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1. Return of the Jedi 2-3. Back to the Future Parts II and III 4. Batman (1989) 5-7. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
12-14-20: My choices of 'Shrek', 'The Dark Knight' and 'The Hurt Locker' are now in the registery.
If I don't have a grade for a certain show, it's because I don't remember them well enough.
OLDER MOVIE REVIEW: Attack of the Clones. A better prequel than many say, it is.
Despite the notion that any deliberation around 'Star Wars has the ability to start World War III, I highly doubt that this take will be the most incendiary yet. Thanks to a good friend of mine, I've been sharing a Disney+ account to see some of the hottest content on there that pertains to me. Before I dive into 'The Mandalorian' and eventually the everlong 'Clone Wars' series, I'll be rewatching some of the feature films to cement my ranking of the 'Skywalker Saga' (my top 4 and bottom 2-3 are rigged in place). So why not start off with a bang and say that I've come back around to reliking 'Attack of the Clones'? Although 'Revenge of the Sith' and to some extent the whole prequel trilogy hold a place of nostalgia for many, the only one that I believe touches the sky is of course, 'Revenge of the Sith'. 'The Phantom Menace', while not awful, remains a tedious watch due to its slog handling of the political storylines, a bulk of its plot being an uninteresting slow burn that merely provides some building blocks for the future episodes. 'Episode II' thankfully provides a lot of payoff as its own contained chapter before 'Episode III', and it's far more engaging and interesting despite being clumsy at times.
I've always loved the idea of the franchise utilizing different genres (including a 'Star Wars' Horror novel that I need to read), and George Lucas's plot here channels many elements of Noir and the 'James Bond' canon- Obi-Wan's investigation into Senator Amidala's assassin, Jango Fett, evocates 'Dr. No' plus of course there's 007 Hall of Fame champion Christopher Lee in the role of Count Dooku. There's also Coruscant that resembles portions of 'Blade Runner's' Los Angeles, and the stunning world of Kamino with its black, rainy atmosphere. It's effectively used as a backdrop for us seeing the assembly of the clone army which would soon become a vital key to the downfall of the Jedi. There's a low-key tension filled scene as Obi-Wan questions Jango Fett in his and his son's small quarters about his involvement in the clone army that's also interesting to see. Ironically enough, Jango is given more to do and charisma than his more renowned son had in either 'Episodes V' nor 'IV'- oops. Temuera Morrison gives a subtle performance that has also aided him in getting to portray Boba in 'The Mandalorian'.
Ewan McGregor has often been cited as one of the best parts of the prequels, and he's as good as ever here in and in 'Episode III'. He greatly displays sharp wisdom, and a vulnerability like when he's trying to get Anakin to control his feelings after Padme is nearly killed during the climax. To be fair though, him scolding Anakin for accidentally losing his lightsaber is rubbish. Natalie Portman gets to shine more as Padmé than in 'Episode I' despite being shortchanged by some of her dialogue.
As for the elephant in the room- Hayden Christensen, who's been made out to be for this trilogy to 'The Godfather III's' Sofia Coppola: He's out of tune in many parts, unable to convey Anakin's awkward nature into something tangible; but Hayden nonetheless gives a strong effort and shines in certain scenes. One of the emotional highpoints of this picture is the death of Anakin's mother Shmi, it's heartbreaking and excellently timed; plus George was able to restrain and make the dialogue work. Hayden's time as Space Hitler in Training improved a lot in 'Episode III', and he's almost excellent in that as well (the Razzies awarding him Worst Supporting Actor for III was uncalled for and major overkill). There's no way to predict what performance Lucas would've gotten out of the actors considered for Anakin, so Hayden has received a deserved break from certain fans in recent years (although the thought of Paul Walker playing him is pretty exciting). The other performances are either serviceable to solid; like Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz and especially Christopher Lee as Dooku, who makes for a noteworthy adversary.
Lucas's fluctuating writing skills are exposed in certain sequences (though nowhere near as abominable as the almost cult like hatedom for the trilogy has made them out to be)- Anakin's plan to catch Padme's attempted assassin on Coruscant is dense (her resting in a bedroom with loose glass that Obi-Wan jumps through), Anakin being the only one left with Padmé on Naboo free to lollygag in open areas and fields for assassins to drop by. I buy why Padmé returns Anakin's feelings, but their affair on her home planet is awkward and plays like bad fanfiction (his speech to her by the firepit comes out musically, like a rejected Taylor Swift single). To be fair though; if I had to protect Natalie Portman on a far-away planet, my feelings would make me behave irrationally (tee-hee). One unwarranted complaint is over Padme marrying Anakin despite everything that went down- the warning signs of future bad husbands can be overlooked early on, same with Anakin. Plus it's clearly established that the Tusken Raiders who tortured his mother are savages, Padmé empathized with his pain and massacre of the tribe (it might've been more powerful though if he didn't tell her about them). Their relationship works on some level, and no fans- it's not meant to be a flawless showmanship of relationship dynamics.
Overall though; all of the other finely tuned qualities and Lucas's direction here make up for the shortcomings. The notion that there's "overuse of CGI" is exaggerated to some extent, because there's a number of practical effects and sets in all three movies; plus tech wizardry makes absolute sense for this movie's extensive worlds and set pieces. The story makes for a chapter that avoids middle-installment/setup syndrome (while 'Episode I' has prequelitus, which many have been victim to- even 2011's 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes', I'm not sorry). If you already have your mind made up about 'Attack of the Clones' being squalor or even the worst of the entire franchise, there's no need to even read this further. But for others who don't exactly despise it or have transferred their disdain for it over to the sequel trilogy, it'd definitely be worth giving a second chance (enough years have gratefully passed by that most of my memory of the popular but interminable RedLetterMedia's reviews of the prequels have washed away, giving away to more maturity for myself that I can think for myself and post controversial takes).
Grade- 3 out of 4 stars.
I was glad to see this has been ported into the Criterion Collection.
My third best film of 2018 and Paul Dano's directorial debut is a pensive session on the breakdown on the family unit in the 1960s (or what was thought of it). Young star Ed Oxenbould is captivating in his sobering role as Joe Bronson, the son of parents Jeannette and Jerry who are on the brink of meltdown. Between family and Jerry's desire to fight wildfires for the greater good at the salary of $1 an hour, between loyalty and Jeannette's eventual adultery- 'Wildlife' has so much to say about the human condition but refrains from cliche or showing the obvious.
The production team including Diego García go above and beyond in terms of cinematography, composition and editing to engage rather than impress; especially with the lustrous landscape that recalls the likes of 'Red Desert' and 'Brokeback Mountain'. Definitely check this out if you haven't.
Grade- A+. 4 out of 4 stars.
Vince Vaughn carries this freakingly middling Slasher Comedy.
For those who enjoyed Jack Black getting to role-play as a hilariously sassy teenage girl stuck in a man's body in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, you'll get to see the same schtick here in Freaky- Vince Vaughn's soul is swapped with an outcast teenage girl. He's more hilarious than the film has the right to be, but also frightening as the Blissfield Butcher. Kathryn Newton in her two roles also have considerable effect, switching from the typical outcast student girl next door to the hot serial killer next door. Of course it's essentially Freaky Friday the 13th, but it also harkens to Face/Off (of which I now want to see an official Horror equivalent to).
In brass tacs, this is a one-and-done effort built mostly of spare parts and every high school screenplay cliche in the book. Early on in the film, every student and teacher has that Netflix syndrome where they talk 30-60 overly clever words a minute. There's the jagoff jocks that turn into wannabe murderers, snarky mean girls, a stereotypical gay token sidekick. Add in a sibling rivalry (the sister is a police officer which is cool), a dead family member and alcoholic parent that serves some pretense for an arc that weaves in and out; but nothing of major impact comes of it and especially with the somewhat abrupt ending.
Freaky can serve as a nice pitstop for those wanting to visit the theater, but if you're looking for another true quality picture worth the cash and travel- that will have to wait.
Grade- C+. 2.5 out of 4 stars.
The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man- Creeps up on you and stays unlike many of its kind.
Elisabeth Moss, the "Queen of peak TV", has had herself a consistent line of roles in well-received film and on the small screen. Deservedly so, and she continues that for Leigh Whannel's The Invisible Man- An ambitious Psychological Horror that deserves to be ranked among the recent likes of Hereditary, Midsommar and A Quiet Place. Its cinematography, editing and lack of reliance of jump scares are remarkable; Aldis Hodge, Michael Dorman are terrific in terms of cast along with Oliver Jackson-Cohen's antagonist is chillingly real even though he ramps up in science-fiction abilities (or does he?).
Under the guise of being a winter scare-coaster, it's more so a timely testament on the terror of domestic violence and the need for women to be believed and saved in the most dire of circumstances. Elevated Horror has been given a lot of proper due this past half-decade, and I'd be more than happy to see this dignitary installment receive a follow-up of some sort.
Grade- A/3.5 out of 4 stars.
Nolan's new time-travel (but not) thriller is style over substance, but impossible to repel.
There's a ballfield of opinions on director Christopher Nolan, one of the most honored working today and especially for his unapologetic ambitions and unconventional storytelling: Those that think everything up to Inception is the end of the line in terms of quality, those that believe everything up to The Dark Knight Rises is it, those that love everything he does regardless of how good it is, those that only appreciate his individual films or early prospects, those that think he's overrated to terrible, so and so forth. I've been prodigiously impressed by most of his films to date, even his lower efforts Insomnia and Following that are still prestinely made. Tenet falls into the latter category right between those two just mentioned; style over substance, maddening, but you can't take your eyes off of it.
The Protagonist, played by John David Washington of recent Blackkklansman fame, is the mirror of the audience in this journey of preventing a nuclear holocaust and navigating through a wave of international espionage to do so. With the territory comes the fact that his backstory isn't elaborated on as much; he doesn't have time to reflect on his life or past memories, but the mission and his strive to do good keeps us engaged. John's performance is strong for what he has to work with, body-language driven but also witty and shrewdly tuned. He of course doesn't hold a candle to most of Nolan's other heroes- Interstellar's Joseph Coop and by extension his wonderful daughter Murph, Inception's Dom Cobb, Bruce Wayne/Batman and even Leonard Shelby. Robert Pattinson is irresistible as Protagonist's partner Neil, determined as all hell but also funny. Nolan's regular acting confidante Michael Caine has a small but important role, his most notable scene is imbedded with some British humor (contrary to the IndieWire review that labeled this film "humorless"; seriously, would you use that in a criticism of a Scorsese or Malick movie?). Kenneth Branaugh gives it his all as the antagonist Andrei Sator, whose sinister presence and bits of backstory are thankfully given time to shine. Like our hero though, he doesn't shine as much to Nolan's other excellent villains who have much more character, and his motives are somewhat unintelligible. The best performance is Elizabeth Debicki's Kat, who in some ways being the deuteragonist is an emotionally resonant balance to John David Washington. She needs to be rescued at times, but nonetheless has plenty to do and contributes in battling the main threat to the preservation of humanity. Himesh Patel, Dimple Kapadia and Aaron Taylor-Johnson also have notable presences, though nothing too much comes of them except for Aaron's towards the end.
With Nolan breaking his tradition of usual cinematic reference points for this film, instead this plays somewhat like a Christopher Nolan's Greatest Hits Collection, as somewhat suggested by the second theatrical trailer. There's dating back to the timeline breaking mechanics of Memento, good vs evil in an elaborate and constantly shifting world like in The Dark Knight Trilogy (and another terrifically staged plane crash sequence to add), and of course Inception. This is visually astonishing and dense; if repeat viewings become your gig with this, then I bet there will be many things to gaze at in the time inversion sequences. It makes for some breathtaking action and fighting set-pieces, the sound design adds to how hard the punches are felt and the practicality; including an astonishing battlefield sequence. The score by Ludwig Goransson continues Nolan's usual streak with his composers, (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Interstellar being the best for my money).
If you thought that some of his other films like Inception were too complicated, then you'll probably not enjoy this, which makes everything else that came before for Nolan seem like a day at the office. I don't know yet how it will shape in his filmography, but this is by far one that's probably the hardest to grasp. I never had an issue understanding his films nor their sound, even with the enhancements from IMAX technology, but Tenet is the exception to that because a good amount of the dialogue and scenes were hard to follow with the pouncing score and sound design. I hope that he'll improve on this in his next project if he decides to continue this hail mary experiment.
Given the current state of the theater business and how much our culture is shifting, a good getaway to the movies is just what many have been wishing for. Tenet might not be the one we deserve, but the one that's needed. Perplexing and worthy of his slate despite being a lesser outing.
Grade- B/3 out of 4 stars.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
OLDER MOVIE REVIEW- This Film is Not Yet Rated is still a compelling documentation on the MPAA.
Though released in 2005 during the height of the Michael Moore documentary era, This Film is Not Yet Rated still strikes a chord for being a funny and chilling expose on the Motion Picture Association of America and their unbalanced ratings system. Their bias for LGTB sexuality and female pleasure earning many films an NC-17 vs the most violent of action pictures earning PG-13 or R remains a fact to this day. Some concellations have been made in the 2010's for more leniency towards LGTB films like Love, Simon earning a PG-13, and Blue Valentine being appealed for an R despite a graphic sex scene; many things discussed in this film are still crucial and entertaining as seen today.
Superman Returns (2006)
The best Superman adventure brought to the silver screen.
Having been a lifelong fan of certain superheroes from DC and Marvel, my history started with various Batman related cartoons and Tim Burton's 1989 film, which was responsible for catapulting the caped crusader into the mainstream on his 50th anniversary. Sadly though Burton's films and some of the recent DCEU ventures have left me cold over time, especially with the endless controversies, etc. Certain films have not though, including two that I have defended to the tooth- The Dark Knight Rises, the last installment of Christopher Nolan's Trilogy that garnered backlash mostly within the fan community (which was for lack of a better word unearned), and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns- the spiritual successor to Richard Donner's beloved first two films that despite receiving positive reviews from critics (including the future endorsement of one Quentin Tarantino) and even being ranked at 496 on Empire's then "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list, was savaged by the fanbase including less than stellar statements from geek idol Kevin Smith (not always to be trusted in my opinion). I loved this film from a few years after its release, and having recently rewatched it we're here to ask the question- Does it deserve the hate? A colossal no.
Somewhat like what George Miller would do with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, Returns incorporates elements of Donner's first two films into its backstory and a somewhat anachronistic but contemporary setting. It's an equivalent to a What-If story- What if Superman was a nomad? He comes back to an Earth that has moved on without him, especially Metropolis. Martha Kent has thankfully survived long enough to witness his return, he gets his job back at The Daily Planet and returns in the cape in the nick of time to save a crashing airplane. Matters start to turn better but they can't save Superman's feelings of isolation from humanity and his former love Lois Lane. We're given a heart wrenching tale of Clark Kent struggling to find the balance between his desire for a sense of belonging while protecting the world from itself and of course his nemesis Lex Luthor.
Aside from Superman's heroics and tying in with Luthor's plan to create a new continental monopoly, the emotional character arcs take center stage including Clark Kent/Superman's relationship with Lois Lane. Lois grows to eventually not hate Superman anymore after him taking back his place in the world and trying to own up to his mistakes, and it's played with a sincerity that dumbfounded viewers who weren't used to seeing such a change in the status quo. I love the dynamic that he builds with Mrs. Lane, her fiance Richard White and Jason, who's discovered to be Clark's biological son. Richard's love for Lois and Jason plus kindness to Clark, then eventually Superman saving them from Lex Luthor's sinking yacht and them working together in the climax redeem himself in the eyes of Lois, especially after he almost loses his life to an island embedded with kryptonite. They become somewhat like a ragtag family, which is visually demonstrated by Jason's drawing of Superman flying with the three of them towards the end of the picture. The scenes with them including those at The Daily Planet with them are played with such a warmth that makes you forget that you're watching a comic book film.
All of the characters are given a purpose and are played terrifically well. Before Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and two major hero roles on The CW; Brandon Routh was an unknown TV actor who after attempts to win the role won over Bryan Singer with his impressive audition that evoked former Superman actor Christopher Reeve, in addition to his humble Midwestern roots and all that good stuff. He more than excels in the role; being able to pull off quiet, brooding, vulnerable but with the sense of genuinity and warmth that you'd expect the Man of Steel to have (that became lost with the character in the recent DCEU in favor of almost all mad and cold). Superman performs a number of heroic feats with precision and shows his love for the common people, one of my favorites is when he uses his super-breath to blow out a burning house before smiling and waving to a cameraman. Kate Bosworth, though glaringly youthful, pulls off an inspired take on Lois Lane; drawing influence from Katharine Hepburn and Julia Roberts's portrayal of Erin Brockovich. Also on Superman's group of allies include James Marsden as Richard White, Frank langella as Perry White, Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent and Sam Huntington's Jimmy Olsen are also played wonderfully. Kevin Spacey strikes a balance between the old fashioned Lex Luthor while being more striking and calculating. I also loved Parker Posey's Kitty Kowalski, Lex's disillusioned girlfriend who plays like a character out of a 50's gangster movie, but also melancholy and tender.
The film is visually stunning and the action is riveting, being used in a more quality over quantity way; contrary to the past complaints of film fans or in the words of former Warner Bros. President Alan F. Horn, who claimed that Superman Returns "should have done $500 million worldwide. We should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd.". Nope to that. Also overlooked is John Ottman's soundtrack which aside from reinforcing John Williams' timeless orchestras also packs a wallop of its own. There's an enchanting melancholy score played in scenes like Clark and Lois's flight together, giving it the feel of a fairy tale. It also shines through on Superman regaining his power from the sun during the climax; one of the most inspirational moments in the genre, definitely up there with the heroes truly assembling in Avengers: Endgame and Bruce's escape from The Pit in The Dark Knight Rises.
Superman Returns still continues to inspire me as a lover of the title hero, and my appreciation for it just grows on each viewing. It's the best Superman adventure that's made to the silver screen yet.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
One of the best coming-of age films ever made.
Truly great films about youth, and especially high school, are a commodity. It's rare that I'm deeply impressed by one nowadays ("Lady Bird" and "Eighth Grade" being notable exceptions for the 2010's), so I decided to go back to Generation Z's favorite decade and finally see "The Breakfast Club" for myself. What a truly remarkable time capsule this is.
Hilarious and deeply moving, but also naturally acted and plotted without giving into overbearing sentimentality or too many of the silly trappings of the genre. For my money my viewing of this was definitely the opposite of the saying "Don't believe the hype."
Move over The CW, this is the TV adaptation that DC Comics deserves.
There was an argument to be made that Alan Moore's beloved graphic novel (both in type and literal graphic violence) "Watchmen" should've been adapted into a TV series. Although I admire Zack Snyder's more straightforward adaptation of it back in 2009, writer Damon Lindeolf (Lost, Prometheus, The Leftovers) takes a different approach with the true TV adaptation.
This is a sequel in the vein of "Blade Runner 2049" with some dashes of "Twin Peaks", very much it's own story but building up to something more encompassing for what came before (the Oklahoma setting adds on a ton of atmosphere as well, and breaks away from the typical New York setting in many TV dramas).
Regina King delivers one of her potential career bests as crimefighter Angela Abar. Alongside her are a slew of striking performances from Tim Blake Nelson as Looking Glass, a sophisticated southern crimefighter, plus Louis Gosset Jr., Jean Smart and Jeremy Irons as new and old characters. There are plenty of throwbacks and easter eggs for DC fans to munch on as well. The themes are fascinating to watch unfold as they tie in with the novel and are culturally relevant today.
Some hurdles are present in the later episodes; the pacing can drag at times and CGI in certain scenes is hokey and lacks grittiness (especially compared to the 2009 film). These are smaller issues though in contrast to everything else on display that helps to follow up an almost impossible legacy to satisfy. As this will most likely be a one season and done deal, this is as good as it might get.
Escape from New York (1981)
An 80's cult classic in the action genre?
I'm going to break away from my usual style of reviewing for this film, because I've been feeling the urge to get my thoughts out.
I watched this for the first time on Netflix when I was 11 years old, and I absolutely adored it. I watched it again a few years ago and my stance on it changed (which is still my opinion today). What is the appeal of this? It has a neat concept, Kurt Russel is chilling as Snake Plisken (who served as one of the inspirations for Solid Snake, my favorite video game protagonist) and it has a subtle and dark atmosphere.
This film falls short however in being a compelling action film, the opening scenes are slow but not in an interesting way, there's not much in the way of riveting action (even by 80's standards) and the characters are hollow (aside from Snake). My opinion could change, but as of this review it's a flat and boring film that's protected by 80's nostalgia (similar to "Top Gun").
Not as bad as I was expecting for a maligned threequel.
I was originally hesitant to view director David Finchers' "Alien 3" due to varying opinions, a rotten consensus on film critic website Rotten Tomatoes and it being common knowledge the deaths of Hicks and Newt, beloved supporting characters from its' predecessor "Aliens". Having recently watched "Aliens", I sat down and decided to give this threequel a chance.
The first five to ten minutes are haunting and are assisted by a score from Elliot Goldenthal, though this sequence is contrived by a gaping plot hole for this scene which also hurts the ending of "Aliens" (did Ripley check the Sulaco ship for an alien egg?). I'm not usually one to gripe about plot holes, as usually the internal logic of a film or reasonable explanations can prove otherwise; but this was unexplainable.
Once we get past that, this is an overall decent film. The prison planet of Fiorina "Fury" 161 is creative and and lends a gothic atmosphere, unique to the universe of Alien. There are some great moments including a sad but well-crafted funeral scene for Hicks and Newt, some likable characters such as prison doctor Jonathan Clemens, spiritual leader Leonard Dillion (some of his ethics are questionable at best) and Robert Morse who serves Ripley in the climax. Some of the other prisoners are unlikable, but they work in feeding into the moral ambiguity and bleak atmosphere (that would be further capitalized on David's later work to great results). Some of the kills in this film are good but nothing too special, two on par with "Alien".
The creativity and second half of the film dries up and feels familiar with the original. The ending does however pack a wallop in Ripley's sacrifice to prevent the impending birth of the new Alien Queen, and it nicely ties in with Weyland Yutani being the corporate shadow villain of the first two films.
Having subdued expectations for this installment helped with my viewing experience, and I admire David Fincher for pulling through what could've been an even worse film (especially given the studio meddling and butting heads throughout production). "Alien 3" is what I feel is the "Batman v Superman" of the series, neither the atrocity nor underrated gem that it's been claimed to be by many. You can take it or leave it.
The Highwaymen (2019)
A nice companion piece to retellings of the legendary outlaws.
I got the chance to finally watch "The Highwaymen", and what a terrific film this was. This was about the former Texas Rangers who hunted down the legendary outlaw couple Bonnie and Clyde. The lead performances from Kevin Costner and Woody Harrleson were brilliant, the story is riveting (it's a bit of a slow burn so to be clear) and there's definitely an old fashioned feel that's aided by direction from John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks).
The writers do the commendable act of stripping away the romanticism around Bonnie and Clyde; showing the impressionable love for them by hundreds of young people from that era and contrast it with the horrific killings left by them in their path.
The film gets redundant at times and a bit too long, but I was engaged from start to finish. Definitely give this a watch.
I Am Not Okay with This (2020)
A surprising new teen show from Netflix's catologue.
Netflix's new series "I Am Not Okay with This", also based on the graphic novel of the same name, is an eventually frustrating yet devilishly good time. It has the feel of a 90's high school movie, and cut from similar cloth as "Carrie", "Donnie Darko" and "The Edge of Seventeen".
Rising star Sophia Lillis is Sydney Novak, an outcast high schooler dealing with emerging supernatural powers, grief over her dead father, her troubled home life and a budding is it romance or not friendship with neighborhood stoner Stanley Barber (played by Sophia's "It" co-star Wyatt Oleff). The performances of Sophia and Wyatt are emotionally resonant and charming.
The rest of the performances are also solid (including one by Kathleen Rose Perkins as Sydney's mother). There are several twists and turns that are nice to see unfold when unraveling Sydney's backstory, and it keeps you engaged. The soundtrack is also reminiscent of other indie shows/films, with nice inclusions of Roxy Music and Pixies. For me the only band missing was Stone Temple Pilots.
The final few episodes though lend itself to becoming predictable with obvious riffs from the high school movie playbook; including an obvious douchebag jock villain that I became tired of seeing in movies long ago (unless done in an interesting manner).
I kept my expectations lower given my distaste for certain teen movies/shows that've been seen in the past decade (*cough, 13 Reasons Why*), but I was pleasentley surprised by this first season. Without spoilers the season finale climax, while nothing to write home about, creates a nice segway for season 2 which I'll definitely tune in for.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
A fun family film that could've been a whole lot worse.
In some ways; "Sonic the Hedgehog" aka "ADHD the movie", appears to be one of those standard family films that would've came out in the 2000's; except that now in 2020 it has better production values and a bright, harmless script to save from what could've been a disasterous video game adaptation.
Ben Schwartz excellently lends his voice to the loveable Sega console icon Sonic. Joining him is everyman actor James Marsden, in a fun spot as the speed trap sheriff who assists him in his journey in escaping the diabolical Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey in a joyous return to form for his 90's/2000's roots.
The story is formulaic and not all of the jokes land; but nevertheless enjoyable in the right ways, this could potentially be a sign for strong video game based movies in the future.
A new and serviceable installment in the DCEU.
In light of recent improvements to DC's critically mixed Cinematic Universe (ie. "Wonder Woman", "Shazam!"), we are treated to a solo adventure featuring beloved supervillain (and 2016 cosplay icon) Harley Quinn along with a bundle of kick-ass female crusaders in "Birds of Prey".
I'm happy to say this is leaps above "Suicide Squad", and there's definitely good stuff to be had here. The action and combat scenes (especially one taking place in a police station) are rousing; and the acting highlights include Mary-Elizabeth Winstead as the crossbow killer, no I meant Huntress, and of course Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, one of the most spot-on incarnations of the character.
Ewan McGregor chews up the scenery as the villain Roman Sionis, but goes all in and makes for an entertaining baddie. He almost reminded me at times of Tommy Lee Jones's Two-Face from "Batman Forever", but not in a bad way.
While entertaining, the story is shortchanged by its' convoluted first hour (which might improve upon a second viewing) and mostly simplistic themes. Overall, if you're in the mood for R-rated action/popcorn fun this month of February; you might like it.
Bad Boys for Life (2020)
One last time? Probably not, but an entertaining one.
The Bad Boys franchise, with two prior installments in 1995 and 2003, has surprisingly aged well given its' mainstream fanbase despite middling reviews from critics. "Bad Boys for Life" brings back our favorite detectives, Marcus and Mike, in a surprising third installment with admirable production values.
It's the darkest film of the series yet which helps to make the stakes feel as real as they can be for a Bad Boys installment, though it makes for an uneven tone. There are early scenes with the main antagonists that can be redundant, and the movie will obviously require some suspension of disbelief. This is all balanced out with gritty and entertaining action sequences. The chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence doesn't miss a beat, and the new cast members (especially the AMMO team, new allies for Marcus and Mike) are also fun to watch.
Major movie releases in the winter have been known a lot to be average or bad at best, but for me and others "Bad Boys for Life" was a surprisingly fun time to start out 2020.
The Irishman (2019)
Martin Scorsese closes out the decade on a high note.
Given Martin Scorseses' undeniable footprints in the gangster genre among others; it's a no-brainer he'd take on adapting the non-fiction (supposedly) book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt, about mafia hitman Frank Sheeran and the crimes he committed for the Bufalino crime family, also tying in with the controversial career of union labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.
"The Irishman" nicely works as an encapsulation of various technical and story elements seen in Martin's past films: but also amped up due to its' epic story scope (it spans more time than Scorseses' "Goodfellas") and de-aging technology given to our three leads Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. While not completely foolproof, it's a bold task and marks progress for this new trend that will hopefully be used wisely in future films (no guarantees though).
Robert De Niro (who was unfortunately snubbed by most major awards ceremonies) gives one of his best and more understated performances as Frank Sheeran. The rest of the cast is fantastic; particularly Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino.
The film doesn't quite reach the same level as Martin's other prospects like "Goodfellas" or "The Departed"; but it's undeniable ambition and themes will leave you thinking after it's all over, and it should be looked upon as a highlight in the genre.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
A simple yet charming and fun ride.
Everyone loves a good comeback story. One is taking shape in entertainment as of now with Eddie Murphy, who has recently started in director Craig Brewer's "Dolemite Is My Name".
Eddie delivers as Rudy Ray Moore, a struggling artist who in the 1970's became the underground comic sensation Dolemite; which paved the way for his career in Blaxploitation Cinema and became a prime inspiration for impending Hip-Hop superstars like Snoop Dogg.
There are some cultural and hilarious insights into black culture and cinema of the storys' time period, but there's nothing here to make this an iconic biopic. There's a familiar rising to fame story here that plays out, but its' charm is endearing. The cast is also fun to watch; including Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes and Da'Vine Joy Randolph.
Definitely seek this out, and what Eddie Murphy may be doing next.
One of the best war movies in years.
Ever since I've watched "American Beauty", the directorial debut/beginners luck charm of director Sam Mendes; I've trusted the craftmanship of his films to be top-notch even if the stories aren't as strong ("Jarhead", "Spectre"). How does "1917" currently hold up?
This film gives us a fly on the wall perspective of a couple of days during World War One (a war that's rarely touched upon in mainstream films). Two British soldiers Will Schofield and Tom Blake must race against a time to hand-deliver a message to a fellow bettalion in order to save them from impending doom by German enemy forces.
This has been touched upon by everyone who knows about this film; but I can't help but mention how making this film look like one take is done masterfully, helping it stand out from other well known/recent war movies.
Those who were disappointed by the lack of characterization in 2017's World War Two juggernaut "Dunkirk"; no need to worry because the two main characters are upheld by their charming chemistry and bravery against all odds. Other ally soldiers, supporting characters and special cameos weave in and out of their journey for a short amount of time; but are unforgettable.
Standing among my top 10 for 2019, "1917" is also one of the best of the decade.
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
A old-fashioned and engaging racing biopic.
I'm going to be posting the rest of my reviews for 2019 here now that the Academy Award nominations are upon us.
Starting off with surprise best picture contender "Ford v Ferrari"; this is a fascinating and entertaining examination of the real life rivalry between both companies, without resorting to simplicity or being too vague for non-automobile enthusiasts.
Christian Bale, in all his British glory, knocked it out of the park as the firey Ford racer Ken Miles, and Matt Damon gives one of his finest recent performances as his sidekick Carroll Shelby. The rest of the cast are also great to see.
If you haven't already seen it, definitely race out as soon as it's available to you and check it out.
Well-intended but half empty.
For the end of 2019; director Jay Roach brought us "Bombshell"; a timely look at the sexual harassment scandals that surrounded Fox News and lead to the firings of TV commentators Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly.
There are good intentions at play here, aided by several emotional performances from Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow. Comedian Kate McKinnon also aids herself in a dramatic turn as Fox News employee Jess Carr.
However; this film is shorthanded by being sensationalistic. If it was more mature like the 2015 film "Spotlight", which was about the scandal that surrounded the Catholic Church in Boston, "Bombshell might have received better reviews (since it stands at a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
For all it's worth, this is a competently made and worthwhile film; but it could've been more.
Uncut Gems (2019)
The Sadfie Brothers and Adam Sandler strike gold.
I've long been waiting for another dramatic powerhouse performance from Adam Sandler this decade (though I need to check out his Netflix movie "The Meyerowitz Stories"). My wish has been granted with the new thriller "Uncut Gems".
Adam, in an absolute award worthy and daunting performance, steps into the shoes of Howard Ratner; a New York City jeweler who gets in over his head as he must settle his gambling debts via a million dollar worthy opal.
The writing, immaculate direction from the Sadfie Brothers plus a score from Daniel Lopatin are sure to give you one of the most intense and morally challenging viewing experiences of this year. The two directors first grabbed my attention with their 2017 hit "Good Time", and now have made a worthy successor.
A Hidden Life (2019)
Terrence Malick's best film since The Tree of Life.
Since I've watched "To the Wonder" back in 2013, I've been deeply fascinated with the career of one Terrence Malick. He has now brought us the wonderful "A Hidden Life".
Based on real events; August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds) stars as Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer whose tranquil life with his family was fractured by him being drafted to fight for the Nazis in World War Two. We're taken on his journey as he must stand by his religious beliefs and moral opposition to them, and his family faces persecution from fellow neighbors of their tight-knit village. On that note, the Catholic beliefs of him and his wife are highlighted in a positive light in this story, which is perfectly welcome.
The technical aspects of this movie are grade A+; the immersive cinematography, score and immaculate sound design. One can see this film having elements of a few of Malick's previous films; the rural landscapes of "Days of Heaven", the World War Two setting of "The Thin Red Line", and beautiful yet bittersweet family dynamics ("The Tree of Life").
If you're not a fan of Terrence Malick, then this probably won't do much for you. If you are or have enjoyed any of his previous films, then definitely give this a shot. For my two cents, this is his best film since "The Tree of Life".
Delightful and sweet.
While he may not literally look and sound like Fred Rogers, Tom Hanks wonderfully encapsulates the personality, quirks and heart of the beloved children's television host; who has seen a rise in popularity following 2018's documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?".
Matthew Rhys is also great as Lyod Vogel, the cynical journalist covering Mr. Rogers for a 1998 Esquire magazine issue on heroes. Their friendship that eventually starts from this brings us into a heartwarming story, which is perfect for this season.
While the film gives into occasional sentimentality and over-dramatization; we're also given insightful messages plus nice direction from Marrielle Heller. Nice tidbits about Mr. Roger's life and show are also sprinkled throughout. This all adds up to a charming and worthwhile time.
Honey Boy (2019)
Unexpected and moving
Shia LaBeouf is one of the most complicated and fascinating filmmakers in the Indie film scene today. In spite of a controversial background and history of legal troubles, he manages to soldier on and impress critics and film buffs (myself included) in versatile roles. "Honey Boy" is Shia's coming to terms with his traumatic childhood in cinematic form.
The protagonist here based on Shia- Otis, played brilliantly by both Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe, while LaBeouf plays James, a version of his own father. The story around them here is original and relatable as I came to like and (mostly) hate the troubled relationship between Noah and his father as they attempt to make something out of Noah's up and coming Hollywood career.
This film is hard to watch at times and can be somewhat meandering; yet it's profound and could mean more for Mr. LaBeouf's potentially upward career.