a group of up and coming actors. In this case, we have a series of survivors on a beach/deserted island battling a creature intent on killing them all. It's a film where we never get much insight into the characters themselves, and even what precipitated the shipwreck to occur. We mostly witness the ordeal and challenges the lead character goes through to adjust to her new reality, and try to survive, much like Robert Zemeckis' "Cast Away", only in this case, the time period is much narrower, and there is indeed a creature intent on killing her. With a concept such as this, the director smartly lets Kiersey Clemons be the host to the action, and while she manages to effectively portray someone who is resourceful (and almost resourceful in a manner that is cued from the "Predator" series), she is less effective in demonstrating the fear of both isolation and from an entity she doesn't even comprehend. The supporting characters that eventually do show up, introduce an element of additional discomfort to the narrative, which could have really enhanced the storytelling, but they're quickly tossed aside. It's a fairly entertaining and somewhat forgettable B-movie, with a solid production team, including Stefan Duscio's cinematography and Charles Scott IV's score. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Hitchcock

Movie Name:
Hitchcock
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Portnow, Ralph Machio, Kurtwood Smith, Wallace Langham, Kai Lennox, Tara Summers
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Director Sacha Gervasi made a name for himself firstly solely as a writer, having crafted the script for Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal". "Hitchcock" is his feature directorial debut, and oddly enough he's not the credited screenwriter, with that credit falling to John J. McLaughlin, who adapted the book from Stephen Rebello. The narrative focuses on Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville's, and their adventures in getting the film project "Psycho" off the ground. The film takes place right after the successful run of "North by Northwest", which came out in 1959. Hitchcock, then about to turn 60, fears the industry is looking at him as a has been, and he's in dire need to come out with another solid and iconic project. "Psycho" is their bet, but since no studio is willing to bankroll it, Hitchcock and Alma decide to bank it themselves, with Paramount Studios distributing it. As the casting gets underway, and Hitchcock's obsessions with his leading ladies starts surfacing, Alma gets an opportunity from a mutual friend of the couple, to work on a project on her own, since for the most part she's been always an integral part of her husband's creative process. As shooting on the film starts, and Alma's side project also begins taking shape, the director fears his wife is embarking on an adventure of her own, something that gives him pause (and even terrifies him) on the future of his own life moving forward.
Films which tackle the process of creating films themselves, can be a challenging topic to illustrate. Richard Rush's "The Stuntman" was a good attempt at the topic, and Sacha Gervasi's goes an extra mile, since he attempts to document and bring to life the gestational process of how "Psycho" was brought to the big screen, in the process illustrating the creative dynamics surrounding Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville's partnership. With such a larger than life personality in the shape of Hitchcock, the challenge always lies in showing us the humanity and who the person behind the facade actually is, and sadly the film barely touches upon it, without truly investigating what always motivated that uniquely talented individual. The film for the most part, settles in giving an idea of Hitchcock the director, one that is squarely on par with what has been known from his cameos on his own films, and from several autobiographies and other books written on him since his passing (in 1980). Where the film does provide some interesting aspects, which are sadly not well explored, is his relationship with Alma, played impeccably by Helen Mirren. The particular dynamics of those two deserves a better film, one that fully documents their relationship, even if it is a particularly turbulent episode in their lives (that in itself would make for a compelling feature). This film hints at it, but goes in a different direction, choosing to focus on saucier details of the making of "Psycho", never truly giving much dimension to the supporting characters that populate Hitchcock's film or life. Anthony Hopkins who is typically such a brilliant actor, fails to bring Hitchcock to life, something that can be witnessed in his less than stellar physical mimicking, but particularly in how he sounds. The very talented supporting cast has very little to do, though James D'Arcy does manage to bring Anthony Perkins to life with what little screen time he has available. The cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth is stupendous, as is the score from Danny Elfman and costume design from Julie Weiss. It's a film with an interesting story to tell at its core, but one that fails to truly do justice to its characters or for that matter, be memorable. 

Die Another Day

Movie Name:
Die Another Day
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Judi Dench, Rick Yune, John Cleese, Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Samantha Bond
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Lee Tamahori made a name for himself with his debut feature, the celebrated "Once Were Warriors" which had its premirere at the Venice Film Festival of 1994. His take on the adventures of James Bond, followed his previous project "Along Came a Spider", the sequel to the very successful "Kiss the Girls", which focused on James Patterson's character, Alex Cross, played in those two films by Morgan Freeman. This time around, James Bond finds himself in hot water when he is captured by the North Korean regime, following a mission where he is unmasked. Upon his release, he is intent on finding out how and whom was behind the sabotage, and that research leads him to Cuba in the pursuit of a charismatic villain by the name of Zao. While there he meets the beautiful Jinx, an NSA agent, who is also on the trail of Zao. They soon realize that Zao is working for a billionaire by the name of Gustav Graves. As Bond engages with Graves, trying to know more about his endeavors and plans, he becomes acquainted with his assistant, Miranda Frost, who is also an MI6 undercover agent. As Bond uncovers Graves plans, he slowly realizes where the treachery lies and how that has been undermining the bureau itself.
"Die Another Day" was Pierce Brosnan's swan song with the James Bond character. While the film was commercially successful, it ended up fairing quite poorly in terms of reviews. And it's easy to understand why: while the James Bond films have always had a somewhat outlandish and over the top aspect to them, they have still attempted to have some ties with procedurals/thriller formulas that are recognizable to audiences. In this case, while some of the formula is present, it's also presented in a manner that is borderline kitsch, which in the case of this film series, is saying something. With the appearance of characters such as Jason Bourne in Doug Liman's "The Bourne Identity", the pressure for James Bond to be more than a caricature has increased, and this film sadly veers more into the territory of James Bond, the Roger Moore years, more so than James Bond, the Sean Connery years (some would say, the silliness versus the edgier years). The film starts well enough, placing Bond through some arduous moments, being questioned in terms of his loyalty and endurance, something that is quickly dropped, once he gets to Cuba. From then on, things escalate rather quickly, from the typical villainous confrontation, to an over the top climactic third act, in what appears to be a fortress of ice (or a giant melting candelabra from Liberace's mansion). It's a film that for all the money that was obviously spent in bringing the action to life, it looks and feels remarkably cheap and with questionable taste level (and from all Pierce Brosnan's Bond films, it ends up feeling surprisingly the most dated). The acting is a bit all over the place, with Pierce Brosnan seemingly on auto-pilot at this point, with Halle Berry trying to bring some authority to her character, but sadly failing to bring some consistency to her actions, while Toby Stephens dials his character's tone to the max, overacting in the process. Judi Dench and John Cleese manage to save face, while Rosamund Pike, then beginning her film career, doesn't have that much to do. The cinematography from David Tattersall is solid, as is the score from the fantastic David Arnold. Quite possibly one of least memorable of recent Bond films. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Movie Name:
Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Carrie Coon, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O'Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, J.K. Simmons, Annie Potts, Bob Gunton, Shawn Seward, Bookeem Woodbine, Sydney Mae Diaz, Hannah Duke, Olivia Wilde, Tracy Letts
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
After releasing two features in 2018, namely the underrated "Tully" with Charlize Theron and "The Front Runner" with Hugh Jackman, writer/producer/director Jason Reitman is back, this time around tackling a family legacy property, "The Ghostbusters" franchise, which his father started in 1984. The film follows the events which took place in the original feature, this time around specifically focusing on Egon Spengler's family. With Egon passing away, his family comprised of his daughter and her two kids, move back to the farm he owned in a small town called Summerville. Turns out Egon left his life in NY years ago, and abandoned everything and everyone he knew to move to that town,  in order to keep abreast of a menace he knew to be bound to happen and could destroy the planet. While the kids are initially unimpressed with the overall rundown state of the farm and the house, they slowly start getting acquainted with their family legacy, and the story of the town itself. They also start realizing the frequent earthquakes that the town suffers may have something to do with strange events that they start witnessing. 
Jason Reitman who co-wrote this feature with Gil Kenan (who started his career with "Monster House"), goes in a very different direction than Paul Feig did when he tackled "Ghostbusters", which was released in 2016. This installment of the franchise ties itself with the original feature, by acknowledging the legacy of the original group, but also giving it a life of its own, with the younger generation understanding their inheritance, embodying the spirit of the group, but still being their own selves. The film also smartly dives back to the mythology of the original, allowing for an enticing and dynamic third chapter of the film. While the fish out of water concept storyline which introduces the characters is somewhat unoriginal, it still allows to get an understanding of the city, and a bit of its history. Where the film does falter a bit, is in providing some additional dimension to the characters, where Carrie Coon's Callie for instance, reads somehow always a bit one note, carrying a grudge towards her life and family, in almost literally everything she says or does. Some welcoming levity comes in the shape of Paul Rudd's Grooberson, who is both capturing some of the energy of Rick Moranis' Louis, but also has the whole "Ghostbuster" fandom enthusiasm perfectly captured. It's a film that both pays homage to its original, but also carves a path of its own. The cast is uniformly solid, with Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd having apt support from McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, not to mention the original Ghostbusters themselves, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson (with great cameos from Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and Olivia Wilde). The cinematography from Eric Steelberg is impeccable as is the score from Rob Simonsen. An entertaining film from an interesting director.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Kajillionaire

Movie Name:
Kajillionaire
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Miranda July
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, Patricia Belcher, Kim Estes, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Rachel Redleaf, Mark Ivanir, Michael Twaine
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Artist Miranda July is back, following her previous feature "The Future", which was released in 2011. "Kajillionaire" which had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the story of a young woman by the name of Old Dolio. She and her family, comprised of father Robert and mother Theresa, are con artists, making a living or at least trying to make a living out of stealing, lying and generally speaking, figuring out an angle from whatever situation they find themselves in. Dolio has had a rather stunted existence, which manifests itself in her social awkwardness, mostly since her parents have never shown her much attention or love. She has grown up always involved in their grifting or conning schemes, and knows nothing from life aside from that. When they get pressed for rent money, Dolio figures out a way for them to travel to NY, using some tickets they got from a contest, and scamming the airline for insurance money by claiming some of their bags got lost. While the plan initially works out nicely, on their way back to LA, Robert and Theresa strike a conversation that quickly evolves into a partnership with the beautiful and lively Melanie. Melanie quickly becomes familiar with some of their grifts, and starts introducing the family to some of her elderly clients (she works at an eyeglass store). This new player in the family disrupts Dolio's existence, particularly as she witnesses her parents doting on this person, as they never did on her.
Since starting her career with "Me and You and Everyone we Know", Miranda July has consistently been crafting stories that are very specific to her universe. "Kajillionaire" is no exception, since it showcases a farcical take on a grifting family, while simultaneously focusing on the awakening of someone who has been emotionally robbed of a full life. It's a film that manages to showcase some truly monstrous behaviors and yet these characters come across as less than hateful, mostly because Miranda July manages to create a reality that while not completely alien to our own, it's also not necessarily the same. It's a film that creates a unique reality, one where these characters live these rather challenging existences, where humor comes through, perfectly married with some dramatic instances, mostly derived from troublesome and unresolved relationships. There's a sense of sadness, surprise and wonder which emanates from this narrative. The film is all the more wonderful thanks to the work of a phenomenal cast, particularly the always fantastic and underrated Evan Rachel Wood, the equally brilliant Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez. Even if these characters feel at times somewhat abstract constructs, there's also something profoundly humane in the journey they all take. The cinematography from Sebastian Wintero is fantastic as is the score from Emile Mosseri. A truly wonderful film, from a consistently engaging and unique voice in American cinema.

Say Anything

Movie Name:
Say Anything
Year of Release: 1989
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Joan Cusack, Loren Dean, Lili Taylor, Amy Brooks, Pamela Adlon, Jason Gould, Polly Platt, Jeremy Piven, Lois Chiles, Philip Baker Hall, Richard Portnow, Bebe Neuwirth, Kim Walker, Chynna Phillips, Lisanne Falk, Gregory Sporleder
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/Director Cameron Crowe originally made a name for himself as a screenwriter with Amy Heckerling's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (which was also based on his book), which he followed with the somewhat cult film "The Wild Life", from producer/director Art Linson. "Say Anything" is actually his directorial debut, and follows the misadventures of Lloyd Dobler, a sweet high school senior who falls in love the class valedictorian, the beautiful Diane Court. Lloyd lives his sister Constance, and her young son (Constance is a single mother), since their parents are currently in England. Lloyd asks Diane to an after graduation party, and much to everyone's surprise, she accepts. Diane in the meantime has gotten a fellowship in Britain to continue her studies, but much to her surprise, she finds out her dad is being investigated by the IRS on suspicions of embezzling money from his clients (retirement home residents). As Diane and Lloyd's relationship blossoms, their ambitions, families and even friends, question what future do they have together.
One of the most surprising aspects of "Say Anything" is how it marries some aspects of the typical teen comedy, something that John Hughes mined so well in his films, with aspects which in the 90s would become staple of many relationship driven films, namely, how different backgrounds, families, friends and all the pressure coming from these groups, can strain a romantic relationship. Cameron Crowe smartly peppers the narrative with colorful characters who surround the leads, giving John Cusack's Lloyd good support in the shape of Lili Taylor's Corey and Amy Brooks' DC, whereas Diane has the support and at times also a candid and yet troublesome relationship with her father, Jim. It's a film that while not necessarily the most original one, it crafts a narrative with characters that are more than a cliche. Lloyd's and Diane's ambitions go far beyond finishing this phase of their lives and attending parties. They're on their path of becoming adults and figuring out their life's journey. While some of the aspects of the narrative feel somewhat forced (the IRS investigation) and the supporting characters lack some extra dimension (particularly Joan Cusack's character, who has immense potential), it's nonetheless a film that dares to say a rather conventional storyline, with heart, humor and some depth. John Cusack leads the film with charisma and charm, with great support from John Mahoney and Lili Taylor. The cinematography from Lazlo Kovacs is wonderful, as is the score from Anne Dudley (from the band Art of Noise) and Richard Gibbs (from the band Oingo Boingo). Worth watching.

Little Evil

Movie Name:
Little Evil
Year of Release: 2017
Director: Eli Craig
Starring: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Owen Atlas, Bridget Everett, Clancy Brown, Kyle Bornheimer, Donald Faison, Schuyler White, Carla Gallo, Sally Field, Rick Applegate
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
After making a name for himself with the horror comedy "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil", which has become something of a cult film, writer/director Eli Craig tackled some TV projects, until he eventually returned to the feature world, with this project he also wrote, "Little Evil". The film follows the story of Gary Bloom, who has recently married Samantha, the woman of his dreams, who has a son from a previous relationship. As Gary tries to bond with Lucas, all his efforts are unsuccessful since the child provides no response and clearly doesn't warm up to him. He also starts getting notices from different sources, his wedding videographer, the school principal, that there is indeed something wrong with the child, or that the child herself causes some strange occurrences. When Samantha confesses that Lucas was conceived as part of a strange ritual, during the time she was part of a cult, Gary quickly assumes there's something supernatural and evil with the child. As he tries to uncover more about the father of the child, and Lucas' true nature, things quickly escalate, much to Gary's despair and fear.
"Little Evil" has a very interesting premise: what would happen if "Rosemary's Baby" had indeed grown up to be a feisty demonic little boy, and Rosemary was suddenly in the singles market, looking for a new partner, who was completely blindsided by the supernatural inventory of events about to descend upon him. While this in itself can make for an interesting comedy, writer/director Eli Craig has a difficult time finding the right tone for his film. Mostly because he wants to push the boundaries of what a "problem child" can be and do, while also crafting a family comedy that is somewhat palatable for all audiences. In the end, the film has more of a tone of a pilot episode for a somewhat bland TV comedy, more so than what a dark comedy can actually be. The film fails to capture what exactly is that ties Gary to Samantha, since essentially there isn't much of her to clearly understand it, aside from objectifying her for her obvious beauty. The characters in the film are very faintly defined, and while Adam Scott is indeed a terrific comedic actor, who has somehow perfected on par with Paul Rudd, the whole "handsome regular guy with the constant irony in his stance", even him can't carry a film that is simply too uneventful. The third chapter does introduce a vicious ripple to this bland narrative, with Sally Field and Clancy Brown's characters, but their screen time is very limited, and amounts to something that is quickly tossed aside. It's a film with a good premise, but one that needed to be take to a darker level. This hybrid concoction is unsatisfying. The cinematography from Matthew Clark is solid as is the score from Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Marcus Trumpp. While not a dreadful film, it is ultimately a forgettable one.