Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Interceptor

Movie Name:
Interceptor
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Matthew Reilly
Starring: Elsa Pataky, Luke Bracey, Aaron Glenane, Mayen Mehta, Paul Caesar, Belinda Jombwe, Marcus Johnson, Zoe Carides, Kim Knuckey, Deniz Akdeniz, Che Baker, Nick Barker-Pendree
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Another release hailing from Netflix, "Interceptor" is the feature directorial debut for Matthew Reilly, a well known writer/novelist. The film follows the story of Captain JJ Collins whom we first encounter working in a nuclear missile interceptor base in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She is there following a high profile case where she reported sexual misconduct by one of her superiors, which in turn rendered her as a pariah of sorts, which also sparked her deployment to the remote base, as opposed to her dream job in the Pentagon.
Her base is soon attacked and most of her team is killed, with only a few managing to survive, including herself. She and the remaining survivors retreat to the command center, where they notify the events taking place to the chain of command. The attackers are interested in deploying nuclear devices but their main intent is blackmailing governments in order to make money from those threats. As Collins holds her ground, her main opponent Kessel, tries by every means necessary to dissuade her and get access to that control room.
"Interceptor" comes across as a Cannon Films release from the 1980s, either featuring Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff or Cynthia Rothrock, all of which had flourishing and prolific careers with that studio during that timeline. It's a film that is trying to be taut and a somewhat sophisticated B-Movie, claiming some classic influences including John McTiernan's "Die Hard" (and even some more modern influences, such as Denis Villeneuve's "Sicario"), where essentially the central hero has to overcome a formidable and apparently far more powerful opponent, only to succeed when everything seems lost. Sadly this film never manages to create characters that have some depth or substance, this being applicable to both the lead, but also the supporting characters, the latter of whom are clichés which are quickly tossed aside. For a film with a central female character, most of her backstory is crudely developed, and not much is expanded upon. It's a film where its premise is fairly engaging, but one where the story development and dialogue were barely developed, and one where director Matthew Reilly merely illustrated what was on the pages, without adding much nuance, humor or sense of dramatic urgency to what is happening on the screen. The cast is sadly also forgettable, while the production team, including cinematographer Ross Emery, try to bring some verisimilitude to what's happening on screen. For all its noise, it's a forgettable endeavor. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Fire Island

Movie Name:
Fire Island
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Andrew Ahn 
Starring: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, Margaret Cho, Torian Miller, Nick Adams, Zane Phillips, Michael Graceffa
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
Another streaming platform also releasing original films is Hulu, and this time around they're releasing a Searchlight Pictures film (previously known as Fox Searchlight, which produced and released films such as Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water" and Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's "Little Miss Sunshine"). The film follows the story of a group of gay friends who meet on a yearly basis, to spend a brief week together on Fire Island. The story focuses in particular on two of those friends, Noah and Howie, who have been close for quite some time, though now they see each other much less since Howie moved to the West Coast to work on a startup, while Noah has stayed in New York. Noah has long been comfortable with having multiple flings with men, whereas Howie has had his fair amount of challenges in connecting with men. Noah decides to be a wingman for Howie, and make sure he has an exciting vacation. Things get to an auspicious start when Howie meets Charlie, a sweet man who has recently broken up with his boyfriend. Things also quickly shape up for Noah, who has an immediate attraction to one of Charlie's friends, the quiet Will, though his assumptions quickly create some friction between the both of them. As they navigate the niceties of living in that bubble, they soon realize this may be the last Summer they all have together.
Andrew Ahn made a name for himself with the features "Spa Night" and "Driveways", both of which were met with positive critical responses. This new feature of his is based on a script by Joel Kim Booster, who is also one of the lead actors in the ensemble (he plays the somewhat jaded and cynical Noah and he also has previously written for TV Shows, including the hilarious "The Other Two"). The film, unlike for instance Norman René's "Longtime Companion", which also took place in Fire Island, and also with a group of gay friends, opts to be much more lighter in tone, though with some interesting observations as to what happens in the gay universe (or at least in that particular microcosms, the film is also inspired by Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"). The director manages to create a believable sense of camaraderie between the group of characters, even if at times some of those characters definitely feel like they're inhabiting different realities (namely the over the top friends who come across as very roughly drawn caricatures). There are indeed interesting observations in terms of the power dynamics that are established within this bubble of an existence, and the film also briefly illustrates some of the current trends that are front and center within the gay community, but for the most part, the characters themselves, while sufficiently engaging, are very thinly defined and aren't given much in terms of motivation. The film needed a stronger point of view in terms of where these characters are actually going, and also pose some questions in terms of what makes that caste system be what it is in that island (and in the gay world itself). What is left is indeed watchable and entertaining, but also fairly superficial. The cast manages to be quite engaging, with particular emphasis going to Bowen Yang, while the production team is equally strong, namely featuring the beautiful cinematography from Felipe Vara de Rey. Worth watching. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Crimes of the Future

Movie Name:
Crimes of the Future
Year of Release: 2022
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, Scott Speedman, Don McKellar, Kristen Stewart, Tanaya Beatty, Nadia Litz, Welket Bungue, Ephie Kantza, Lihi Kornowski, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Jason Bitter, Sozos Sotiris, Denise Capezza
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
Writer/Director and occasional actor David Cronenberg is back, following an eight year hiatus since the premiere of his previous feature, "Maps to the Stars". "Crimes of the Future" is also an original script of his, the first he has tackled since he directed "eXistenZ" in 1999. The film which takes place in the near future, focuses on a couple known for being performance artists. Saul Tenser and Caprice, those are their names, have an artistic process where she takes/removes new organs that have developed within Saul, doing so on stage, using sophisticated and somewhat clinical devices (she was previously a medical professional who specialized in trauma). Saul experiences discomfort when sleeping and even eating, as if though his body is fighting against some of the habits and foods he is providing. This is something he and Caprice can't quite understand. Their name recognition in the art world brings them under the attention of the National Organ Registry and its two investigators. They are researching and documenting interesting developments occurring in human bodies. Saul has also fallen under the attention of Lang Dotrice, who has quietly and alongside an army of anonymous collaborators, been developing food substitutes based out of plastic. As Saul realizes all these different agendas, he alongside Caprice, have to tackle a demanding challenge from Dotrice and be truly faced with how human bodies have changed and adapted to the world itself.
"Crimes of the Future" is an interesting mélange of quite a few David Cronenberg films, including aspects of "Videodrome", "Dead Ringers", "Naked Lunch" and also the previously mentioned, "eXistenZ". The film once again plays with the concepts of what the human body actually is, and just as importantly, how the body has evolved in the face of the ecological meltdown humans have brought on the planet itself. It continues to expand on the themes of the director, though this time around, the element that seems to falter more bluntly in the film, is the contextualization of the narrative itself. In all of his films, Cronenberg has always managed to operate with limited budgets, but thanks to very resourceful production design teams, the universes he illustrates are usually impeccably rendered. This time around however, the choice of film location, and even the production design itself, fails to create something truly unique, mostly highlighting the limited budget of the production. Also the theme of Performance Art in which these characters move through, feels just a bit too artificial (it doesn't mesh as well as the artists he previously captured in his narratives, for instance in "Scanners"). The cast is however deeply invested in the narrative, and they're all solid presences, including Viggo Mortensen (who worked with Cronenberg in "A History of Violence", "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method"), Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar. It's a very interesting journey, one that definitely aligns with many of the topics the director likes to focus on, but ultimately this journey feels under developed, something that his previous endeavors, particularly the ones from the 70s, 80s and 90s always excelled on. It's nonetheless worth watching, from a truly unique voice in cinema. 

The Adam Project

Movie Name:
The Adam Project
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldana, Walker Scobell, Alex Mallari Jr., Braxton Bjerken, Kasra Wong, Donald Sales, Esther Ming Li, Ben Wilkinson
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Another big budget film stemming from Netflix courtesy of the creative team of Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds (who also worked on the successful "Free Guy", while Levy has also been a prolific producer on his own, including working with Netflix on the highly visible "Stranger Things" show). The narrative introduces us to Adam Reed, a fighter pilot who in a dystopian 2050 is in the midst of trying to time travel in order to save his wife, Laura. Just as he's about to make that jump in time, his captors catch up with him, and in the process he is injured, and he is also accidentally sent to 2022. In that timeline, his own self is a 12 year old, who is bullied in school and who is having some issues with his mom, particularly since his dad passed away in the previous year due to a car accident. As the Adams eventually interact and the older one briefly explains what's going on, he is soon also tracked by his captors. Just as he's about to be taken back, his wife Laura appears and manages to save them both. She explains they have to go back to 2018 before time travel got discovered, and get their father to somehow stop everything, since he's at the genesis of that discovery. The Adams decide to do so, even if Laura has to stay behind once more.
Shawn Levy who has been having an extremely busy career in production, has also managed to amass a substantial directorial output, from feature films to TV shows and Miniseries. Following the entertaining and successful "Free Guy", which had its fair share of delays due to the Pandemic, "The Adam Project" is more of a formulaic and not as compelling feature as his previous collaboration with Ryan Reynolds. The film tries to retain certain aspects of sci-fi films of the 80s, including some nods to Steven Spielberg's "ET" and John Carpenter's "Starman", but the narrative itself lacks originality, not to mention, fails to provide much dimension to the characters themselves. The main antagonist herself, Sorian, seems to initially be defined and characterized as a conflicted authority figure in 2018 which is a stark contrast with her Start Trek villain approach in 2050 (and Catherine Keener has very little opportunity to do much with this character). The same thing going for Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo's parents characters, who come across as perfect sketches of what parents are supposed to be, as opposed to characters with some motivations. Ryan Reynolds as usual manages to keep the action lively, consistently funny, and he always does so effortlessly. This time he has good support from Walker Scobell as his younger self. While some of the visual effects look a bit cheaply applied, the cinematography from Tobias A. Schliessler is solid, as is the score from Rob Simonsen. Overall it's a film that while not terrible, it also isn't very memorable. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Moscow on the Hudson

Movie Name:
Moscow on the Hudson
Year of Release: 1984
Director: Paul Mazursky
Starring: Robin Williams, Maria Conchita Alonso, Cleavant Derricks, Alejandro Rey, Saveliy Kramarov, Elya Baskin, Oleg Rudnik, Aleksandr Benyaminov, Lyudmila Kramarevskaya, Tiger Haynes
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review:
More and more I get a suspicion that the work of Paul Mazursky has fallen through the cracks and that these days not many people know his work. I personally grew up in the late 80s watching many of his films, including "Down and Out in Beverly Hills", "Moon Over Parador" and "Enemies, A Love Story" (I am hoping the Criterion Collection continues to release more of Mr. Mazursky's and Mr. Paul Bartel's titles, since to this day they only have "An Unmarried Woman" and "Eating Raoul" respectively). "Moscow on the Hudson" follows the story of the sweet Vladimir Ivanoff, a young Russian saxophone player, who works with the Moscow Circus and lives with his family in a tiny apartment (including his parents, sister, and grandfather). When the Circus goes on tour in the US, specifically in New York, Vladimir decides to defect right in the middle of Bloomingdale's. He gets help from Lionel, a security guard who works in the store, and who takes him home to live with his mom, unemployed father, grandfather and sister in Harlem. He soon also gets the assistance of an immigration attorney by the name of Orlando Ramirez, a Cuban emigrant, who gives him all sorts of tips on how to navigate the process of being legal and living in the US. Vladimir quickly tackles a series of jobs, while he simultaneously begins a relationship with Lucia, a woman who also works at Bloomingdale's and that he met when he decided to defect. As his relationship with Lucia goes through some ups and downs, Vladimir also has to portend with events that have occurred with his family back in Russia, forcing him to evaluate what his priorities are and what he wants to do with his life.
One of the most interesting aspects about Paul Mazursky's films is how he always managed to capture the ambitions and dreams of his central characters, typically every day people who simply aspired to more. At times his films were more openly comedic, and at times more openly dramatic, but invariably there was always this aspect of witnessing the growth a character experiences as a result of choices they do in their lives, sometimes very radical decisions themselves. In "Moscow on the Hudson", we get to witness the evolution of Vladimir, firstly as he struggles to get out of Russia and afterwards in the US as he builds a better life for himself, always with a spark of hope and enthusiasm. While his energy and dreams are somewhat misunderstood by some of his peers, including his love interest Lucia, Vladimir truly demonstrates he is more than a cliché or a one note type of character. There's a pained determination to himself, and as he navigates challenges thrown at him, we also witness both his resourcefulness and how he remains faithful first and foremost to who he is. It's an interesting role that Robin Williams brilliantly inhabits, with both tenderness and enthusiasm. While the supporting roles are not quite as well flushed out, they still make for an interesting balance and both Maria Conchita Alonso and Cleavant Derricks manage to bring them to life in a compelling manner. The cinematography from Donald McAlpine is solid as is the production design from Pato Guzman, Mr. Mazursky's longtime collaborator. Worth watching.

Kiss the Girls

Movie Name:
Kiss the Girls
Year of Release: 1997
Director: Gary Fleder
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Alex McArthur, Tony Goldwyn, Jay O. Sanders, Bill Nunn, Brian Cox, Richard T. Jones, Roma Maffia, Jeremy Piven, Gina Ravera, William Converse-Roberts, Tatyana Ali, Mena Suvari
Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review:
"Kiss the Girls" marked the first feature length adaptation of a James Patterson novel, the second book in the series he has written since the 90s focused on detective Alex Cross. The film focuses on the adventures of Alex Cross, a detective who is also a forensic psychologist, who works in the Washington DC area, and who goes to Raleigh, NC once he finds out his niece has been kidnapped. The police suspects she's the latest victim in a series of crimes perpetrated by the same criminal who typically abandons his victims bound to a tree where they eventually die. A new victim is in the meantime captured, a resourceful doctor by the name of Kate McTiernan. When she awakes, her captor informs her that his name is Casanova. She is drugged but manages to hear other women also being held captive. Kate eventually manages to overpower Casanova and runs free. When she recovers she decides to help Alex Cross in his pursuit of this criminal. Their sleuthing eventually leads them to LA where a series of kidnappings and murders have been also occurring, but credited to someone going by the name of the Gentleman Caller. When their attempt to capture him fails, they soon realize that Casanova and The Gentleman Caller have been working together. As they make their way back to NC, and as Alex investigates the areas where Kate was found, he soon uncovers something that may solve the entire case.
Gary Fleder made a name for himself in the mid 90s with the well received "Things to do in Denver when You're Dead", which opened the doors for him to tackle studio fare such as this bigger production with a terrific cast of actors. The problem with this film doesn't lie solely with the fact that it feels somewhat formulaic and generic, but also that the characters themselves are barely developed across the entire inventory of them which we get to witness parading (sometimes briefly) throughout the narrative. The film also has the disadvantage of falling under a similar mantle of subject matter and tone to Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs". However whereas Jonathan Demme allowed for Clarice Starling to become a fully realized character before our eyes, Gary Fleder has shortcomings when it comes to illustrating both who Alex Cross is, the same going for Kate McTiernan. The film also has antagonists that are always kept at a distance and poorly outlined, making them and their actions/plans that much harder to understand (or at least grasp at their motivation). The supporting characters while colorful are barely present in the film, which is borderline criminal when you have a supporting cast of actors that includes Brian Cox, Tony Goldwyn, Cary Elwes, Jay O. Sanders and Bill Nunn. Ultimately what makes this film so watchable are the performances of its leads, including the always terrific Morgan Freeman, and the underrated Ashley Judd, who at the time was coming into her own in terms of lead characters, and who showed what she could do with an underwritten role (the gravitas and authority she brings in certain parts of the film are certainly commendable, but she soon becomes something of a sidekick, which once again speaks of some questionable decisions in terms of the adaption of the book). The production team is solid, including the cinematography by Aaron Schneider (currently a celebrated director himself), score by Mark Isham and production design by Nelson Coates. It's a watchable but forgettable endeavor.

A Quiet Place Part II

Movie Name:
A Quiet Place Part II
Year of Release: 2020
Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, Scoot McNairy, Okierete Onaodowan, Zachary Golinger, Blake DeLong
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review:
Following the huge success of the first installment, Paramount Pictures fast tracked a sequel, with John Krasinski tackling the writing and directing duties, while still briefly acting in the film. The film takes place directly after the events of the first film, with Evelyn, Regan and Marcus having to deal with the death of Lee, and having to move on from their farm. In a flashback, we witness their way of life before the alien creatures invaded the planet, and how rapidly everything changes once their invasion starts. Evelyn, Regan and Marcus, alongside the baby, reach the outskirts of their small town, only for Marcus to be injured by a trap that has been left behind. They are soon rescued by a friend they had in town by the name of Emmett, who has lost his child and wife in the interim. Regan in the meantime has figured out a way to fight the alien creatures by using her hearing aid, coupled with a radio broadcast from a nearby locale she assumes is safe. Evelyn doesn't allow her to set her plan in motion, but she decides to do so anyway. Evelyn in the meantime goes back to the small town seeking medication and additional supplies whereas Emmett goes in pursuit of Regan. They do uncover boats that can get them to the island, but their plans are thwarted when some additional survivors appear.
"A Quiet Place II", even more so than the first film, is brisk and efficiently paced, very much like an economical B-movie who knows what story is trying to tell. All of these characters are very succinctly described and whatever trauma they're carrying is swiftly brushed aside for the sake of surviving those un-merciless creatures. Unlike Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers", which leveraged a very interesting tale of political satire, including some pertinent digs at militarization and massive cleansing of species in the battle against the alien creatures, or for that matter, the patriotic stance of Rolland Emmerich's "Independence Day" series, "A Quiet Place" tries to go smaller scale, essentially focusing on a nuclear family dealing with the end of civilization (which Steven Spielberg captured superbly in "War of the Worlds"). These modest ambitions serve the film well, since it also manages to make the momentum consistent and engaging. While the film doesn't necessarily provide much in terms of character dimension, it does allow for Millicent Simmonds to create an unexpected and resourceful central hero, while the suspense that is created throughout the narrative, while not necessarily the most effective, it's nonetheless well staged to keep one's attention. The cast does fairly solid work, including Emily Blunt, the underrated Cillian Murphy and Noah Jupe. The cinematography of Polly Morgan is solid, as is the score from Marco Beltrami. While not the most memorable of films, it's still worth watching. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Secrets and Lies

Movie Name:
Secrets and Lies
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn , Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Claire Rushbrook, Elizabeth Berrington, Michele Austin, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Ron Cook, Emma Amos
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on HBO Max

Synopsis and Review:
Director Mike Leigh who started his feature directorial career in the late 80s, hit his stride in the 90s, with the very high profile and well received "Naked", which also showcased the protean talents of David Thewlis to the world. His follow up, "Secrets and Lies", premiered at the Cannes Film Festival of 1996, where it went on to win the Palm D'Or alongside the award for Best Actress (in the year where Francis Ford Coppola was the President of the Jury, and where David Cronenberg showed up with the terrific "Crash"). The film follows the story of two siblings, Maurice and Cynthia Purley. Cynthia lives in her modest home in East London with her soon to be 21 daughter, Roxanne, a street sweeper. Their relationship is somewhat tense. Maurice is a very successful photographer who lives with his wife Monica in the suburbs. Their relationship is also tense due to her inability to have children. Monica and Cynthia do not get along, which also causes Maurice to be somewhat absent in his relationship with his sister. Into this narrative pops Hortense Cumberbatch, a black optometrist, whose mother has recently died. She has known for quite a while she was adopted as a child, and decides to track down her birth mother. She is shocked to realize her mother is white, and she soon discovers Cynthia's name in the documents she has gathered. They schedule a meeting, and while Cynthia is initially incredulous of the whole situation, she soon realizes what has happened, and decides to stay in touch with Hortense. As Roxanne's birthday is looking, she decides to invite Hortense to the party at Maurice's house, and allow for everyone to mix. 
There's much to enjoy in this narrative concocted by Mike Leigh. It's a bit of a slice of life, staged with a layer of authenticity which makes it all the more interesting and touching. However and for all its tenderness and care, in terms of how the situations, characters and dynamics between them all is captured, it still feels very trivial. It's a film that lives by the capability these actors have in bringing these characters to life, and do they so expertly well. All the lead characters, as played by Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Claire Rushbrook, do feel palpably realistic characters, people who have had their dreams, ambitions, and who have wanted to move past some of their earlier mistakes and still have a chance in life. This very talented group of performers, really makes this film come to life, by making these characters more than just flattened and predictable clichés. While the script may not be the most inventive one, there are many wonderful moments in it, such as when Cynthia realizes that Hortense is indeed her daughter. The production team on this film is also top notch, including Dick Pope's cinematography and the late Jon Gregory's editorial work. It's a solid film from a consistently interesting director. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Candyman

Movie Name:
Candyman
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, Brian King, Miriam Moss, Rebecca Spence, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Christiana Clark, Michael Hargrove, Rodney L Jones III, Heidi Grace Engerman, Tony Todd
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/director Nia DaCosta who first came to prominence with her debut "Little Woods" in 2018, has tackled a somewhat reimagining or sequel to what is a cult horror film of the 90s, namely Bernard Rose's "Candyman". The original "Candyman" itself is based on Clive Barker's short story, "The Forbidden", though this new version picks up nearly 30 years later after the events of that film. The area where the events took place has now become gentrified, and the story focuses on the life of an up and coming artist by the name of Anthony McCoy. He lives in a nice loft with his art gallery director girlfriend Brianna, and is needing of a jolt or spark to continue his work. They both hear the urban legend of the Candyman from Brianna's brother, and Anthony decides to investigate further. He goes to the area in which the incidents around this figure supposedly occurred and meets William Burke, who owns a local laundromat, and tells him the Candyman story. This story inspires him to create more artwork, but this attention to the figure starts bringing the actual Candyman back and as a result the number of dead bodies starts increasing. As Anthony investigates further on the story behind that mythical entity, he notices his own body is also starting to change (in fact since a bee sting he got while visiting the area where Candyman previously attacked). He learns from his own mother details about his childhood that suddenly put his own existence in a different light.
Bernard Rose's "Candyman" was an interesting take on this character, one that looked at the mythological aspect of "Candyman" through the eyes of Helen Lyle, a student researching urban legends, in particular and in this case, African American ones. It was a film that took somewhat of a light stab at illustrating some profoundly unbalanced social-economical aspects, particularly the distribution of wealth and how that manifested itself in the creation of housing projects where people had been pushed out to, in many ways marginalized, this in the area of Chicago. Nia DaCosta's take on this is slightly different, since while depicting the same environment, the reality is now very different. For starters, there's an overwhelming gentrification which has occurred in the area, essentially converting these once segregated neighborhoods into a hotbed of hip clusters drawing young people in. And this is where she places the hero/anti-hero of this narrative. The director transforms "Candyman" into a quasi urban folk legend, one that has existed throughout the centuries, since slavery occurred and violence towards African American individuals in general has manifested itself. While not being an Avenging Angel or Supernatural Vigilante, "Candyman" is given a somewhat different stance on this sequel, which makes it more interesting and substantial. While this whole universe is richly layered, and the director peppers the film with beautifully rendered visual flourishes, the characters are sadly never more than thinly layered clichés. From Anthony himself, the hip artist trying to break through the elitist art scene, to the supporting characters, all of them are very roughly characterized which is where the film loses some of its impact. It would have benefited the narrative to understand a bit more about this central couple, what brought them and kept them together. The cast is uniformly solid, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II making for a charismatic lead, with good support from Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo. The production team is also impeccable with the beautiful cinematography from John Guleserian, production design from Cara Brower and score from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. While a bit unbalanced, there's much to enjoy from this take on this well known character from this director. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Senior Year

Movie Name:
Senior Year
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Alex Hardcastle
Starring: Rebel Wilson, Angourie Rice, Mary Holland, Molly Brown, Sam Richardson, Zaire Adams, Zoe Chao, Ana Yi Puig, Justin Hartley, Tyler Barnhardt, Jade Bender, Chris Parnell, Avantika, Joshua Colley, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Michael Cimino, Brandon Scott Jones, Tiffany Denise Hobbs
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Another week, another film released by Netflix, this time around the feature directorial debut for Alex Hardcastle, who has a very extensive directorial career across a tremendous amount of shows, including "Grace and Frankie", "The Mindy Project", "Suburgatory", and "You're the Worst" (a large percentage of them being comedies). "Senior Year" initially takes place in 2002, focuses its narrative on Stephanie Conway, a senior high schooler originally from Australia. Not being particularly visible or popular, Stephanie focuses her energies on making that happen, at the expense of some of her closer friendships. As she manages to achieve the popularity and attention she craves, she also becomes a cheerleader captain, spicing up some serious rivalries, particularly from Tiffany, the previous leader. Following a sabotaged routine, Stephanie finds herself in a coma, one that lasts for 20 years. Upon waking up, Stephanie decides to go back to high school and finish what was her senior year. While initially against that idea, her best friend Martha, now the high school principal, finally caves in and agrees with the whole thing. Stephanie soon realizes that everyone has moved on, including her former boyfriend, now married to Tiffany, and living in the house she always wanted. Stephanie finds herself lost in this new complex web of relationships and activities in the high school, one where her ambitions of being Prom Queen no longer make much sense.
"Senior Year" is another Rebel Wilson vehicle, much like "Isn't it Romantic", only with meager laughs and entertainment value. The script from Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and Brandon Scott Jones, tries to illustrate and also build a satire around the social niceties of going to school in this new era, where political correctness exists, where everyone lives on social media (and wants to be an influencer), and where the sense of fun is apparently completely eradicated. Stephanie is the anachronistic presence in this narrative, since for her the world is still 2002, and apparently then everyone was able to be lascivious and inappropriate. Sadly for all the attempts to capture this fish out of water aspect of the narrative, the laughs are null, and Rebel Wilson for all her likeability and charisma, can't do much for the character or for the film. It's a film that had the potential to be funnier (and even edgier), if the writers had chosen to do what Daniel Waters did with "Heathers" for instance, or even Tina Fey when she adapted the book from Rosalind Wiseman, in what became "Mean Girls". Instead it's a bland experience where nothing particularly relevant takes place, where most performances are forgettable, save for Zoe Chao's villainous turn, and where Rebel Wilson's presence is completely wasted. Avoid. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Movie Name:
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Hayley Atwell, Anson Mount, Lashana Lynch, John Krasinski, Patrick Stewart, Sheila Atim, Bruce Campbell, Charlize Theron
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Director Sam Raimi is back, after a considerable hiatus from directing features and focusing on his producing endeavors across multiple shows. After the somewhat disappointing "Oz the Great and Powerful", the director is back and once more working with Marvel after his successful experience in bringing the original "Spider Man" character to the big screen. This new adventure of Dr. Stranger takes place after the events from "Spider Man: No Way Home", where the characters became acquainted with the fact that there are multiple realities occurring simultaneously. Stephen is attending Christine's wedding, when he witnesses a teenage girl being attacked by a monstrous creature. Upon defeating it, he goes in search of answers, and seeks out the help of his friend, the avenger Wanda Maximoff. Much to his horror, he soon realizes Wanda is behind the attacks against the young girl, since she wants to capture her ability to move between realities. Wanda wants to be reunited with the children she conceived using her magic, but who live in parallel realities, and she will stop at nothing to achieve it. Influenced by a dark spell book, Wanda goes out on a rampage, with Stephen and America (the young girl she's pursuing), trying to escape her and possibly find a solution for the situation.
What has always been interesting about Sam Raimi's films, is how unlikely his heroes and central characters are. They're typically everyday individuals, who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, where they challenged at every moment, and have to fight to overcome all sorts of obstacles, even within themselves. That's something that happened in the "Evil Dead" series, but also "Darkman" and even "Drag Me to Hell". This new adventure of Dr. Strange is slightly different, however some of the doubt and self questioning that Raimi's heroes possess, does present itself here as well. However and unlike most of his films, this one has a few too many formulaic aspects to go through, particularly during the first chapters where the exposition occurs, where the motivations for the narrative are expanded upon, and finally how the characters start interacting with each other (and their motivations are also fully exposed). Raimi's universe and point of view really do start popping up towards the third chapter, where some dark aspects of the narrative come to life, where the darkness of some characters are also clearly unleashed, which is not something very usual in a Marvel feature. However for all its visual flourishes (and they're many and they're truly wonderful), the characters still feel fairly unidimensional, even across multiple universes, and some of the cameos that pepper the film are borderline kitsch. It's a film where there seems to be a constant friction between Sam Raimi and his vision, versus Marvel and their formula. While the formula continues to be bland and somewhat repetitive, Sam Raimi manages to bring something different and engaging to the feature, even if it is briefly. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, but the big highlight goes to the production team, including the cinematography from John Mathieson, costume design from Graham Churchyard and score from Danny Elfman. Entertaining but not memorable. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Ring Two

Movie Name:
The Ring Two
Year of Release: 2005
Director: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Naomi Watts, David Dorfman, Simon Baker, Sissy Spacek, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Ryan Merriman, Emily VanCamp, James Lesure, Daveigh Chase, Kelly Stables, Kelly Overton, Michael Chieffo
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the immense and unexpected success of the first installment of "The Ring", Dreamworks quickly put a sequel in motion, recruiting for the director chair Hideo Nakata, the director of the original "Ring" and its sequel "Ring 2". The film, which takes place 6 months after the events of the original film, follows the events surrounding the life of Rachel Keller and Aidan her son, now living in Oregon. In the previous chapter of the series, Rachel after made a copy of the original tape, in order to save Aidan, and let it loose for someone else to see and distribute it. The killer videotape finds its way to their town of Astoria, and upon investigating the death of one of the teenagers victimized by it, Rachel is horrified to realize Samara has actually been focusing on finding her. She destroys what she thinks to be one of the remaining tapes, but Samara finds a way to inhabit Aidan's body, and slowly starts taking over his behaviors. Rachel realizes what is taking place, but is unable to protect Aidan, once he has to be taken to the hospital, and the doctors suspect of abuse. She sets on a journey of discovering Samara's birth parents, in order to hopefully finding out a way of saving Aidan and vanquishing Samara. 
This sequel from Hideo Nakata sadly suffers from having a script that is non-sensical and poorly developed. What made the original film so compelling, wasn't solely the fact that Samara was an entity seemingly unstoppable, but also the fact that the narrative centered around Rachel and Aidan, a woman who was not exactly the typical mother, and the young precocious boy with the ability to sense things out of the ordinary (modeled a bit after Haley Joel Osment's Cole character from "The Sixth Sense"). This sequel and its contrived script, fails to build much upon the relationship between these two characters, the same going for whatever intent Samara has for pursuing Rachel. Aside from the sheer lack of logic for what happens to and between the main characters and some of the events that are taking place, Hideo Nakata does manage to build tension throughout the narrative, and an atmosphere peppered with unease and potential menace. Though the film does feature some cleverly crafted sequences, the lack of character development for the leads and supporting characters, fails to bring much resonance to what is happening. The cast is what eventually makes this film watchable, with Naomi Watts making the most from her character, with good support from David Dorfman, Sissy Spacek, Simon Baker and Elizabeth Perkins. The production team is solid, including the cinematography from Gabriel Beristain and the score from Henning Lohner and Martin Tillman, who leverage the theme from Hans Zimmer who scored the previous installment. While not a terrible film, it's simply not a very memorable one.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

L'Histoire d'Adèle H/The Story of Adele H

Movie Name: 
L'Histoire d'Adèle H/The Story of Adele H
Year of Release: 1975
Director: François Truffaut
Starring: Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Robinson, Sylvia Marriott, Joseph Blatchley, Ivry Gitlis, Louise Bourdet, Ruben Dorey, Roger Martin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
The celebrated François Truffaut followed his "La Nuit Américaine/Day for Night", with a more intimate and dramatic film, one detailing the sad saga of Victor Hugo's daughter, Adèle Hugo. The film follows the narrative of Adèle as she flees Europe in the pursuit of her loved one, Lieutenant Pinson, who is stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, towards the end of the 19th century. While Albert Pinson did court her while she was living with her family in Guernsey, since her father had been sent there into exile, she firstly denied his advances, since her father was also against the union. But her feelings grew more intensely and she soon finds herself following Albert, wanting him to desperately resume the relationship and propose. Adèle takes residence with a family in Halifax, and unsuccessfully tries for Albert to resume the relationship, including giving him money to pay off his gambling debts. All the while her father and the rest of the family are trying to get her to return, to no avail, since her all consuming obsession continues to be Albert. He eventually finds himself transferred to Barbados, and once again Adèle follows him, but her mental and physical capacity are at this point quite diminished.
Based on the true story of Adèle Hugo, this dramatic tale of obsessive love, in actuality hides the fact that she was later on diagnosed with schizophrenia (and spent the most part of the last 40 something years of her life in a mental institution, until passing away in 1915). The film chronicles her desperation and persistence in attaining the love of Albert, trying by all means to make him realize the depth of her feelings and how willing to brush her own self love aside for him and his attention she actually was. The narrative in particular focuses on her life in Halifax, where her attempts to capture Albert's attention only further alienate him. It's a tragic narrative, one that François Truffaut brings somewhat vividly to life, however without the feverish and intensity that Bruno Nuytten's captured in "Camille Claudel", another artist with a tragic life, also portrayed by Isabelle Adjani. The film anchors itself in the luminous performance from Isabelle Adjani who perfectly embodies Adèle, charting her rollercoaster of emotions, oscillating between love stricken bride to be, to delusional, to self humiliating, to embittered, always with a single and determined purpose. It's a magnetic and all consuming performance that gives the film its jolt of energy, since for the most part the supporting characters don't have quite as much dimension, including the object of her affection, Albert Pinson, portrayed rather blandly by Bruce Robinson. The production team is impeccable, featuring the beautiful cinematography from the late Nestor Almendros and costume design by Jacqueline Guyot. A film always worth revisiting from an immensely talented film maker. 

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Movie Name:
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Year of Release: 1995
Director: Todd Solondz
Starring: Heather Matarazzo, Brendan Sexton III, Eric Mabius, Matthew Faber, Angela Pietropinto, Bill Buell, Daria Kalinina, Will Lyman, Christina Vidal, Christina Brucato, Ken Leung
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Director Todd Solondz established himself with this celebrated indie feature, which had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival of 1996, and went on to be featured on many lists of the best of 1996. The film focuses on the story of Dawn Wiener, a bullied twelve year old seventh-grader, who lives in a suburb of New Jersey with her family, who also make her life somewhat difficult. Her older brother Mark, whom she has troubles relating to, is focused solely on his band, while her younger sister Missy is spoiled and seemingly does nothing but dance around the house in a tutu. Her only friend is her neighbor Ralphy who is also bullied at school for being different. Dawn can't seem to avoid getting into trouble, be it at school where she is reprimanded for preventing one of her bullies of copying her answers on a test, or for accidentally hitting one of her teachers with a spitball during an assembly or at home, where she clashes with her sister Missy all the time. In the meantime Dawn develops a crush on Steve, a charismatic wannabe rock musician/high school senior who joins her brother's band, while at school one of her bullies suddenly also becomes a romantic interest. As Dawn navigates these romantic foibles, her home life suddenly takes a sharp turn when Missy, her sister, gets kidnapped (partially as a result of Dawn not telling her to get a ride home from her ballet teacher after her class). As her parents are nearing a nervous breakdown, Dawn decides to investigate Missy's location, going on an adventure in NY.
What has been one of the most interesting traits about Todd Solondz's work is the fact that he manages to illustrate life in the American suburbs with a mix of humor,  humanity and sometimes monstrosity. His characters are always more than just a simple cliché, particularly in his most accomplished films, including "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness". In the case of "Dollhouse", Dawn is the perfect embodiment of the young girl seemingly out of place everywhere (a bit like Lisa Simpson), namely in school with her teachers and colleagues not fully realizing who she is, or the young woman she is becoming, the same going for her family life, where her parents are clearly more invested in their younger daughter, leaving both Mark and Dawn to their own devices. What's interesting about Solondz's point of view is the fact that he mines awkward moments for comedic gold, never de-humanizing his characters in the process (the way he for instance captures the family dinners in both "Dollhouse" and also in "Happiness"). While Dawn is neglected by her seemingly out of touch parents, they're still not completely portrayed as monstrous, since Solondz gives them an opportunity at redemption through the love and interest/obsession they hold for their younger offspring. It's a film that mixes some interesting dramatic points, some that are superficially touched upon, but one that doesn't shy away from illustrating the messiness, awkwardness and humor from every day life and in particular, of conflicting teenage years. The cast is solid with Heather Matarazzo creating a memorable central performance, with apt support from Eric Mabius, Matthew Faber and Will Lyman. A good film always worth revisiting. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The United States vs. Billie Holliday

Movie Name:
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne, Leslie Jordan, Miss Lawrence, Dusan Dukic, Erik LaRay Harvey, Kate MacLellan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Kwasi Songui, Adriane Lenox, Letitia Brookes, Tyler James Williams, Jeff Corbett
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
"The United States vs. Billie Holiday" is another interpretation on the life of singer Billie Holiday, with one of the most iconic ones being "Lady Sings the Blues", the 1972 film directed by Sidney J. Furie, with a central performance by Diana Ross. This time around the film focuses on Holiday's career around 1947, when people close to Holiday are trying to get her to cut the song Strange Fruit from her set list. The FBI considers her a threat, and is intent on stopping her focusing on her issues with substance abuse. An undercover FBI agent by the name of Jimmy Fletcher witnesses her doing drugs, and she gets arrested for drug use and possession. After being released, Holiday manages to do some shows, and eventually embarks on a relationship with Fletcher, even though most of her previous relationships have always been met with abuse and violence (and peppered with drugs). While initially suspicious of him, she opens up and falls in love. However she eventually sabotages the relationship and decides to go back to NY. She embarks on another relationship but is eventually reunited with Fletcher, at the same time some health issues flare up.
Lee Daniels of course made a name for himself with the drama "Precious" which premiered in 2009 to an array of accolades and good reviews. While his subsequent films haven't been met with such praise, he was able to be immensely successful with the show "Empire" which lasted for 6 seasons, the last one having just ended in 2020. The life of charismatic singer Billie Holiday is one that is ripe for a powerful drama, since she experienced such hardship and tribulations, on top of being such a phenomenal (and successful) talent. However this film and Lee Daniels take on this subject matter is very akin to an R-rated biopic of the week, with very little being illustrated in terms of what propelled Ms. Holiday or for that matter, the supporting characters around her. As she and Jimmy Fletcher become entangled in a relationship, nothing much is ever clarified about who he is, what his motivations are, aside from the assignment he is given. As a character, much like many of the supporting ones populating this film, he and all of this library of eclectic supporting players, are all very unidimensional, serving the purpose alone of providing some color for whatever Holiday is going through. Many stereotypes waltz through this film, including the supportingly eclectic jazz players, the villainous law enforcement authorities, the treatment of drug addiction, to name but a few. If indeed the point to this story was to humanize the trials and tribulations of such a talented woman, why not focus on her relationships, and how they were impacted by all these events, allowing for those characters and her in particular to be fully brought to life. As it is, it never really gives notion of the impact of her talent, nor the relationships she carved out, or even the hardships she had go to through. The cast tries its best to bring these characters to life, but Trevante Rhodes manages to be the most memorable performer, since with as little as he has to work with, he actually creates a sense of journey with his character, with his progressive fascination with what he witnesses and how he finally falls in love with Billie Holiday. The cinematography from Andrew Dunn is stellar as is the costume design from Paolo Nieddu. A missed opportunity. 

8 MM

Movie Name:
8MM
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Chris Bauer, Amy Morton, Myra Carter, Jack Betts
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the critical and commercial debacle of "Batman and Robin", director Joel Schumacher had a busy year in 1999, with two films premiering, again to mixed accolades. "8MM" premiered in February of 99 at the Berlin Film Festival and "Flawless", featuring Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman had its debut in November of the same year. "8MM" saw the director working with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker who at the time had made a name for himself writing David Fincher's "Seven" and Brett Leonard's "Hideaway" (an adaptation of Dean Koontz's novel). The film follows the story of Tom Welles, a private investigator whose cases have always been rather straightforward and not particularly challenging. He's called upon by the widower of a very rich man recently deceased, the frail Mrs. Carter, who explains to Tom that as she went through her late husband's items, particularly the ones hidden in a vault, she came into the possession of a film depicting what appears to be a mix of pornography and finally a young woman being killed. Mrs. Carter wants to know if the film is legitimate or some elaborate production. Tom takes the job with some reluctance, however as he starts trying to piece together who the victim is, he realizes more evidence may be in LA. Wanting to know more about the adult film world and its universe, and how potentially the young woman got dragged into it, he enlists the help of a young man by the name of Max California, who starts showing him around. The more Tom uncovers, the more he realizes that not all is what it seems, and as he and Max get closer to understanding what actually took place the riskier the situation gets for them as well.
"8MM" immediately brings to mind the work of Paul Schrader and William Friedkin. The first one because he dived into somewhat similar territory with the underrated "Hardcore", which premiered in 1979 and had a great central performance from George C. Scott. William Friedkin on the other hand, is the best person to tackle material such as this, since not only does he not shy away from shooting anti-heroes but he also populates his stories with a pessimism that touches upon everything. He also understands how the exposure of certain realities and universes have a profound impact on his characters, which was the case of the controversial "Cruising" or even the underrated "To Live and Die in LA", and to a lesser successful extent, "Jade". The main issue with "8MM" is not solely the fact that the film feels and looks very generic, a somewhat derivative and watered down version of the Nine Inch Nails & Mark Romanek's collaboration for the video "Closer", but also the third act of the film feels like a commercial concession to make the central hero both an avenger/vigilante, and also a father of the family who regains his heart and conscience. The material needed someone with more of a clearly defined point of view, since what ends up being illustrated are a series of vignettes and situations supposed to showcase the fringes of sexual behavior, all very topical and somewhat shallow, whereas the focus of the narrative, Tom Welles' exposure to this new universe, and what impact does that have in him, is never truly clearly demonstrated (at least until the third act of the film, and even then it's very glossy and cliché ridden). While the film is a detective story on finding out what happened to the woman in the snuff film, it should also have been an insightful journey into how much does this somewhat innocent and sheltered man is forever changed (or not) by what he witnesses and comes to realize. The film isn't particularly violent or particularly shocking - it is simply shallow in its observations and in its intentions. The cast is solid, with Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, the late James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener, Chris Bauer and Anthony Heald all creating strong characters. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is solid, as is the score from Mychael Danna. Another case of mismatched material, this film isn't a very memorable one. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

C'mon C'mon

Movie Name:
C'mon C'mon
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jakoubie Young-White, Deborah Strang
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Writer/director Mike Mills follow up to the fantastic "20th Century Women" is again a story about families and the ties that unite them, but this time around with a slightly different perspective than his previous endeavors. The film follows the story of Johnny, a radio Journalist who is currently doing an ethnographic style type of project, going around the country interviewing children about their lives and their expectations for the future. He receives an unexpected call from his sister, whom he hasn't spoken with since the death of their mother, asking him for some help. Her husband is dealing with some mental health issues, and she needs to go to Oakland and try to find a way to help him. While doing so, she needs Johnny to take care of Jesse, her nine year old son. Johnny agrees and stays in LA with Jesse, however when Viv asks for more time, he asks her if he can take Jesse to NY. Soon Johnny has to resume his work, and he takes Jesse along, this time around to New Orleans. As uncle and nephew travel around the US and experience daily life together, the more they realize about their own ties, their family relationships, fears, and ultimately reflect on what life has unveiled for them.
What has always been surprising about Mike Mills' films is the way he finds to make his personal experiences and point of view, into something that is humane, and that translates across to so many of his audience's own experiences. Shared experiences is not a prerequisite to enjoy a film of course, but his finest work has a deft mechanism of touching you in unexpected ways, particularly because he creates characters and situations that feel authentic and rooted in something genuine (even if for instance his narratives take place in very specific times and locations). "C'mon C'mon" is the first of his features where the essence of the narrative feels contrived and somewhat artificially constructed around a very precocious nine year old, who strangely enough, feels more like an interpretation of what a nine year old says and does than an actual child. The film fails to materialize a character's point of view, since neither Jesse nor Johnny's really comes across that clearly. There's much to admire in this film, particularly the narrative of Johnny, how he deals with grief, and how his process of listening to others allows him to figure out his own issues, but the film doesn't probe any deeper, choosing instead to deal with the choppy relationship with Jesse. For the first time in all his films, it feels like this particular narrative doesn't really know what it wants to say, at times aiming to be a Spike Jonze exploration on love (without the humor), and at other times, trying to be slightly ethereal in a style that only Sofia Coppola manages to capture so well. While Joaquin Phoenix is always fantastic, he can't save this film, which at times just drags on, because once more it just doesn't know what it wants to say. Gaby Hoffmann provides great support as usual, and the production team is fantastic, particularly the stunning cinematography from Robbie Ryan. Ultimately, this simply isn't one of Mike Mills' best features.