Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

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Tenet (2020)

September 4, 2020

Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar, Inception, Memento)

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh

Anticipation Level: High

How Was It?

Christopher Nolan is smarter than the rest of us and he wants everyone to know it. Sure, he’s done plenty of high concept films before (Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar), but in all of those movies the plots are relatively easy to follow and you know who the characters are and why they are doing what they are doing. Tenet? I’ll be damned if anyone can honestly say they know what the hell is going on in this movie the first time they watch it. Things are complex enough as it is, but Nolan has made a habit of drowning out the dialogue with extraneous noise in his last couple of films (see also: Dunkirk) and when that dialogue is needed to explain critical plot points, it makes Tenet pretty much impossible to follow. This film would benefit a lot from having subtitles even though it is almost entirely in English.

At some point, I just turned my brain off and tried to enjoy the spectacle. Tenet definitely has some A+ action sequences and plenty of amazing visuals so it scores really high in those departments. This movie will have no issue racking up award nominations in all the technical apsects, although the sound editing and/or mixing is more of a problem than an asset here. The concept of inverting time makes for some really cool moments and some brilliant-looking shots.

I can’t say I cared about any of the characters in this movie so there was no emotional weight to the story during my first watch. It’s hard to say whether that’s a result of things being undeveloped or because I just didn’t get it, but either way, I didn’t feel any type of way about what was happening. I think the acting in this movie is pretty good and that’s not surprising as John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki all have good performances on their resumes already. This movie is light on comedy, but Washington still finds a couple of moments to say something funny.

I feel like it’s unfair to give this movie a rating after one viewing considering I didn’t really understand it. I think even if the dialogue wasn’t so hard to hear a lot of the time and I had a better idea of what was going on, I’d still need to do extra research online to really get to the bottom of everything. I’ll eventually do that, but I’m guessing the average moviegoer isn’t too interested in all that. As a result, I expect most people not to like this movie and they will probably dismiss it after one viewing. I’m sure everyone is going to see it anyway (when they feel safe to do so), but I don’t recommend it unless you are okay with being clueless while watching it and spending extra time reading about it later. Tenet is quite easily my least favorite Chris Nolan film after one viewing and with a 150 minute run time, I can’t say I’m super excited to get back in the theater again and figure things out.

Replay Value: Required, but I don’t know how enjoyable it will be.

Sequel Potential: I don’t expect Nolan to make sequels to his original movies.

Oscar Potential: Cinematography, Visual Effects, Production Design, Film Editing, Original Score noms all seem likely. Dunkirk won Oscars for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing but I couldn’t hear the dialogue in that movie either so… I wouldn’t be shocked to see this get Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay noms because it’s a Chris Nolan movie, but not because it actually deserves them.

???/10 (???)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

August 21, 2020

Director: Chuck Russell (The Mask, The Blob, Eraser)

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Craig Wasson, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne

Anticipation Level: High

How Was It?

This review may contain spoilers.

The last good Freddy movie before a long stretch of total crap. I still haven’t revisited Part 2, but I’ve never liked that movie and I don’t expect that to change, even after watching the Mark Patton documentary. I felt fine skipping Freddy’s Revenge because this movie ignores that sequel anyway (Note: I do plan to watch it again soon [Note: and I did obviously]).

Dream Warriors holds up really well and has some of the most iconic moments (the Freddy worm, the whole puppet sequence, the T.V. death scene) of the whole series, but it is also probably responsible for making Freddy a punchline factory. I love the whole “welcome to prime time, bitch” scene, but let’s be real, that’s the moment that started the transition from a relatively scary Freddy to the cornball jokester he’d become over the next three movies.

This movie seems to answer the questions about the ending of Nightmare 1. Nancy’s friends and mom really died, the grey streak in her hair is back, and I guess whatever happened after she turned her back on Freddy and made him disappear was a dream?

The concept of the Dream Warriors is pretty cool. There’s a girl that can pull other people into her dreams and when she does so that person can come in with a superpower (i.e. super strength, wizardry, etc.) and that makes these kids quite a bit more formidable than the standard issue group of horror movie victims.

I think the acting in this movie is mostly fine. You don’t realize how good Patricia Arquette is until you watch someone else play the same role in Nightmare 4 and, well, it’s a night and day difference in quality. Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy Thompson and while her presence gives the kids hope and credibility, I can’t say Langenkamp is a strong actress by any means. Somehow, it seems she has gotten worse at her craft in the three years between the original Nightmare and this one. Robert Englund has a lot more scenery to chew in this movie compared to the original. He’s wonderful. While Freddy was already a thriving entity, I’m pretty sure this is the movie mostly responsible for making him the pop culture icon he still is today.

Dream Warriors is a strong entry in the Elm Street series and one of my favorite flicks out of all the slasher movies featuring horror’s biggest icons. This movie builds really well on the original – thanks in large part to Wes Craven returning as a screenwriter – and provides some of the best kills and special effects of the whole series. A proper horror sequel and a must see for genre fans.

Replay Value: One of two Freddy Krueger movies I could probably watch over and over again as an adult.

Sequel Potential: We’re not even halfway yet.

Oscar Potential: None.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

August 18, 2020

Director: Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Alone in the Dark, Supernova)

Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler

Anticipation Level: Low

How Was It?

This review may contain spoilers.

It’s kind of odd that Scream, Queen! inspired me to start re-watching the Nightmare series, but didn’t make me particularly want to revisit the movie the documentary is about. That’s because I’ve always hated it and have long thought of it as my least favorite in the franchise. I guess that makes sense. I fell in love with these movies when I was a kid and not only does Freddy’s Revenge feel completely out of place in the context of the whole series, but it’s not surprising that the wise-cracking pop culture icon of the later installments is what appealed to me as a child. This Freddy is still pretty dark and scary (I mean, he claws his way out of Jessie’s body) and what is now largely recognized as a running homsexual subtext weirded me out when I was younger. I just have never enjoyed this movie and it’s probably the film in the series I’ve seen the least.

Having watched it again though… it’s not terrible. Like… it’s certainly better than Nightmare 4. Freddy is still pretty dark and menacing in this installment. His first scene has him mostly in the shadows as he drags his glove blades along the seats of the bus walking towards Jessie. Later, he pulls back his scalp to show Jessie his brain. Plus, when he does talk, Englund’s voice and cadence is still scary sounding. He’s not a cartoon character in this movie.

But this movie is pretty damn silly in a lot of parts. I’m sure I don’t need to mention Jessie’s dancing scene as he’s putting things away in his room. The scene with the bird? I have no clue what that was. Is Freddy a dream demon or can he possess things in the house when everyone’s awake? Or how about when Jessie goes to the gay bar in the middle of the night and runs into his gym teacher? That’s strange enough, but then the teacher makes him run laps at the school and take a shower afterwards? This whole thing feels like it should be a dream sequence, but it doesn’t seem to be.

Imagine being the police and finding a high school kid wandering around a highway butt naked in the middle of the night and then discovering his gym teacher dead at the school the next day. I’m not saying that kid is obviously the killer, but you MIGHT want to have a chat with him.

This movie has some good visual effects. The scene when Jessie is at Grady’s house and Freddy steps out of Jessie’s body is pretty spectacular. It’s gnarly and I love when you can see Freddy’s eye looking around at the back of Jessie’s throat. This movie is pretty light on death scenes though because when Grady dies, we are about an hour into the movie and he’s only the second death. I also like the melting effects in Freddy’s death scene.

On the other hand, the Freddy makeup looks atrocious in some of the shots in this movie. It looks fine overall, but there’s a couple of takes where it’s obvious they got really lazy with it.

The pool scene used to be the saving grace of this movie for me, but it’s not as cool as I remember it. I thought he slashed up a whole party full of teenagers, but there’s only a few deaths directly caused by Freddy. I’ve always envisioned a lot more carnage in my head. There’s a great shot of Freddy with the fire blazing behind him as he stands tall with his arms up in the air and says, “you are all my children now.”

This movie has another shitty ending. Freddy is basically defeated by “I love you”s and a kiss. That’s about as lame as turning your back on him to end a movie, but at least we get the cool melting visual effects here. I mean… is Jessie even into this chick? I’m not sure how this even works. The big controversy of this movie is all the homosexual subtext and the writer of the movie is now on record as admitting that he wrote that all in there on purpose… so what is this? Jessie’s character appears to be at war with his sexuality, so it’s just strange that a woman saying “I love you” is what gets rid of the Freddy demon inside him.

My only comment on the acting is that it’s mostly fine. Mark Patton (who is gay himself) is on record saying that his performance was based on how the script was written, so it’s pretty sad that the backlash from this movie drove him out of Hollywood and out of America. He was just doing his job and the writer painted him as a scapegoat for all the criticism. Nothing cool about that.

Overall, this movie is better than I remembered. Definitely not the worst in the series. It’s also not a good movie. As of now, I think this is probably better than Nightmares 4, 5, and 6, but at least those movies were bad and didn’t take themselves seriously. Freddy’s Revenge is definitely still trying to be scary and serious, so the fact that it’s not good is less forgivable.

Replay Value: Historically, this movie has had the least replay value in the series for me, but I think that is subject to change. Still, it’s not a Nightmare movie I’m excited to watch.

Sequel Potential: Evil never dies.

Oscar Potential: None.

4/10 (Lackluster)

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Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)

August 16, 2020

Director: Roman Chimienti & Tyler Jensen

Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rustler, Heather Langenkamp, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin

Anticipation Level: Medium-High

How Was It?

I’m not going to lie, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has always been my least favorite entry in the ANOES series – and one of my least favorite in any of the biggest and long-running horror franchises. It just didn’t do anything for me. I’ve seen it multiple times and only a few scenes have stuck with me all these years: Freddy emerging from the lead character’s body and Freddy getting loose in the real world and terrorizing a pool party. Cool stuff. The rest of the movie? Not so much.

This documentary is about Mark Patton, lead actor in the movie and how the backlash from it ran him out of Hollywood and into self-isolation for the next several decades. This doc examines the homosexual “subtext” in the film – something that has come to light in a positive way in the last half decade or so – and how Patton, a closeted gay man in the 80s, was blamed for how the film was perceived after its released, with the writer even denying that any subtext existed and implying that it was the actor’s fault it came across that way.

I’m pretty interested in anything related to the major horror franchises (I’m also reading Taking Shape, a book about the Halloween movies, and a Wes Craven biography right now), so I was immediately intrigued when I saw this documentary pop up. I can’t act like I was never homophobic. I graduated from high school in 2000 and no one my age dared come out of the closet back then because questioning someone’s masculinity or sexuality was the ultimate insult. I can’t change the past, but I’ve definitely grown over the last 20 years – and I think a good portion of society has as well. Mark Patton starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 in 1985, over a decade before my high school years, back when being homosexual was seen as a certainty to get and spread HIV and AIDS. This documentary examines all of that and shows how brutal it was to be a gay man in the mid-80s, but also highlights how things have changed and how Nightmare 2 has become a very important movie to a lot of people.

This is definitely an interesting watch. If you’re any sort of fan of the Nightmare series, I’d recommend it, but you should definitely watch Nightmare 2 again first (which I did not). However, since watching this, I have re-watched every Nightmare movie except Freddy vs Jason (that’s next) and the shitty remake (which I actually re-watched earlier this year), so this doc made me revisit the entire series again for the first time in maybe 15+ years for most of the entries.

Replay Value: Not much, but if I ever decide to revisit the series again (as I’m doing right now), I’d probably watch it again.

Sequel Potential: N/A

Oscar Potential: No Best Doc nod for this one.

6/10 (Recommended)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

July 21, 2020

Director: Wes Craven (Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, Last House on the Left, People Under the Stairs)

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, John Saxson, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund

Anticipation Level: N/A

How Was It?

A chronological, as-I’m-watching-it review with MANY SPOILERS:

I absolutely love this movie. It’s easy to forget how great the original Nightmare is because of how bad many of the sequels were. Of all the horror franchises that I loved as a kid, I think the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies have arguably aged the worst. I think about half of them are nearly unwatchable as an adult. But not this one. This one is great.

Right from the jump, the theme music is unique and creates an unsettling tone. The opening dream sequence also does a great job of teasing an ominous presence while not exactly revealing what Freddy is. How about that close up shot of Freddy’s eyes behind the pipes? Ah yes, back when Freddy Krueger was actually scary.

The second dream sequence is AWESOME. I’ve seen this movie so many times that I feel like I know it shot-for-shot and Tina’s second dream just has so many iconic moments: Freddy coming out of the wall above Nancy; Freddy with the stretchy long arms; Freddy slicing his fingers off; Tina pulling his face off while he just laughs through it; and then the unbelievable death scene that sees Tina thrashing through the air as some unseen force slices her to death while her boyfriend Rod watches helplessly and then her body just drops to the floor with a thud. BLOOD IS EVERYWHERE. Holy shit, what a scene.

It’s a bit disturbing when the news report of Tina’s murder says that she was 15 years old. I mean… Tina and Rod were having some pretty loud, raucous sex off screen there. Granted, the actress playing Tina was 24 or 25 when this filmed, but still…

LOL @ Nancy getting private access to Rod, a murder suspect, when he’s in jail. How does that happen? Sure, her dad is a cop, but it’s obvious that he wants her nowhere near this guy and his co-workers should be aware of that. Later, we see Nancy barge in to the police station and demand to see Rod again, bullying the cop at the desk to let her through before dad puts a stop to it.

I have to say the acting in this movie is pretty good for an 80s horror flick. And by “pretty good,” I mean it’s not laughable like it is in a lot of the genre pics of the time. Interestingly, I’m inspired to type this by Heather Langenkamp’s super cringy delivery of “how can you say I don’t take her death seriously?” after her mother says, “I guess you don’t think murder is serious.” It’s a brutal moment in an otherwise reasonably acted flick.

I really like how Nancy’s teacher walks by her when she’s falling asleep in class and gives her a knowing touch. It feels like a rare authentic human moment from a meaningless character in a horror movie. It would just be so stereotypical for the teacher to walk by her and startle her awake for having the nerve to fall asleep in class like what she went through the night before is not public knowledge. Also, shoutout to Lin Shaye playing the teacher here. She will later star in the Insidious movies as Elise Rainier.

Another iconic scene from this movie: Freddy’s glove coming up out of the bathtub water between Nancy’s legs. Not sure how you can grow up watching these movies and not think about that scene when you’re taking a bath as a kid. I think this scene is also the first time we hear the famous Freddy nursery rhyme from the jump rope girls. This scene also has more awkward sexualization of a supposed 15 year old – you can see Nancy topless when Freddy pulls her under the water. Heather Langenkamp was really 20 (and it was probably a body double anyway), but Nancy is 15! Why are we seeing her breasts? It’s weird.

I love when Johnny Depp asks Nancy what happened to her arm and she replies, “I burned it in English class.”

Let’s give Nancy some props. She’s a fighter. How many heroines in horror movies do you see that are ready to take on their tormentor less than halfway through the movie? Nancy asks Glen to watch over her while she sleeps because she needs to go “look for someone” and that someone is Freddy Krueger. Her friends are being killed and she knows the dream world has real world ramifications. This is a BOSS move. Of course, Glen shits the bed and falls asleep. What an ass.

The sleep clinic is another nice touch of giving the main character some credibility. This is a scene where the stereotype would be for the results to show that everything is normal and Nancy is just making this stuff up… but instead, mom and doctor see that things aren’t even close to being normal. Nancy’s dreams are off-the-charts FUCKED.

This prompts mom to tell Nancy the truth about Krueger being a local child murderer and reveals that she’s been keeping his bladed glove in their basement furnace like a serial killer holding on to a souvenir from a murder. This part of the movie is a bit muddled. Fred Krueger got off on a technicality in a case that got the “lawyers fat and the judge famous?” Uh, okay. If you say so. And none of the teenagers in the area know about this obviously super infamous case that happened right in their own backyard? Uh, no. Not even in the pre-internet age is this even remotely believable. Literally everyone in that town would know about what Fred Krueger did.

Ugh, the ending of this movie is brutal. Craven really botched it. There is just so much going wrong. How is Nancy barricaded in her house exactly? Her mom is a semi-functional alcoholic and though it’s never explicitly said, all indications are that Nancy’s parents are divorced and her dad doesn’t live with them…. so who made their house an inescapable fortress? Mom? Yeah right. I guess it’s feasible that she paid some professionals to do this, but… I’m rolling my eyes here.

How absurd is it that Nancy is linked to three murders, she’s a police officer’s daughter, there’s a bunch of cops at a murder scene right across the street (including dad!), she’s screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs and shattering windows trying to get someone’s attention… and her dad’s co-workers are just standing there looking at her like, “what’s that crazy kid on about now?” This is the kind of stereotypical bullshit that always happens in these movies that A Nightmare on Elm Street was doing such a good job of NOT doing. This whole sequence just blows.

There’s such a Home Alone vibe to Nancy’s final encounter with Freddy. She has booby traps set up all over and he runs right into them. She even says, “come and get me” at one point, a line straight out of the Kevin McCallister playbook. But Home Alone came out in 1990, so does that mean that Home Alone has an A Nightmare on Elm Street vibe?

How bad is the mom’s death scene? Nancy and dad walk in just in time to see a fake looking corpse descend into the bed and disappear. Then Nancy says to her dad, “now do you believe me?” with zero emotion or regard for the fact that her mom was just murdered. For a movie with tons of awesome visual effects, I can’t believe how pathetic her mom’s body looks here.

Finally, this conclusion just doesn’t work for me at all. How anticlimactic is it that Nancy defeats Freddy by simply turning her back on him and taking away his “power” by not believing in him? The fact that she turns around to see if he’s there afterwards is proof enough that she still believes in him. Somehow this ending also brings her mom and friends back from the dead, so essentially nothing that happens actually happened. But then they drive off in a Freddy-themed car and mom gets pulled through the door by Krueger, so wtf? I suppose Wes Craven answers this question in Nightmare 3 because when Nancy shows up her hair is streaked grey and she says her friends were killed by Freddy. I dunno. It’s all just so bogus and leaves a gross stain on an otherwise wonderful horror movie.

I forgive A Nightmare on Elm Street for all its flaws. The first 80 minutes of this movie are just way too enjoyable for the last ten minutes to ruin it. It is chock full of iconic moments and Freddy is a looming, sadistic, and scary figure. This Freddy gets off on scaring and toying with his victims before he kills them and the corny one-liners that he eventually becomes known for are nowhere to be found in this film. This movie is not completely absent of camp, but I think Nightmare 1 strikes the perfect mix of camp and scary.

I wish the ending was better, but this is still an all-time horror classic to me and its replay value seems unending. I’m sure I’ve seen this at least ten times and I still enjoy it thoroughly. Wes Craven created one of the most memorable villains to ever grace the silver screen. 35 years later and a decade since the last Freddy movie (and arguably 25 years since the last good one) and Freddy Krueger still feels relevant today. A must see horror flick and one of the best the genre has ever had to offer.

Replay Value: Plenty. I’ve seen it so many times and I’m still eager to re-visit it with each viewing.

Sequel Potential: None. Well, except for seven sequels, a remake, and endless amounts of merchandising. And it’s not going to stop there either – though we are currently in the longest stretch between Freddy movies since he debuted in 1984.

Oscar Potential: Nightmare 1 received zero Oscar nominations, but I think it should have at least been considered for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects. Having watched both A Nightmare on Elm Street and (loosely) visual effects nominee Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom recently, I think Nightmare was clearly better in this department.

8/10 (Must See)

A Dark Knight Classic

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June 2020 Movie Reviews

July 5, 2020

Check out my profile on Letterboxd if you want to follow along as I write my reviews throughout the month and also because the site/app is amazing for film lovers.

Wow, this is getting a bit pathetic. My movie watching has gone way down. I went two weeks in between movies in the second half of June. I wonder how far I’d have to look back to find a gap that long between flicks? Of course, it doesn’t help that theaters have been closed for four months now. Even worse, my Martin Scorsese project has really lost steam – it’s been almost three months since I watched a movie of his! I’ve had Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at home since April 29th. Yikes! I have just been preferring to watch T.V. shows instead movies when I have the time. Check out my TV Show Ratings page for scores for Dead to Me, The Crown, Hannibal and Ozark.

Long Gone Summer (2020, ESPN+)

I’m a baseball megafan… well I used to be. 2020 is challenging how I feel about the game. I’m not even sure I want a season at this point. But I remember the Summer of 1998, how magical and enthralling it all was, and how it helped restore interest in the national past time after the strike-shortened seasons of 1994 and 1995. It seemed like someone was making an assault on Roger Maris’ 30+ year old single season homerun record on an annual basis and yet it still seemed like some magic number that could never be reached. 61 home runs? Are you kidding me? And then McGwire and Sosa came along in 1998 and not only made a run at the record, but both of them demolished it, with any suspense about whether it was going to happen pretty much erased by the end of August.

I actually have some memory of when I found out McGwire broke the record. I didn’t get to watch it live because I was on a road trip with my high school’s girls soccer team as an acting sports medicine athletic trainer and our bus was stopped at a gas station somewhere.

The whole thing seemed surreal at the time and that’s probably because it wasn’t real. It takes a while for this movie to get to steroid allegations and I don’t think it really asks the hard-hitting questions. Prior to this documentary, Sosa hasn’t publicly admitted to juicing and while he all but confirms he was using PEDs here, he still can’t just come out and say it. Sosa is completely unapologetic for his role in The Steroid Era and maybe that’s something that should be applauded instead of vilifying him while McGwire gets inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Are any of these guys really sorry that they juiced and put up crazy numbers, made tons of money, and entertained the hell out of us? I doubt it. They are only sorry because they got caught and are faced public scrutiny. You kind of have to appreciate someone like Sosa that doesn’t even bother to pretend like he gives a shit.

I really enjoyed this documentary and as a huge baseball fan, it’s something I’ll probably revisit somewhat regularly. Regardless of how they did it, the Summer of 1998 will always hold a special place in my heart and memory.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

The High Note (2020, iTunes rental)

I liked this well enough. It’s about a passionate music-lover that is a personal assistant to superstar singer but has aspirations of making a name for herself as a producer. This movie largely works for me because of Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. I just like what they bring to the table. Both of them have such natural screen presence and likability. Considering Johnson’s biggest role is as Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades franchise, I didn’t see myself becoming such a fan, but I’ve really enjoyed her in pretty much everything else I’ve seen. Harrison Jr. builds on a breakthrough 2019 that saw him crush his roles in both Luce and Waves with yet another impressive performance – he can sing too! His song “Track 8” from this movie is a really nice song and possibly a certified banger. I think the rest of the music in this movie ranges from decent to good though, so I wasn’t exactly blown away by that aspect of it.

I felt like this movie dropped the ball on the ending. It just didn’t make sense to me and seemed completely unnecessary. It could have had a feel good conclusion without going in such a forced and unbelievable direction. Still, I enjoyed it overall, so I’ll give it a light recommendation.

6/10 (Recommended)

The Greatest Showman (2017, Amazon rental)

I wanted to see this at one point in time but ultimately skipped it with no plans to go out of my way to watch it because critical response was decidedly poor. But a friend of mine listed it as one of his Must See movies and was willing to put his rep on the line over it, despite resounding skepticism from our group chat. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be good, but I showed him respect and watched it.

I knew 15 minutes and three songs in that it probably wasn’t going to win me over. It’s not like I have an aversion to musicals – I count Chicago, Moulin Rouge!, Dreamgirls, School of Rock, Frozen and Moana on my list of recent musicals that I really enjoyed. But The Greatest Showman immediately has a campy feel, the songs weren’t impressing me, and the actors didn’t even look like they were actually singing. Obviously, they record the songs separately, but it should still look like the words are coming out of the characters’ mouths.

It gets better. The song performed by Rebecca Ferguson’s character midway through the movie was pretty powerful and there were some other standout songs. Hugh Jackman is always pretty good and that’s the case here. I’m not a Rebecca Ferguson fan but I liked the rest of the cast, even if Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen are underused.

The Greatest Showman just never pulled me in. It’s all spectacle and no substance. It doesn’t help that it appears to paint P.T. Barnum in an inauthentic light. At least that’s what I’ve read. But I don’t know anything about him, so that didn’t influence my own viewing of the movie.

At best, I’d say this was mildly entertaining, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. You can probably find clips of the best songs/scenes on YouTube and save yourself 90 minutes. Somehow this Must See/Can’t Miss recommendation went 0 for 3 in our group chat. Take that for what it’s worth.

4/10 (Forgettable)

The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Netflix, second viewing)

Originally written December 17th, 2016:

The Edge Of Seventeen is one of the better coming-of-age films I’ve seen in years. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school junior that feels like the whole world is against her, particularly after one of the few people that can relate to her, her father, passes away. Things are really turned upside down when her only friend begins dating her brother. While I can’t particularly relate to Nadine’s story, I do feel like the script paints an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a teenager – from feeling like your parents don’t understand you at all, to thinking of your sibling as your enemy, to making consistently poor decisions… basically, thinking of nobody but yourself. The Edge Of Seventeen features some amazing acting from the whole cast, but it’s no surprise that Hailee Steinfeld gives another performance worth of Oscar consideration. Having just turned 20, with multiple great performances under her belt already, Steinfeld has established herself as the number one actress 20 or younger. I found a lot of the situations in The Edge Of Seventeen to be quite authentic, like how Nadine swoons over the one dimensional guy she doesn’t know because she finds him attractive while putting the nerdy guy she actually relates to on the back burner. Even though I liked Woody Harrelson in his role as Nadine’s teacher, their relationship felt like a bit of a stretch. Do teenage girls ever share their pornographic text messages with their teachers and ask for advice? Especially when said teacher is a man? I’m thinking no.

There was very little not to like about The Edge Of Seventeen. It was interesting, frequently hilarious, and tells a complete story. Plus it features a ton of amazing acting. It’s not quite a must see film, but I found it very enjoyable.

Replay Value: I will enjoy watching it a second time.
Sequel Potential: I think that would be weird.
Oscar Potential: Steinfeld got a Golden Globe nom, but the Oscar buzz has been quieter. I think she’s deserving, but I haven’t seen all the best performances. A SAG snub is a bad sign.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Snowpiercer (2013, Netflix)

What a bizarre movie. Set in an apocalyptic future where all life on earth has become extinct because of a failed solution to global warming. The only survivors are on board a train called the Snowpiercer and what a strange world they exist in. The train is weather-proof and designed to withstand the cold of the Arctic and completes its trek around the world in exactly 365 days so the citizens on board know that everytime they pass a certain bridge it signifies a new year. This movie is from Bong Joon Ho, the writer/director of last year’s Best Picture winner Parasite, and is another commentary on social classes as the people in the back of the train are treated like sub-humans and fed “protein bars” while the people in the front of the train are the acting government and dine on steaks. This is one of the crazier movies I’ve seen in a while and I was definitely intrigued if not exactly enthralled. The art direction in the various train compartments was stellar, but a bit unbelievable. I didn’t love this movie, but it’s definitely worth watching and I’m at least somewhat interested in the T.V. series it has spawned.

6/10 (Recommended)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011, HBOMax, sixth viewing)

This review may contain spoilers.

Azkaban might be the best Potter movie, but this one is probably my favorite. The action is unrelenting and there are a number of scenes that still give me chills:

*Harry returning to Hogwarts and surprising everyone when he walks through the portrait

*Harry’s confrontation with Snape

*Harry going to the woods by himself to die

*Neville’s standing up to Voldemort

*Harry revealing to everyone that he’s still alive

and probably more that I’m forgetting.

The final confrontation with Voldemort left a little to be desired. Pretty much as soon as Harry obtains the Elder Wand, it’s game over. I did love how he called him Tom though. Such a nice touch that I don’t remember being in the books.

This is just such a nice cap to what is an absolutely wonderful film franchise. You have to give the filmmakers and studio credit for keeping the cast together for eight films and it was super cool seeing the kids grow up on screen. Some of them are pretty accomplished actors by the end of it.

This series is iconic. It’s inevitable that they will probably remake it at some point (hopefully not in my lifetime) but I seriously don’t want to see that happen. I think they did an A+ job the first time around.

8/10 (Must See)

Bloodsport (1988, Netflix, fifth viewing?)

This movie is pretty ridiculous with some hilarious acting – especially from JCVD – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t still a fun watch. Chong Li is one of the more memorable action movie villains from my childhood. I’d guess I’ve probably seen this movie 5+ times but this is my first time as an adult and I still enjoyed it.

6/10 (Recommended)

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March 2020 Movie Reviews

April 2, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020, theaters)

I had no expectations this could be good. The first trailer was so bad it got sent back to the lab for a full reconfiguration of Sonic’s look. I’ll say this much, Sonic looks a hell of a lot better now. But the trailers leading up to the movie’s release made it look unwatchable.

And then something weird happened: the critics didn’t crucify it. Even now, Sonic the Hedgehog is sitting at a very kind 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. I get that it’s a pretty binary rating system, but over half of all critics gave this movie a favorable review?!

I wasn’t expecting that.

I guess it’s somewhat better than I was anticipating but I can’t, in good faith, say this was a good movie. I’m not even sure it was enjoyable. Of course, making a good live action Sonic movie was a colossal task and it goes about as you’d expect.

I don’t think Jim Carrey does it for me anymore. Maybe I would have loved this movie and his performance if I was ten, but I’ve grown out of whatever this schtick is. He’s doing his Ace Ventura/Riddler overacting bit and while it can be funny at times (he had a great line about being an orphan), it’s mostly just exhausting.

Has there ever been a more ridiculous antagonist than the main character’s sister-in-law? I mean… she LOATHED this man and as far as the audience is concerned he’s a solid dude with a good heart that treats his wife with respect and worked two extra jobs so she could go to school… and this woman just despises him… because why? For laughs? Ugh.

This was better than I thought it’d be but that’s not saying much. Just add Sonic the Hedgehog to a long list of video game adaptations that aren’t good. It’s probably a fine family movie, but I wouldn’t recommend seeing it by yourself if you’re a 37yo man.

4/10 (Blah)

Miss Americana (2020, Netflix)

A somewhat interesting look into the pressures of being one of the most famous singers of our time. I don’t dislike Taylor Swift, but I’m also not really into her music, so my interest level here wasn’t too high and this documentary didn’t really increase my appreciation of her work. You know who I do love as an artist? Kanye West. You know who I don’t love as a person? Kanye West. I hate how he interrupted her speech. Dude is a clown, but goodness does he make some amazing music. Wait, who was this about again?

Just kidding. Worth a watch, even if you’re not a big fan, but i’m sure megafans will go bonkers for Miss Americana.

6/10 (Enjoyable)

Lost Girls (2020, Netflix)

This was fine, but I’ve already forgotten almost everything about it. I couldn’t help but feel like Amy Ryan already went down this road in the far superior Gone Baby Gone.

5/10 (Decent)

Honey Boy (2019, Amazon Prime)

A largely biographical film written by Shia LaBeouf when he was in rehab in which he plays his own father and gives what is probably the best performance of his career. Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe are also both good in this.

I liked Honey Boy but I remember thinking the ending was a bit abrupt and the story skips completely over Shia’s teenage years and I would have liked to see what his life was like during that time also.

6/10 (Enjoyable)

Ash is Purest White (2018, Amazon Prime)

It took a bit for this movie to pull me in, but when it did, I was thoroughly entranced. It starts off looking like a film about organized crime in a poor Chinese community. We are introduced to Bin (Liao Fan), who seems to be some sort of mob-type capo, and his girlfriend Qiao (Tao Zhao), as they go about town acting like they run shit in between gambling and dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA” – you know, standard mafioso stuff.

What’s really happening though is the film developing Qiao’s ride-or-die relationship for her man and when an altercation leads to the police discovering Bin’s illegal firearm, Qiao has to decide if she’s going to take the fall and do the time herself or say it was his gun.

Shes does the time. All five years of it.

And that’s when we get into the meat of this picture. The rest of the movie focuses on her journey to reconnect with Bin after making the ultimate sacrifice for him.

Tao Zhao absolutely carries this movie. She gives an incredible performance that naturally received basically zero notice from American awards. However, she did get some wins in Asia and won Best Actress at the Chicago International Film Festival. Her performance alone makes this movie worth watching.

I feel like the relationship between Bin and Qiao could have been more developed in the early stages of the film. We see loyalty, sure, but there’s no passion and little physical love between them. This lack of connection somewhat weakens the epic storyline to follow.

Regardless, I really enjoyed this movie and give it a strong recommendation.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

I, Tonya (2017, Hulu, second viewing)

Not quite the Must See film I thought it was the first time I saw it, but still very good.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Swiss Army Man (2016, Netflix)

I remember thinking the trailer for this looked super interesting and then it sat on my watchlist forever and I could just never pull the trigger on it even though it’s been streaming on Netflix for what seems like years now.

I finally got around to it and it was as weird as it looks and, honestly, my feelings were pretty mixed on it. The trailer makes this look like a fun and silly movie, but it’s actually pretty depressing and I didn’t find it particularly enjoyable. Perhaps this is merely a consequence of misguided expectations, but when you’re in the mood for a light comedy and you get this instead, well, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Daniel Radcliffe was my favorite part of the movie. He’s rather brilliant in what has to be one of the strangest roles I’ve ever seen.

I should probably give this another shot now that I have a better idea about its tone, but I can’t see myself getting around to that any time soon.

5/10 (Decent)

Young Adult (2011, Netflix)

This review may contain spoilers.

I guess I enjoyed my viewing of Young Adult, but I’m honestly not sure if the good outweighed the bad. The good are the performances from Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt… and to a lesser degree, Patrick Wilson. The bad… well, I can’t really discuss that too much without somewhat spoiling things, so beware.

Theron plays a depressed divorcee in her mid-30s that returns to her hometown to steal her old high school boyfriend (Wilson) away from his current wife after she gets an email announcing that he’s having a baby. While Theron is excellent, the character she plays never has any redeeming qualities and never develops any either. She goes on this midlife crisis adventure and comes out of it… pretty much the same person she was beforehand. It makes you wonder what the point of it all is? To show us that some people never grow up? I guess, but if that’s supposed to leave me feeling satisfied, well, it did not. And while some great films have depressing endings, they usually wow in multiple other ways. For instance, I doubt anyone felt good about things at the end of Requiem For A Dream, but Darren Aronofsky put on a masterclass in filmmaking and his soul-crushing film is an all-time classic in my book.

Young Adult? Not so much. For a movie that’s loosely labelled as a comedy, it’s not particularly funny. Theron is generally great in everything and that trend continued in this movie and Patton Oswalt surprised me here. I found Young Adult mildly amusing while watching it, but this is one that I’ll probably sour on the more I think about it.

5/10 (Decent)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Netflix, third viewing)

This has to be one of the worst movies I’ve seen more than twice as an adult. Why do I do this to myself? It’s not much of a secret that I have a soft spot for horror movies – particularly the ones starring genre icons like Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers – but I don’t even like this movie. It is truly trash. There’s just not a single thing about this film that feels like a Freddy Krueger movie. I know they went for a more realistic burn victim look here, but I absolutely hate it. Freddy looks terrible and if Freddy looks terrible, you’re already drawing dead on making a watchable A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. I just put this on as I was going to sleep and watched it over the course of six nights or so.

2/10 (Horrible)

Bringing Out The Dead (1999, Amazon Prime)

Geez. I just didn’t like anything about it. Like, during its two hour run time, the only time I thought I’m enjoying this was the scene with the drug dealer/pimp “stuck” on the balcony. That was a cool sequence. The rest of the movie? Not so much. A struggle.

I’ve been reading reviews trying to figure out why these is rated so high and plenty are claiming it’s one of Scorsese’s most underrated films. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m proving that point right now.

We are given a glimpse into the life of an overworked and burnt out paramedic in New York City during the early 90s. It’s bleak. Our “hero” is worn down by the hours and the emotional tax of the job. He’s seen too many people die and now he can’t stop seeing their ghosts all over the city. He’s ready to walk out, but no matter how many times he shows up late or flips an ambulance on its back while drinking with his partner, the department is understaffed and the demand for emergency medical staff is high. This movie is basically a journey with this man as he reaches his breaking point on a job that never lets up.

I didn’t particularly like any of the performances in the movie, but Nic Cage does get to say a couple funny lines (“they are saying ‘kill Marcus!’”).

This is the second movie I’ve seen since I started my Scorsese Challenge, but 13th overall, and I am ranking it 13th for now. It has been a while since I’ve seen The Aviator, but that’s the only other Scorsese film I’ve seen that I’m pretty sure I didn’t like.

4/10 (Forgettable/Did Not Like)

Hoop Dreams (1994, HBO Now)

“I’ve seen hoop dreams deflate like a true fiend’s weight.” -Jay-Z

When I was going through films on Letterboxd, I actually marked this off as something I’ve seen before. I’m not sure when I realized I had never watched it, but I think after seeing that its running time was around three hours, I knew for sure I never sat through a basketball documentary that was that long. And then I had that Jay-Z lyric stuck in my head for days and figured the only way I could get rid of it was to finally watch what is largely considered one of the greatest sports films of all-time and somehow, due to some magic from the movie gods, it was streaming on HBO Now when I needed it most.

Considering how lauded this film is, I was expecting to see something uplifting with multiple success stories. Hoop Dreams is actually quite the opposite. That Jay lyric is on point and relevant. William Gates dazzles as a freshman and then basically nothing good happens to him. It’s hard to watch. Our other protege, Arthur Ashe, has a happier story, but it’s not exactly cause for celebration either.

But struggle can be riveting also and I guess that’s part of what makes this movie an all-time classic. I can see myself revisiting this again in the near future. At worst, this is a must see sports documentary and if you somehow missed it these last 25 years like I did, put on your list immediately.

8/10 (Must See)

Hook (1991, Netflix, fifth viewing)

Still a fun take on Peter Pan. My wife loved it and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Dustin Hoffman is excellent as Captain Hook. This movie is a bit cheesy, but otherwise I think it holds up pretty well.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Driving Miss Daisy (1989, Netflix)

I’m not sure what I thought this movie was but an epic spanning 20+ years was not it. Driving Miss Daisy is set in Georgia during the 1940s right around the time Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier in baseball and stretches to the late 60s when Martin Luther King Jr. was helping make huge changes in how black folk are treated in America. And during these two decades, we see an affluent white woman (but don’t call her rich) develop a friendship with the black man her son hired to drive her around after she crashes her car backing out of her driveway.

It’s touching and funny enough to get multiple chuckles out of me. Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy was great in an Oscar-winning role – the only movie I’ve ever seen of hers! Morgan Freeman was also good in an Oscar-nominated role as her driver Hoke Colburn. Dan Akroyd was also Oscar-nominated for his role as Miss Daisy’s son and that’s pretty insane because he didn’t do anything special in this movie that I saw.

Driving Miss Daisy won the Best Picture Oscar for 1989 films and while I liked it, I think 1989 would have to be a pretty weak year if this was the best film. Just looking at some other movies that came out in 1989, I liked Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Say Anything, and Batman more. Plus notable films like Do The Right Thing and Dead Poet’s Society also came out in 1989 – films I’m not positive I’ve ever seen.

All this is to say, Driving Miss Daisy is a good but not great film that probably got a little overrated in its time. 30 years later I think most people would point to other movies first when they think about 1989, but Driving Miss Daisy is still worth checking out if you have never seen it.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Robocop (1987, HBO Now, fifth viewing)

Yep. This is a sci-fi and action/adventure classic. For its time, the special effects are unreal. I remember my dad thinking the ED-209 was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. I don’t know how long it has been since I last watched Robocop – it’s been a while – but there are scenes in this movie that I’ll never forget. The absolutely brutal murder of Murphy. The ED-209 blowing away that corporate dude in front of the whole board. The toxic waste scene. Robocop is so good that even after seeing it many times over the last 3+ decades, I could’ve watched it again immediately after this rewatch and would have been happy to do so.

10/10 (Classic)

Sleepaway Camp (1983, Amazon Prime)

A horror genre cult classic that I somehow never watched? Probably because it always looked like a cheap Friday the 13th knockoff. I mean… the first sequel had a Freddy glove and Jason mask on the cover, for crying out loud. But when this movie came out there had only been three Friday the 13th movies released and only one of them had the hockey-masked Jason we know so well today. But then I was looking at some lists on Letterboxd and Sleepaway Camp was a popular choice for the best slashers of all-time, outranking basically every Jason Vorhees outing, and that made me feel like I was missing out on a must see genre film.

I can definitely see why it’s a cult classic. The kills are hilariously grotesque and often absurd. The acting is mostly laughable, but that was typical of any of these early 80’s slasher movies. I knew who the killer in this movie was immediately – despite all the misdirection – but even so, I was still surprised and shocked by the ending. For those of you that have seen and remember Sleepaway Camp, think about this: Felissa Rose, the star of this movie, was 12 or 13 when it was filmed. That’s just insane. Usually the kids in these movies playing teenagers are in their mid-20s. The last scene in this movie is something special, that’s for sure.

This is probably a must watch for genre fans, but I won’t pretend like it’s actually a good movie. If you like early 80’s slashers and missed this one, check it out. I liked it enough that I’d try at least one sequel.

6/10 (Recommended)

Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967, Netflix DVD)

This was Scorsese’s debut feature film, all the way back in 1967. That’s over 50 years ago! And this man is still one of the best filmmakers working today, getting a Best Picture nomination for The Irishman in 2019. Insane.

I had pretty mixed feelings about this movie. This was also Harvey Keitel’s debut film and he’s so young in it that I didn’t always recognize which character he was playing in the earlier parts of the film when he’s hanging out with his friends a bunch. I’m not familiar with any of the other actors and they all kind of blended together at first and things are even harder to follow because the narrative kind of jumps around and doesn’t feel linear. Also, there’s a really bizarre and really long sex scene that seems to come out of nowhere and didn’t make sense to me. It’s clearly some sort of fantasy, but I didn’t understand the purpose of it and it more than overstays its welcome.

What I did love about Who’s That Knocking at My Door was pretty much every interaction between Keitel and Zina Bethune. Their courtship is fun and interesting and they have plenty of chemistry together.

I didn’t know where this movie was going and when the big reveal happens it is rather shocking. Bethune’s character is a rape victim and Keitel’s character has a really difficult time processing this information. Imagine if you will: we live in a time where the “Me Too” movement is as recent as a few years ago. Our culture was still victim-shaming women and bullying them into silence in the 2010s. This movie came out 50 years ago! Keitel’s reaction is rather appalling but I can’t help but wonder what audiences thought of it in the late 1960s. I can see a large portion of the male population sympathizing with him at the time.

Overall, I liked this movie even though some of it was strange to me. I wouldn’t guess that the director was on his way to being an all-timer, but Roger Ebert loved this movie the first time he saw it. This is bottom tier Scorsese for me, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

6/10 (Recommended)

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Train to Busan (2016)

March 22, 2020

Director: Yeon Sang-Ho (Psychokinesis, Seoul Station)

Starring: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi

Anticipation Level: None

How Was It? There are movies I watch by myself and there are movies that I let my wife pick out when we want to watch something together. If you go through my film diary, you can probably guess when this is happening (“Miss Americana,” “Lost Girls”) I have to say… the last thing I expected was for her to pick out a foreign language zombie apocalypse movie that was already on my watchlist, but here we are.

*mind blown*

This was good! Nothing brings a distant father-daughter relationship together like a crisis of flesh-eating monsters! This could have been standard zombie fare, but we get plenty of fully realized and interesting characters, strong performances, and cool visual effects.

Strong recommendation.

Replay Value: It’s worth watching more than once, but I doubt that will happen for many years.

Sequel Potential: Sure, but hasn’t happened yet.

Oscar Potential: None.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019?)

March 18, 2020

Director: Celine Sciamma (Girlhood, Tomboy)

Starring: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel

Anticipation Level: High

How Was It? This might end up being an all time great love story. I’m not going to lie, the first 45-60 minutes I was thinking this movie was good, but not great – it is definitely a very slow burn – but the payoff is tremendous and the second half was explosive and phenomenal. The film has really stuck to me. I’ve thought about it a lot in the 24 hours since I’ve seen it.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a movie that manages to convey intense emotions without the use of a traditional score. In fact, music is only used twice in the whole film and when that happens it is people in the story creating it, not a film composer. It’s an interesting and effective tactic, as film scores are often used to dictate emotional response from audience. Here, everything is organic. Real. True.

I asked both my friends I saw the movie with which actress gave the best performance and we all unanimously voted for Adele Haenel, the gal that plays Heloise, the bride-to-be that is being painted and married off to some unseen rich Italian man. I asked the question because when subtitles are being read, it’s harder to pick up on the nuances of the acting on screen. But Haenel is so commanding, my “trick” question was met with swift and confident replies that aligned with my own opinion.

This movie is full of poetry and art. I’m positive it will take multiple viewings to appreciate to its full extent and it’s definitely a film I will be happy to revisit in the near future. With all due respect to Call Me By Your Name, I think this is the best film about passionate love in the last 5+ years. An absolute must see that pleasantly lingers hours after seeing it and might morph into a classic over time.

Marriage Story is an absolute must see movie with some knockout performances. It’s currently among my top 3 movies of the year and definitely has a chance to win the Best Picture Oscar. Check it out on Netflix streaming right now.

Replay Value: I was going to see it again last week, but, uhhh… the world is a different place right now.

Sequel Potential: None.

Oscar Potential: I’m confused. This movie was nominated for a Foreign Language Golden Globe but got zero attention from the Oscars. I just can’t believe this didn’t at least get a Best International Feature Film nomination and I have to wonder if it was somehow not considered a 2019 release by the Academy. That’s the only explanation I have.

9/10 (Sensational)

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January 2020 Movie Reviews

January 28, 2020

Parasite (2019, theaters) *second watch – I had to watch this one twice before I wrote about it just to be sure that it was as truly great as I thought it was the first time. It’s official now: Parasite is my favorite movie of 2019 and it’s unlikely that anything I haven’t seen yet will top it at this point. The film is just pure brilliance: it’s gripping, funny, surprising and beautifully filmed, all while acting as a commentary on the divide between social classes, plus the ensemble cast does a great (and mostly overlooked) job. Maybe the cast has been snubbed by American awards because Parasite is a Korean film and American audiences are spending a good deal of the movie reading the subtitles instead of watching the performances. You definitely can’t appreciate an acting performance to its full extent if you don’t understand what they are saying and your attention is elsewhere most of the time. I guess that’s understandable, but still… I thought the cast was great overall and, even without knowing the language, I could see that Kang-ho Song (poor dad), Yeo-jeong Jo (rich wife), So-dam Park (poor daughter), and Jeong-eun Lee (housekeeper) all gave standout performances. I think Parasite deserves the Best Picture Oscar (but I think 1917 is probably the favorite) and the Oscar for Best Screenplay should be a lock as anything else winning would be laughable. Parasite is the best movie of the year and possibly the only truly sensational film to come out of 2019.

9/10 (Sensational)

1917 (2019, theaters) – This movie is a technical marvel. It’s a war picture that’s presented to look like everything was filmed in one shot (it wasn’t). I think it’s a cool concept and while I could spot certain times where they probably made a cut (i.e. the actors disappear behind a solid object so there are no moving parts on screen), I think they sold it really well and I would imagine some of these sequences still had to be extraordinarily long and that’s pretty damn impressive, both from a filming aspect and the ability of the actors to carry out the scenes convincingly. The set designs in this film are unreal and I would imagine 1917 has a really good shot at the Production Design Oscar. The story follows two soldiers sent to the front lines to deliver a message to stop their attack, or something of that nature. The character development in this isn’t a strength but I didn’t mind. I may not have been emotionally invested in the story, but I was definitely blown away by how it was presented. I could see people that don’t appreciate the technical aspects of films thinking that 1917 is pretty meh, but I loved it and I think it firmly lands in my top 5 of the year.

8/10 (Must See)

Uncut Gems (2019, theaters) – This one has polarized audiences – people either seem to love it or absolutely loathe it. I was in the former camp, as I was entertained the whole movie and thought it was borderline hilarious, but not in the in-your-face kind of way an Adam Sandler comedy usually is. Uncut Gems is much more subtle with the humor, possibly because a lot of the funniest parts are also a bit horrifying. I’ve heard this movie described as a two hour panic attack and that’s not a bad description. The movie opens with Sandler’s character getting a colonoscopy and that’s by far the most relaxing moment he has in the entire movie. After that point, he’s nonstop on the go and the tension basically never lets up. This movie is about a foul-mouthed (Uncut Gems has the 7th most “F-words” in cinematic history) NYC Diamond District jewelry peddler that bets big on sports and spends his life looking for ways to stay in action while dodging the loan sharks he owes. It’s grimy. It’s unsettling. It’s definitely disturbing. But I liked it a lot and Adam Sandler is great in it. I’m not sure he got snubbed for an Oscar nom, but I wouldn’t have found it alarming to see him get a nod. I’m hesitant to recommend Uncut Gems because so many people disliked it, but if we have similar taste, you might find yourself enjoying this just as much as I did.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019, rental) *second watch – My first review for this movie wasn’t that favorable but a second viewing made a huge difference. Maybe it’s all about expectations? I’ve gone from wondering what the heck I just watched to loving this film. Previously, I thought the plot meandered along with no meaningful connection between the multiple storylines and the climax rubbed me the wrong way (and maybe it still does) but now I can’t help but appreciate the sheer brilliance of everything that’s happening on the screen – from the unreal performances from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, to the ridiculously detailed old school Hollywood set designs, to the music, to the wonderful cinematography. Also, there are multiples sequences in this movie that will probably wind up being iconic. I still think the ending of this movie is weird and probably disrespectful, but… it’s also kind of cool? Same with the Bruce Lee scene. Disrespectful? Yeah, probably. Hilarious and awesome? Uh… yes. I can’t think of too many movies that have grown on me this much with a second watch, but this is now one of my favorite films of the year.

8/10 (Must See)

Little Women (2019, theaters) – I’ve never read the classic novel or seen any of the previous film versions of this story, so I have nothing to compare it to and that might be a good thing. I was excited to see Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to her excellent Lady Bird and the cast looked unreal. Unsurprisingly, the cast absolutely delivers. Saoirse Ronan is arguably the best actress under thirty and earned her fourth Oscar nomination in the last twelve years and it is well deserved. Pretty impressive for someone that hasn’t had their 26th birthday yet. Florence Pugh completed a trifecta of great performances in 2019 (the others being Fighting With My Family and Midsommar) and capped off her amazing year by getting an Oscar nod for this movie. I’m not even sure it’s even her second best performance of the year, but I’m definitely happy to see her get nominated… she deserves it. Maybe not for this role… but something. All of them? I was enjoying Little Women for most of the run time, but the last act really brought everything together wonderfully and kicked my rating up a tick. It’s a fun film about people that only cements Gerwig’s status as a top notch film director. I give it a strong recommendation, but it’s definitely not a bro movie.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Judy (2019, rental) – I did not enjoy Judy, but I do give credit to Renee Zellweger for her great performance and it’s definitely the highlight of the movie. I’ve enjoyed plenty of depressing films – and Judy Garland’s last few years on earth are definitely sad – but I just didn’t get into this one. It’s possible I just wasn’t paying enough attention, as I was multitasking while watching it. Zellweger is wonderfully unrecognizable and dives deep into character, convincingly selling herself as an old time celebrity trying to recapture the limelight while battling addiction and alcoholism and struggling to hold her family together. And she also bets out some impressive songs. I loved Zellweger’s performance. I did not love the movie.

5/10 (Decent)

I Lost My Body (2019, Netflix) – Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar, this is a weird, but cool little film that finds a severed hand escaping from a laboratory to reconnect with its body. This was definitely an enjoyable movie with some pretty awesome animation and a quirky story. I accidentally watched the English dubbed version of this and the subtitles often didn’t match up with what was being said and that was kind of aggravating. I didn’t realize this is actually a French film, so if any of you choose to watch this on Netflix, I would recommend setting the audio to French and using English subtitles – the way it is meant to be watched. After Missing Link won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, I have no clue what to expect from the Oscars in this category, but I’d be pretty surprised to see this edge out Toy Story 4.

6/10 (Recommended)

The Mustang (2019, rental) – A long imprisoned man that can’t connect in any meaningful way with people, including his daughter, forms an unlikely bond with a stubborn wild mustang when he enters a rehabilitation program while doing outside maintenance at the jail. It’s a touching and sad film with solid performances from Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruce Dern. I give it a solid recommendation.

6/10 (Recommended)

21 (2008, Netflix) *second watch – It’s been over a decade since I watched this movie, long enough that I have mostly forgotten everything that happened in the Ben Mezrich book it’s adapted from. I really liked the book and thought the movie did a poor job of bringing the story to screen, either because they left stuff out or changed too much. I just know I didn’t like the movie because I didn’t think it did the book justice. But I don’t remember the differences between the two mediums now so I’m judging this second watch just based on the merits of the movie alone. I guess it’s a good sign that my friends started the movie and I didn’t leave the room or turn it off after they went to bed. That’s something. But it’s also pretty stupid. The concept is cool: a group of MIT students and their professor develop a card-counting system designed to avoid detection and take Las Vegas for heaps of dollars.

5/10 (Decent)

Yes Man (2008, Netflix) – A decent Jim Carrey movie that’s pretty similar to Liar, Liar in concept but not as funny. It was moderately entertaining while I was watching it, but it didn’t stick with me at all and was basically instantly forgettable.

4/10 (Forgettable)

Oscar nominated movies I haven’t seen yet: Jojo Rabbit, The Two Popes, Ford vs Ferrari, Pain and Glory, Bombshell, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Richard Jewell, Harriet, Honeyland, Missing Link