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Exciting Moments in an Otherwise Mixed Bag
Movies that make me unsure if I really liked it or not don't come around all that often, but Midway will be the film that fits that description for me when looking back on 2019's film offerings. If you've seen movies like 2012 or Independence Day, you should know what to expect from a Roland Emmerich directorial outing. That said, this movie feels like clash in management. Written by first-time feature writer Wes Tooke, it definitely shows that he needs to grow into his talent a little longer. Although filled with exciting moments and some great actors, here's why I believe Midway isn't really worth your time overall.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour, Midway follows a group of U.S. soldiers as they formulate a plan to attack Midway. While this premise does make for some exciting battle sequences, it's undercut by side plots that feel slightly unnecessary to the overall arc of this movie. I understand that it was trying to cover all the bases during the events of this piece of history, but there is a specific portion of the film that feels rushed on top of having nearly nothing to do with the overall premise, so I was scratching my head on why it was even included in the first place. Other than that, this movie is fairly focused for the most part.
I think the biggest weakness of this film, however, is the fact that I truly do not buy that Ed Skrein is a leading man. I've enjoyed him as secondary characters or as a villain in movies like Deadpool, but for the lengthy screentime he gets here, I don't believe his performance held this movie together very well. I'm usually in full support of actors breaking out with large roles, but I'm just not sure he is one to carry the weight of powerhouses like Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Luke Evans, or Patrick Wilson. The entire secondary cast outshined him throughout the entire film and I really did think that was a detriment to the movie as a whole, which is a shame since he does have potential.
Now, I don't want to make people believe that this film is a pile of trash because it's not, but the most enjoyable aspect of this movie for me was also a mixed bag. Midway's strongest suit is that it doesn't hold back on the action. From the Pearl Harbour attack to the final act of the movie, there is a significant chunk of this film that's dedicated to action, and most of it is well-done in many regards, but it's far too artificial to buy into most of the time. Much like Roland Emmerich's recent movies, this film heavily relies on CGI, but I just don't think the team who worked on this movie truly delivered on what the budget was. A lot of this movie looks and feels fake, which really took me out of the battle scenes. With that said, aside from feeling artificial, it is well-filmed nonetheless.
In the end, Midway isn't going to be remembered as one of the year's best films by any means, nor as one of Roland Emmerich's better efforts, but it may please some action junkies or fans of the war genre. Other than that, it's pretty standard fare with some questionable lead acting, although it does feature some exciting moments. This movie is a fine watch in retrospect, but nothing really worth recommending and nothing I'll ever have the desire to watch again. Again, some viewers may get a kick out of the exciting elements, but it just wasn't enough for me.
Marriage Story (2019)
One of the Best Dramas of the Decade
I've been trying to come up with a way of reviewing this film in a way that doesn't seem like I personally directed it or something, because movies like Marriage Story don't come along very often and I just feel like gushing about how incredible is. Netflix has been releasing tons of quality content this year and this may very well be the best of their entire catalogue of feature films. Alone with Roma and their recent release of The Irishman, I believe you'll be seeing Marriage Story in contention for many, many awards in the coming months. Here's why I believe Marriage Story is a must-watch.
Not all relationships work out and if every single Romance film ever made had a happy ending, then that would just be a lie. It's nice to see a movie tackle this subject matter and stick with it from start to finish. Marriage Story is a look into the lives of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they are clearly not able to keep a working marriage, but also don't want to ruin the family they have made. From gut-wrenching scenes of excessively honest dialogue and a conclusion that feels raw and true, this movie is one of the best dramas I've seen in years.
Take your pick at who outshines who here, because it really is a toss-up as to who is more incredible between Driver and Johansson. It does help that writer/director Noah Baumbach gave them outstandingly good dialogue to work with, but the way these two play off each other is as if they were given a year to prepare for these roles and get to know each other. Everything about this film felt authentic, which made the overall impact so powerful. It's not easy to watch a movie about a love story that's about how marriage sometimes doesn't work out, but this movie does it in such a way that it doesn't feel depressing throughout the majority of the duration. This is all thanks to Noah Baumbach though.
From Greenberg to While We're Young, Baumbach has been a director I've been keeping my eyes on, as I believe he has gotten better with each of his films, for the most part. It wasn't until The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) that I really started to anticipate his next movie, but now I'll be desperately awaiting to get another story from him. His talent as a director, especially on Marriage Story, is truly something else. He is best suited for movies like Marriage Story or While We're Young, where it's all about the characters because he very clearly has a knack at getting the best possible performances out of his cast.
Marriage Story begins strong, easing you into what will be a very emotional film and concludes in a way that feels natural. Overall, from these award-worthy performances, superb writing and directing, a very minimal score, which lets you sit with these characters for extended periods of time, it's very hard to nitpick this movie. There is one scene that made me chuckle, purely because I felt uncomfortable, but this movie is otherwise perfectly done. By the time 2019 ends, I feel that I may have to say this is the best movie of the year. I absolutely loved every minute of this movie. I can't recommend it enough.
The Irishman (2019)
A Fantastic Piece of Filmmaking
I may be missing one or two that have been released over the last decade, but the last time I remember really liking a film based around the mob was probably American Gangster back in 2007. Netflix has been on fire lately with their feature films. From last year's Roma winning Best Foreign Film and now The Irishman winning many awards, along with their upcoming release in Marriage Story, they are proving to be a genuine film studio. At a very lengthy 209 minutes, The Irishman has now finished its film festival run and is now streaming on Netflix. I'm not going to beat around the bush. This film is simply one of the best films of 2019 by far and possibly even the decade.
Based on the true story, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a recently fired truck driver who has stumbled his way into becoming a mobster, teaming up with leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Chronicling these events through the years, we get to see a large portion of the life of this man and how his past has now become his permanent present. With the addition of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), this film is filled with rich characters. You definitely can't complain about the main characters being underdeveloped here, because their amount of screentime and endless dialogue make for a very fleshed out piece of filmmaking.
Superbly directed by Martin Scorsese, I would say this movie is his best work since Hugo or The Departed, but this film is better than both of those in my opinion. Although I haven't seen his entire filmography, I would have to go back to Goodfellas from 1990 to find a better film of his. I found The Irishman (although slightly long) to be his best film in many, many years. Each frame of this movie screams filmmaking and I was glued to the screen from start to finish. This film deserves all the attention it's getting and Scorsese is a major reason for that.
Writing films like Schindler's List and Moneyball, Steven Zaillian is no stranger to penning award-worthy screenplays, and while I believe he absolutely deserves all the attention in the world once again, it's really Charles Brandt who stands out to me. Having hardly written anything noteworthy before teaming up with Zaillian, I'm very impressed at his work here. I'm not sure who contributed more, but for a writer who is only just beginning to build a resume, it doesn't get much better than this. Bravo sir.
I could gush about this movie for hours, but I'll wrap it up. The Irishman proves that Martin Scorsese will never lose touch as a director, seeing this trio of actors on-screen will probably never happen again, the cinematography is Oscar-worthy, the deserves to win many awards, and I wouldn't be surprised if this film takes home many of the top prizes this year. Yes, it's a little long, but it's incredibly engaging. The length is really my only minor nitpick. Other than that, this film is one of the best films in recent years and will probably be remembered as a Scorsese classic in the years to come.
J'ai perdu mon corps (2019)
A Fantastic Journey from Start to Finish
It's not very often that foreign films are able to break out worldwide, as they have certain restrictions, but it's always nice when platforms like Netflix make it easier to do so. I Lost My Body is one of Netflix's latest releases and not only is it a fantastic French animated film, but simply one of my favourite films of 2019. A unique premise can go a long way when it sticks the landing on everything it promises and I believe this movie does exactly that. At a breezy 81 minutes, this film is not one to miss, if you're a fan of a good story, regardless of the medium or style.
Following a severed hand, as it ventures out to find its body, the audience is treated with many flashbacks to when the body was whole. From losing his job to falling in love, this movie takes you on a grand journey. The fact that the movie follows a severed hand as the focal point may turn some viewers away, but I assure you that there is much more under the surface. The constant flashbacks create a lot of backstory for the core character and I found myself really caring about this hand by the end. Sometimes the best stories are told in unordinary ways, but they shouldn't be ignored for that.
From the score to the dialogue (or lack thereof) in each and every scene, this movie felt like a calm journey, with a bit of tenseness throughout. I was even on the edge of my seat and tearing up at times. This premise his me really hard and I wasn't expecting it to, which is probably why I feel the need to praise it. I think the biggest compliment I can give this film is its screenplay though, which is written by Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant. Laurant is best known for his work on Amelie, which I didn't even know prior to watching this, but it's very clear that award-worthy writers worked on this.
In the end, I Lost My Body is a unique premise that exceeds all of its promises by the end. With incredibly engaging flashbacks throughout the entire duration and dialogue that brought tears to my eyes, this is a wonderful movie all around. For those who can take in weird elements in exchange for a fantastic story, I can't recommend this movie enough. Not everyone will be able to latch onto a movie like this, but for myself, it's one of the best stories I've seen all year. I Lost My Body is a fantastic film.
The Report (2019)
A Fantastic Story that Only Translated to a Good Movie
I always seem to be fascinated by true stories that make it into a feature film, that were otherwise hidden until then, but I also wonder how true it really is, given the fact that these stories were kept a secret. That aside, regardless of the source material, I always go into movies like The Report with an open mind and try not to nitpick facts that probably aren't completely true. Put together in the same vein as movies like The Social Network or Molly's Game, the pacing of this movie is off the charts. While it's absolutely an imperfect movie in retrospect, this is a solid watch and here's why.
After the horrific day known as 9/11 had passed, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) was recruited to helm an investigation into the CIA's secretive ways of interrogating individuals. Some of the findings were disgusting and thus sparked the need to get this story in the public eye. While I don't believe all stories like this need attention, I believe this one warranted a film adaptation. The material at hand and the nicely paced editing by Greg O'Bryant were the standout elements here because the wasn't always interesting enough to hold my attention.
The Report is a film that spews tons and tons of information on its audience. There are scenes where I found myself completely invested and others where I was slightly bored. Not to say the movie as a whole is boring, but I didn't think there were enough surprises to really make this movie hit home. From the editing to the quippy dialogue, it just felt like a movie that had the potential to be a great film like The Social Network, but it just didn't go the extra mile. Still, this is a solid film with some great performances.
Adam Driver seems to get better and better as the years go on and The Report is no exception to that. This performance shows his immense maturity as an actor and I truly do see a future where he wins an Academy Award one day. It also didn't hurt that he has a lot of great dialogue to work from, written by Scott Z. Burns. From The Bourne Ultimatum to Contagion, I have really liked his work thus far (excluding The Laundromat). This movie was a nice mixture of a lot of good, that just didn't quite become great in many areas.
In the end, The Report could've been a movie that received a lot of awards consideration, but I think the novels written about these behind-the-scenes events will probably be more informative. This movie feels more like a briefing, rather than an in-depth exploration. The movie has been made and I wouldn't touch it, but I think it could've worked much better as a television series. I can't exactly rave about the movie as a whole, but it's worth watching for the story alone.
Knives Out (2019)
A Fantastically Clever Whodunnit
From Looper to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Arian Johnson has been a filmmaker on the rise for the last number of years. Although many Star Wars fans seem to not like his addition to the Star Wars franchise, I loved it and I believe him to be one of the greatest directors out there today. My love for him as a filmmaker alone had me excited for his newest release in Knives Out. He took a step backward since his last outing, writing a directing a very small movie with a very large feel. This move was the best thing he could have possibly done for his career, because he has made one hell of a crowd pleaser. Knives Out is terrific and here's why it's worth your time.
Following the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), his entire family is questioned about his sudden demise. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) oversees this investigation and believes there to be a lot hidden under the surface of this story. This begins the story and classic "whodunnit" feel. There is something that feels very tradition about this movie, with updated dialogue and very unique camerawork to make it a fantastic watch. This movie is pretty much as good as you can get with a story like this these days. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Knives Out.
I can praise Rian Johnson for writing a clever screenplay that keeps you on the edge of your seat, which is does, or I can gush about the precise cinematography that is incredibly well-done, but this film is held together by an insanely talented cast who are all having a blast. If not for this stellar cast committing to these wacky and hilarious characters, then Knives Out would have been pretty boring. This movie benefits from the comedy and I think this cast has a lot to do with that. With that said, this film isn't quite perfect.
Even though nitpicking a movie like this is kind of ridiculous, due to the nature of it needing to contain twists and turns, I have to admit that the movie is slightly predictable, even though it leads you to believe it's not. Without ruining anything, it becomes fairly obvious where things will go after a certain point, so that was a detriment for me. Thankfully, the way everything is presented is very clever and definitely showcases the reveals in ways you're not expecting. Even if you figure out what happened, you won't be able to predict how it happened, and I really appreciated that aspect.
In the end, Knives Out has a nice blend of suspense and comedy to keep almost audiences engaged. I found this blend to be great and would happily revisit these characters again in the future. With fantastic writing and directing by Rian Johnson and a cast that's giving their all in the funnest way possible, it's hard not to like this one. For fans of murder mysteries, comedies, or even any of these performers, I highly recommend checking out Knives Out.
Frozen II (2019)
A Worthy Sequel
It has been six years since the release of Frozen, and since that release, the term "overrated" has been thrown around more and more. Personally, although I do think the music has been more than overplayed, I think the first film still stands on its own as a great animated feature film. Disney surprised me with that film in 2013 and even though I wasn't asking for a continuation, I was still very happy to watch it. Thankfully, even though it's obvious this movie got made to make the studio tons of cash, it also has some thought put into it, building off its predecessor the way a sequel should.
With a call coming from an enchanted forest that Anna and Elsa were warned to never enter as kids, the two of them, along with the return of Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf, all bravely venture inside. Discovering that she may be able to find the origin of her powers, Elsa splits from the rest of the crew. This movie separates these characters for the majority of the run time, which I feel may have slightly hurt the movie. There is some nice closure that gives reason for why everyone needed to be separated, but it would've been nice to see them all have a little more screen time together.
Aside from the song Let it Go, which will never be topped in terms of catchiness, I found that the soundtrack to Frozen II was far superior. The first film utilized the songs to tell the story most of the time, but also favoured them over the story at times. This film prioritizes them and works every song into the narrative in the way that I feel a proper musical should. Frozen II may not be an overall better movie than the first, but the musical aspect is very much an improvement.
As always, the visuals are breathtaking and almost look realistic at times, the voice work is very impressive, and the messages throughout the movie are all great for kids, which is who this film is made for first and foremost. One of my complaints however, even though I still enjoyed his presence, was Olaf. Much like the use of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, he is overused for comedic relief, far more than he was in the first film. I really enjoy his presence as I said, so it didn't ruin the film at all, it just felt like a bit much at times.
In the end, with great music, a very solid story, visuals that would impress any viewer, and a worthy successor to that of the first film, Frozen II is worth your time. If you were a fan of the first film in any way, I think this movie will satisfy you if you have been eager to see this story continue. With that said, this really isn't a linear progression of the last film, but rather an evolution of it, which I appreciated. This is a solid sequel and I would gladly revisit it eventually, but I really don't see the need for another one. We'll see how much money this one makes I guess. Frozen II gets the seal of approval from me.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
A Highly Inspirational Story
The formula of someone overcoming the odds and willing themselves into success has been done over and over again throughout the history of cinema. People complain about there being too many films based on comic books these days, and while I admit there are a lot, I would argue that there is an overabundance of every genre nowadays. There's so much content out there that the same story is probably told twice in the same year, if not more. It's an embarrassment of riches in terms of how many movies and shows are available for audiences to watch, so it's hard to see everything. Brittany Runs a Marathon looked like a movie that followed a very familiar formula, but I was still very much interested. Now streaming on Amazon Prime, I've finally had the chance to check it out.
Unhappy with her weight, diet, and overall daily routines, Brittany (Jillian Bell) decides to motivate herself to take baby steps, with an eventual goal of running a marathon. With the addition of new friends and other positive influencers entering her life, this positive story is one worth watching. Although she isn't always the most likeable character, that's the whole point of the movie in the end. It's really about not letting others get you down and taking it upon yourself to better yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this movie and Jillian Bell had a lot to do with that, surprisingly.
Being the secondary character to many stars throughout the course of her career and the comedic relief in films like 22 Jump Street or Rough Night, it's roles like that, that had me disliking her as a performer, but now I see that was just the roles being given to her. She has some real, raw talent and I actually look forward to seeing what she does next. I think she is a much better dramatic actress than a comedic one, although she does have her moments. The character is what makes this story good, but her performance is what ended up making the final film as good as it is.
Writing, directing, and producing his first feature film, Paul Downs Colaizzo does some stellar work here. From page to screen, he has adapted this story in such a way that I'm sure will resonate with many viewers. Whether or not you relate to the story on a personal level or not, he does a great job in sharing Brittany's story with those around her. I can see certain viewers seeing themselves in some of the secondary characters and having realizations of their own. This is a really well-done film all around.
In the end, Brittany Runs a Marathon may suffer at times from the lead characters making some unlikeable decisions, but it's ultimately a very inspirational story. From start to finish, I found myself rooting for her to get where she wanted to be. To reiterate, the screenplay and direction by Paul Downs Colaizzo are fantastic, Jillian Bell delivers the best performance of her career to date, and the final act of the movie was worth watching the film for. It really is one of the better movies of 2019.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
A Wonderful Satire
It goes without saying that today's generation doesn't take to offensive humour as much as they used to, or at least be as forgiving as they used to. For that reason alone I was surprised to see a movie like Jojo Rabbit even get made. After watching it, it also seems like a very necessary and welcome release for today's day. I'm so happy a film like this was made because the rich environment and characters Taika Waititi creates here are worth the price of admission alone. Although this humour absolutely won't be for everyone and may even be a little too off-beat for some, here's why I believe Jojo Rabbit is a fantastic satire, even if some may not enjoy it.
In Nazi Germany, a young boy in Jojo Roman Griffin Davis) is oblivious to the horrors that Hitler represents, so he creates him as an imaginary friend to help him through his struggles. As the plot kicks into gear, he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl, in the walls of their house. This is a film that seems funny on its surface and does have quite a few great laughs, but the surrounding atmosphere and overall story are meant to be taken very seriously. This worked very well for me and I think the end result made for a fun, moving piece of filmmaking.
Taika Waititi is definitely not new to the director's chair, but I always find myself impressed with his work. Whether it be in creating the fantastic Hunt for the Wilderpeople or the highly entertaining Thor: Ragnarok, his style is very unique. With that said, I think Jojo Rabbit is his best work to date. This is the most I've ever seen him juggle comedy and drama so well together and they never seemed to clash. I will always look forward to his upcoming projects because, at the very least, they will have some kind of entertaining aspect.
From Roman Griffin Davis in the title role to Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf, Scarlett Johansson as the mysterious Rosie to the absolutely hysterical Archie Yates as Jojo's best friend Yorki, this film is littered with talent. On top of that talent, these characters were written by Waititi with care, adapted from the novel by Christine Leunens. There was never a moment where I questioned if a certain performer should have been cast in any of these roles because although there is some great emotion, it's all played up as fun. I really enjoyed the ride this movie took me on.
Overall, Jojo Rabbit suffers from the fact that the humour is quite dry and won't be for everyone, but if ultimately one of the better films I've seen all year. Filled with laughter, heart, a meaningful story with a terrific message and gut punches that you wouldn't expect, I think Jojo Rabbit is deserving of its praises. At a mere 100 minutes, this movie flies by, delivering a really enjoyable viewing experience. As long as you know what you're in for, I highly recommend this one.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
A Solid Addition to a Severly Jumbled Franchise
Regardless of how much you liked any of the previous instalments in the Terminator franchise, it goes without saying that it has been a bumpy ride, story-wise. Losing James Cameron as the head of this franchise was always the biggest thing wrong, due to the fact that he told his story and wrapped it up in the second film, T2: Judgement Day. This is now the sixth film and everything past the second has been subpar to me, excluding the fact that I did get some enjoyment out of Terminator: Salvation. This time, although Cameron was not at the helm as director, he was actually backing it as a producer, so if any of these movies deserved a little hope, it was this one. After viewing it, this film didn't do anything to get me excited for another instalment or anything like that, but I enjoyed it.
Echoing many elements from the first two films, Terminator: Dark Fate follows Grace and Sarah Connor as they find themselves protecting a young girl from a liquid terminator that has been sent to kill her. Like many franchises that fear straying too far into original territory, this movie feels stale in terms of storytelling at times, but as a movie outside of the Terminator franchise, it's actually quite good. There are a few creative liberties taken throughout the movie that had me scratching my head, but for the most part, this film is just trying to deliver an exciting ride, which is what I feel it accomplished.
Quite new to the directing chair, Tim Miller had only worked on Deadpool before being hired for this film, but that didn't bleed through into the final product at all. I think this is a very well-directed piece of action cinema, with characters you love from the past and enough new stuff to keep you engaged. It may seem like a negative to say that this movie would've been so much better if it wasn't part of the Terminator franchise, but if you can look past that, I think you'll be able to enjoy yourself. This movie is riddled with story flaws, but that's honestly to be expected with these films at this point.
Terminator: Dark Fate picks up after the events of the second film, choosing ignoring instalments three to five. That will definitely be confusing to those who have followed the franchise and have no idea that's what they're doing here, but it's also a big positive. For doing this, it doesn't have to worry about the baggage that the previous films have created for any future instalments. This movie feels simpler than the rest, which was a nice change of pace. Still, this movie was more of a breath of fresh air for the franchise, rather than a great film.
In the end, I can both recommend this movie as a solid action film, as well as an okay sequel to T2: Judgement Day. Yes, it's littered with problems if you look closely and there are story choices that will more than likely annoy many Terminator fans, but I think this film falls much more in line with the classic Terminator storyline. Linda Hamilton is pretty solid as Sarah Connor once again, Arnold Schwarzenegger as a little more screentime than I was expecting, and Mackenzie Davis is probably the best performance in the entire film. Overall, this is a solid action film that I would recommend, even though this franchise is a mess in retrospect.
A Likeable Mixed Bag
Disney has officially released its long-awaited streaming service, Disney+. While many viewers are excited to rewatch their classic favourites and new upcoming Star Wars and Marvel series, it also seems that they will be creating their own original films every so often as well. One of their first at launch was that of Noelle. Just in time for the Christmas season, Disney+ released this Christmas film to warm the hearts of families around the world. Sadly, I feel that the execution of this movie is a mixed bag. Do I think Disney+ is worth purchasing? Yes, very much so. Do I think this is the movie that you should watch before anything else? Probably not.
After the passing of their father, siblings Noelle (Anna Kendrick) and Nick (Bill Hader) find themselves having to take over the family business. With their father having been Santa Claus and them having lived in the North Pole all their lives, they know nothing else. Nick is next in line to become Santa but ultimately flees the scene when nerves kick in. Noelle ventures to find him and hijinks ensue. Noelle is a film that works as a sweet, yet super corny little Holiday flick, but the third act of the film sort of took away from the rest of it for me.
Without giving anything away for those who wish to watch, the third act of this movie really begins to hit you over the head with the messages it's trying to send. While I have no problems with these messages, it's almost like the filmmakers thought viewers didn't see these messages slowly presenting themselves throughout the entire movie. I liked the conclusion for what it was, but the way it was executed fell flat for me. There was a lot of emotion set-up throughout the movie that does have a payoff, but I felt disconnected from it all.
Anna Kendrick is as loveable and quirky as she has always been and Bill Hader (although having much less screen time) is quite good with the material he is given as well. Where this movie fell apart was easily in the screenplay. I didn't mind the direction here, in fact, I actually liked it, which was no surprise seeing as I enjoyed director Marc Lawrence's work on Music & Lyrics. With that said, he also wrote this screenplay and I found a few key elements were missing to make the finale of this movie truly work.
In the end, Noelle is a passable, at times very enjoyable Christmas movie, but ultimately collapses by the end for me. It's not that I despised where they went, it's just how it was done. For fans of Holiday films, no matter what they are about, this movie might appeal to you more. I personally love a great Holiday flick and I'm usually pretty forgiving of them, but this one didn't quite work. It's not a bad movie, but I was certainly hoping for better.
A Solid Mash-Up of Time Periods
Apple TV+ has officially launched and although their catalogue is small at the moment, it's very clear that they were going for quality over quantity. Even if all of their shows were terrible at launch, the cast, crews, and budgets were all top-notch. Well, I just watched one of those top-notch productions in Dickinson, and I must admit that I quite enjoyed it. Not everyone, but many viewers believe the best way to watch a television show is all at once. I appreciate it when a series is meant to be watched like that, but I also appreciate shows like Dickinson. This series doesn't require your attention all at once. Each episode feels like its own story, even though there is a through-line. Here's why I believe this show may just be worth your time.
Following real-life poet Emily Dickinson(Hailee Steinfeld) as she struggles through the trials and tribulations of the old ways women were treated, this is a series that mashes up time periods. Although this is a period piece in many ways, modern slang terms and dialogue is spoken, along with hip-hop montages. This series might be viewed as messy to some viewers who find that these two ideals clash with each other, but I actually think it's the main reason why I enjoyed watching it so much.
From Lynn Shelton to David Gordon Green, Dickinson is a series that's loaded with many talented directors and writers. As I mentioned, each episode feels different than the last. Although the same themes and tone are very present throughout, it feels like you're reading one of Emily's poems each time an episode begins and ends. There aren't any huge cliffhangers or extravagant moments, but rather intriguing set-ups and payoffs that keep you interested enough to continue watching.
This series is different from many that are on television these days, which is saying a lot when looking at just how many are out there today. Hailee Steinfeld is a big reason this show stands out though, being the incredibly talented actress that she is. I love watching her performances in nearly everything she has done, so it was a no-brainer that she would continue her great work here. Not only does she shine as always, but Adrian Enscoe, Jane Krakowski, and Toby Haus (to name a few) all do outstanding work here.
Dickinson is hilarious, dramatic, weird, clever, and thought-provoking all at the same time. The way the modern-day language meshes with that of the classic setting worked very well to me and I can foresee this show working very well for many seasons. All it has to do is contrast how the past was to how we live in this world today. It makes for a very interesting narrative and I will gladly continue watching this series. Dickinson is well worth the watch and is now streaming on Apple TV+.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
The Best Feel-Good Movie of 2019
This usually happens to me about once a year or so, but it's so close to the end of this year that I didn't think it was going to happen. I usually find one film that warms my heart to the point that I find myself putting it on my list of best films of the year, simply because I found nothing wrong with it on an emotional level. The Peanut Butter Falcon is easily the best feel-good movie out there of 2019 and also one of the best overall movies of 2019, in my opinion. This movie has flown under the radar for mainstream audiences, so please, seek this one out.
Living with down syndrome in an old age home, young Zak escapes in hopes of find his wrestling hero that he sees on television on a daily basis. The film equally focusses on him, as well as Tyler, who has issues of his own and is currently on the run to save his life. Bumping into each other, the two of them form a bond that leads to a very heartwarming friendship. With a few more layers to unpack as the movie progresses, this film has all the heart you could ever ask for out of a film, without getting overly sappy.
Written and directed by two newcomers to the feature film sphere, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have created one hell of a little indie here. It's very clear that this isn't their first rodeo in cinema/television, but as a first film, they deserve all the praise in the world. While this movie will most likely go under the radar when awards season rolls around, I truly do feel they have given some of the best work behind the camera all year. On top of their stellar work, the talent on-screen is just as notable.
Although Shia LaBeouf hasn't exactly quit acting, it has become very apparent over the last few years that he just wants to pursue smaller projects. Personally, I love that he has done that because his talents are far more suited for projects like this. Quite honestly, I'm not sure if I've ever seen him give a stronger performance than that of his portrayal of Tyler in The Peanut Butter Falcon. That aside, the true standout here is Zack Gottsagen as Zak. Nilson and Schwartz were able to bring out such a charismatic and natural performance from him and I felt like I was nearly watching a documentary with the amount of chemistry that LaBeouf and Gottsagen shared.
In the end, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film that I have been looking forward to for a while and I'm very happy with the experience I had when watching it. This may seem repetitive, but I can't stress enough how heartwarming this film truly is. I watched this movie with a smile on my face the entire time and with such great performances and direction to boot, there really weren't any glaring faults. When this film hits home video in the coming weeks or becomes available to stream in your area, I can't recommend checking it out enough. The Peanut Butter Falcon is one of the best movies of 2019.
In the Tall Grass (2019)
Netflix wasn't known for producing great films when they first started but rather produced some great television shows instead. Nowadays, with films like Roma being up for best picture, Eddie Murphy making his return in Dolemite is My Name, and Martin Scorsese releasing his three and a half hour epic gangster film in The Irishman, they are nothing short of being all-in. Sadly, for every great film, they're still releasing a poor one as well, and that's the case with the latest Stephen King adaptation, In the Tall Grass. While it had a promising premise and some unique ideas, it never fully grasps where those ideas should lead. Here's why I don't think this movie is worth your time, even as a casual watch on Netflix.
Stopping on the side of the road during a long drive, siblings Becky and Cal venture out into a field of endless, tall grass after hearing the cry of a young boy. Learning that this location has much more going on under the surface, other characters appear and other-worldly things begin to happen. Playing with time and horror, this is a premise that has a lot going for it but ultimately fails. Sadly, another aspect that didn't help the wasted potential, was the fact that the cast just really wasn't all that good. That's saying a lot coming from me because Patrick Wilson actually gets quite a bit of screentime, and I usually love his performances.
Laysla De Oliveira and Avery Whitted lead this film for the most part until other characters begin to appear, and while I can see the potential for them in the future, I haven't seen either of them in a film before and it really does show throughout. I will cut them some slack though because I truly feel the biggest culprit here is the screenplay. I was shocked to see Vincenzo Natali's name all over this film, because Paris, je t'aime is a fantastic film by him and I also quite enjoyed his little horror film, Splice. For these reasons alone I was interested in In the Tall Grass, but his dialogue here could have really used some work. Even less of it and using the score to keep the movie ominous I believe would have helped, but that's just my opinion.
The absolute best thing I can say about this film is the fact that it's actually nicely shot from start to finish. Known for working on very popular shows like Fargo, Legion, and The Umbrella Academy, his extensive resume shines through here and is on full display. If an award had to be given to any aspect of this movie, it would surely be for the cinematography. If for nothing else, I enjoyed looking at this movie. Truthfully, I believe the camerawork is what kept my attention the whole time.
In the end, In the Tall Grass begins with a promising concept, but is bogged down by a confusing finale, subpar dialogue, a cast that deserved to be in a better film, and direction that was very off, which is really saying something, seeing who was behind the camera and story here. There's no way I can get myself to recommend this movie to anyone, except for maybe suggesting it to cinematographers who like to shoot horror films. Good in theory, but gad in execution.
A Masterpiece in Filmmaking
Director Bong Joon Ho has been on my radar for years now, as I believe him to be one of the best storytellers out there right now. Admittedly, I haven't seen the majority of his films but his two most recent works in Snowpiecer and Okja were among the best films of their consecutive years. I thought both of those films were great, so I was very eagerly awaiting his newest film, Parasite. After viewing, not only does this film deserve to be talked about as one of the best films to be released in 2019, but I personally think this may just be the very best movie you'll see all year. Now, some people may not like the turn it takes, but here's why I think Parasite demands to be seen.
To go into detail about this premise would be to ruin it for those who haven't seen it, so I'll stick to the basics here. The Kim family lives in a basement living space. All unemployed, they find any way they can to make things work. Ki-woo, the eldest sibling in the family, is given the opportunity to tutor the daughter of the rich Park family. Getting smarter and smarter as the first act really kicks into gear, the Kim family becomes a group of very clever con-artists. Meaning well and doing everything they can to keep things legitimate, this makes for some terrific tension.
The biggest praise I can give this film is that it's constantly in motion, never wasting a moment to surprise you. The set-up for this movie has many clever aspects to it, the second act throws you a real curveball and the finale doesn't disappoint either. Some viewers may think this movie goes off the rails toward the end, but I found it to be an overall brilliant piece of storytelling. Each time you think the movie has said everything it wants to, it becomes that much more interesting. In other hands, this story could've have come off as a very generic film, but there's truly something special about how well-made Parasite is.
Wonderfully shot by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong, each frame of this movie has more than one thing to say. It's very rare these days that shot compositions are done in such a way that they seem to tell a story as well, but even in the moments when the focus is on the characters alone, there are things happening in the background or even signs in the framing that things are coming soon. This movie is brilliantly made in every way.
It's very rare when I review a film and struggle to at least come up with one negative here, so I won't bother trying, because I loved this movie too much to let anything take away from it. I will just say that certain aspects may not work for everyone. Parasite is a perfect example of why I love movies so much. A great, engaging story that surprises you from start to finish, along with one of the best crews to work on a film yet this year. I can't praise this film enough. This Korean language film has broken through and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if it takes home the award for best foreign film and even a nomination for best picture. This is as close to a masterpiece you can get today.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
One of Eddie Murphy's Best Roles
Eddie Murphy was known as one of the greatest comedic personalities of all time by many, and is still remembered for being that great, but it's safe to say that his career took quite the nosedive in terms of the projects he was attaching himself to. I would argue that his last truly committed performance was in 2006's Dreamgirls, even though I enjoyed him in Tower Heist as well. Now, with a stand-up special on the way, Coming to America 2 and Beverly Hills Cop 4 in the works, he seems to be on his way back into the spotlight if those movies turn out great. We're not here to discuss his career though. Dolemite is My Name is one of the latest feature films to hit Netflix and Murphy is the shining star here in what may just be his best performance in decades.
Following the tropes of many biopics, Dolemite is My Name follows Rude Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) as his stand-up comedy/rap routines are winning audiences over. With a very niche audience that follows his work, people never believed his personality could translate well to the big screen. Determined to show his character Dolemite to the world, he sets out to fund his feature film on his own. With ups and downs throughout his career, this true story lends itself to a very formulaic movie as a whole.
Thankfully, the care put into making this a great watch is very much present, leaving the issue of feeling like a retread by the wayside. Eddie Murphy delivers one of the best performances I've ever seen him give and the supporting cast in performers like Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, and even Snoop Dogg are all giving it their all. This movie needed to have a very specific type of feel in order to work and a lot of that weight was on the cast. Personally, I don't think a better cast of performers could've been put together for this particular story.
From a bizarre drama like Black Snake Moan to the remake of Footloose (which I happen to prefer over the original), I've always enjoyed watching one of director Craig Brewer's films, who was also at the helm here. The way this film is visually presented, along with the great performances from everyone involved, it really seems like his best work yet as a director. I'm very excited that he is the one who will be taking on the role as director for the upcoming sequel to Coming to America.
In the end, Dolemite is My Name has quite a bit of energy to it and the screenplay is very quippy, which made the run time not feel like the full two hours that it is. If you're a fan of Eddie Murphy, then I can't see why you won't be glued to the screen as I was. This character was pretty much made for him to play. I'm glad to see him making a comeback and having it work so well. This is a very, very good, funny, and engaging biopic that I feel a lot of people will get a kick out of. Come Oscar season, you may also hear some buzz about how good Eddie Murphy truly is here. This was a great watch.
The Kill Team (2019)
Tense And Very Well-Made
A24 has been proving themselves as one of the best studios out there today, but there are a few genres that they haven't dabbled much in yet. I would argue that Comedy and War are two genres that they have a slim number of films in, so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about The Kill Team. On top of that, I love it when a movie can tell such a simple story and keep you incredibly engaged. The Kill Team absolutely fits that description. Gripping and unsettling to watch these events that happen on a daily basis somewhere in the world, here's why I believe The Kill Team is worth your time.
After young Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) is given his position in the war in Afghanistan, he very quickly has that shaken when his commanding officer is killed. Given a new leader in Sergeant Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård), this team must adapt to a very new practice, one in which Briggman is highly against. Although not a very violent film in nature, the subject matter had me sick to my stomach at times, just thinking about how this type of thing goes on in our daily lives. We truly live in a brutal world and this movie chooses to showcase just why that is.
Written and directed by Dan Krauss, this film is a commanding first outing for him, stating that he is very much capable of handling a full feature. Having not heard this name before the release of The Kill Team, I will be keeping an eye on his work from now on. Although simple in nature, this movie has a fantastic pace. At a mere 88 minutes, the progression of Andrew Briggman is really what stood out to me. If for nothing else, this is an independent war film that puts its characters before the action and that's nothing but commendable in my opinion.
Where this film slightly lost me and may lose others, however, is in its repetitive nature. I found there to be a few too many scenes of Briggman not liking what he's seeing and then trying to do something about it. There were a few story beats that were repeated that felt a little unnecessary. Other than that, this is a very tight, tense, and impactful little film that I was invested in from start to finish. It also didn't hurt that Skarsgård was delivering a great, slimy performance as well.
In the end, The Kill Team may not be as fantastic as I was hoping it would be, but I was still sucked in from the very first scene. As mentioned, this is a very tense film that pulls no punches in terms of telling it how it is. Although I didn't know the true story beforehand, it seemed very truthful in its storytelling. This is a very well-made war film that I definitely recommend checking out. It's now playing in a few select theatres and available to purchase and stream digitally.
The Laundromat (2019)
Well-Made And Unique, But Ultimately A Failure
Every so often a film seems great on paper, a stellar cast is assembled, a fantastic crew is brought on board, and yet just simply completely misses the mark as a finished film. I have been a fan of director Steven Soderbergh for years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, but I have admitted when I watch a bad movie, even if it's from a director that I really like. The Laundromat recently made the rounds at a few film festivals, but I never got around to seeing this one. Recently dropping on Netflix, I finally sat down to watch it and I was very disappointed.
At its core, The Laundromat is based on the true events of insurance fraud that was discovered when Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) began to make deals across the border. This seems like it could make for an interesting story and while that set-up is intriguing, this movie has a very messy and muddled way of presenting it or even getting its audience engaged. Told in some unique ways, this film tries too hard to impress its audience with techniques, rather than focussing on the story at hand.
Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are very enjoyable as two men who directly narrate to the camera, in person, which was easily my favorite aspect of the film, but they also took away from the interesting portion of the story by explaining everything so much. Everything about this movie felt like a catch-22 in terms of being able to enjoy it. This movie begins and ends at a very slow pace, with very little meat in the middle of the story. I appreciated the attempt at having a unique spin on storytelling, but it didn't work for me.
With a director like Steven Soderbergh who is admittedly doing as great a job as ever, performers like Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright (who are only some of the notables here) lighting up the screen, and an overall story that is intriguing on its surface, this is a film that's ruined by its structure. Although I love Oldman and Banderas, I feel where the story leads with them could have been easily done in a different way. The constant cutting to their narration threw me out of the movie. I'm not saying this would have made the whole movie better, but it was absolutely the portion that stood out to me the most.
In the end, The Laundromat is a prime example of a movie that is commendable for being unique and trying new things, but it ultimately failed for me. Netflix has been releasing some great content lately, but they're known for having a lot of misfires too. I think this movie will find a bigger audience on Netflix than it would have in theatres, so I feel there is no harm at all with this release. Sadly, even on Netflix, I can't recommend checking this one out. It's just not engaging enough.
Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
A Late Sequel That Was Worth The Wait
Zombie films have nearly always been a popular thing throughout the course of cinema. From Dawn of the Dead to The Walking Dead, this particular sub-genre of horror has always been in the zeitgeist and I can't see that changing anytime soon. There are so many films and television shows made revolving around Zombies these days that it felt like a breath of fresh air when Zombieland hit theatres back in 2009. Hilarious, fun, and surprisingly heartfelt at times, it really seemed they caught lightning with the first film, which made me incredibly worried that they were pumping out a sequel a decade later. Thankfully, it was absolutely worth making.
Picking up years after the events of the first film, Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock have all grown as individuals and feel much more mature, even though they are still very much the same characters. With the looming threat of evolved zombies on the horizon, the group divided once again, and additional characters stepping in to add humour and some depth to the overall story, Zombieland: Double Tap continues in a very natural way off of the first film.
I loved the first film when it hit theatres and after rewatching it over the years, my love for it has only grown further. For this reason alone, I had to lower my expectations for this sequel, because I knew it wouldn't match the first. That being said, I had a blast watching this movie. It's hilarious, heartfelt, and a lot of fun, just like its predecessor, but I will admit that some of the humour fell flat for me. I was laughing throughout, but I would argue that there are far too many callbacks to jokes from the first film. Not just once or twice either, it happens numerous times throughout the movie.
Aside from that, Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone, and Breslin all share great chemistry once again and it was just nice to see this group back on the big screen together. With the addition of Zoey Deutch as a new secondary character, I was able to find enjoyment in ways the first movie didn't deliver on, which was a nice surprise. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking here, but with the slew of horror films that showcase zombies these days, this is one of the best mainstream films to do so in the last few years.
In the end, Zombieland: Double Tap is a worthy sequel to the first film. Although it does rehash jokes, it also offers some new, clever humour that had me busting a gut on multiple occasions. It drags in some areas throughout the second act, but the run time is short enough that you don't really notice. This film is a fun ride from beginning to end and I would gladly see a third film in another decade from now if this cast is all still willing. It felt very natural after ten years, which was my biggest fear. If you're a fan of this genre, a good comedy, or just simply liked the first movie at all, then I would absolutely recommend giving this one a go. It's also probably the best straight-up comedy to hit theatres in 2019.
Living with Yourself (2019)
A Clever and Worthwhile Series
It really is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to how much content Netflix has been putting out over the last few years. Even though not everything is a home run, I can see this streaming service going the way of only showcasing their own content in about five years from now. If one of their most recent shows in Living with Yourself is any indication of how their future is looking, then I would say it's looking incredibly bright. I'm a sucker for a good Paul Rudd project, so this review may be slightly biased in that regard, but this is just a great watch from start to finish. Here's why I believe this to be a highly commendable and recommendable new series.
In a rut and starting to lose contact with his wife and his job, Miles (Paul Rudd) decides to take a co-worker's offer and attend a very pricey spa session. This results in the cloning of himself, but the intention of the company is that only the clone remains alive, so the fact that two versions of Miles are now roaming around is a fluke on their part. This makes for a great story and the fact that Paul Rudd gets to play two different versions of this character and attempt to play off himself only adds to the wackiness this series delivers.
The first episode plays out linearly, but each consecutive episode has a very unique structure, as each one explores where the other version of Miles was during certain events, or how a specific situation occurred. Living with Yourself plays with time in a very unique way, telling the story slightly out of order, in terms of showing flashbacks and present parallels. Without getting into too many details, there are some very clever choices made to keep this a secret within the story that I really appreciated as a viewer. I was predicting certain things that ended up coming true, but I was equally being surprised as the series went along. It does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat.
For fans of Paul Rudd in general, you'll receive a few great laughs, but this series (although played as a fun ride) is more dramatic than anything. Yes, the whole concept is fun, but the overall idea makes for some great dramatic moments, especially in the final moments of this season. This season has a cliffhanger that both works as an open-end as well as a loose-end for further exploration. When a series can do that I find myself appreciating it more. This feels like a completed story, but it also feels like a lot more can happen.
In the end, Living with Yourself is a crazy concept and is quite frankly a far superior version of the recent film Gemini Man. Although it's played out as a fun concept, this movie has all the depth that films like that often miss. I loved watching this first season and I would gladly watch a second. There are a few flaws here and there and a couple of consistency errors that I noticed, which kept me from calling this a perfect first season, but those are pretty minor things. I highly recommend checking this one out.
Modern Love (2019)
A Fell-Good Series That Really Works
At this point, it almost seems redundant to say that streaming services are taking over in terms of where audiences are finding their entertainment. Quite honestly, I love the ease of being able to watch something immediately upon its release, but I also don't want that to affect movie theatres either. Thankfully, television shows have always been available exclusively at home, so this review won't be diving into the politics of where films truly belong. Modern Love is Amazon's most recent original piece of programming on its Prime Video service and it just may be my favourite series I've watched in a while.
Modern Love is an eight-episode anthology that follows a different type of love in each episode. Whether it's a young woman having to cope with being a mother on her own, a gay couple wishing to adopt a child, or an elderly couple wishing to be together to fill an empty void in their old age, this is a series that covers a lot of ground in terms of what the title suggests. Without giving anything away, this is a season that only runs for about four hours in length, so if you have the time, it absolutely has a much bigger impact when watching it all at once.
The reason I was so quick to watch this series was the fact that John Carney was the main writer/director. Sing Street was my favourite film back in 2016 and between Once and Begin Again, he has been creating some of the very best feel-good pieces of entertainment lately, in my opinion. With that said, he's not the only person who deserves credit for this show. Written by 12 people throughout the course of the eight episodes, there is clearly more than one voice. The directors don't exceed more than four, but the writing, although fantastic for the most part, felt a little jumbled in certain episodes.
I'm ready to shout at the rooftops about how much I loved watching this show and how the feel-good aspect of it will make most people smile, but I'll also admit that it's not exactly perfect one hundred percent of the time. In particular, the third episode titled, Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am, was a mixed bag for me. Starring Anne Hathaway, this episode follows a bipolar woman who can't seem to keep a relationship going. On its surface, the concept of the episode made for some great moments, but the whole feel of the episode felt out of place from the rest of the series and almost matched the main character's personality. Maybe that was a creative choice, but it didn't work for me.
Overall, the emotional threads that are precisely placed throughout the course of this show truly hit home when they need to. Episode one is my favourite episode, as it makes you feel good on the inside before diving into a few meaty romance tales. Modern Love has a lot of effort and care put into it by everyone involved and the final episode only accents that notion. Although I didn't quite love every episode, this is an extremely commendable piece of anthology storytelling that I absolutely recommend. If this was a four-hour film, I would be calling it one of my favourite films of 2019. This is a fantastic series so far and as far as how it plays out, I'd be happy if this is all there ended up being.
A Great Epilogue to One of the Greatest Series' Ever
Whether you agree with this or not, Breaking Bad is known as one of the greatest, if not the greatest television series' of all time by many people. Created by Vince Gilligan, it seems the series gains more and more viewers as the years go on. Although not as talked about as it was when it was on the air, it's still remembered as one of the greats and I believe it always will be. In my opinion, it truly pushes the boundaries of storytelling in the television medium. For these reasons alone, I was excited, yet slightly worried when Vince Gilligan announced that a continuation of the Breaking Bad story was being worked on. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story is now streaming on Netflix and has put all my worries to rest. This is a great epilogue.
Following the events that unfolded at the conclusion of the series, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) finds himself on the run from the law. With the help of some old friends in Badger and Skinny Pete, he's able to go further under the radar. With the help of flashbacks to moments that the series never explored, side characters and elements from the show are given a little more depth. This film is truly a send-off for this character and doesn't leave too many loose ends. There are a few things I would have liked this movie to explore, but what is given to the audience will most likely satisfy the majority.
The tone of this movie is much more laid back than the series itself. While the look and feel of the original series is still very much present, it also feels like it has a life of its own, which I really appreciated. Viewers who haven't seen the show can easily watch this movie as a film about a man on the run, trying to escape his past, but it will ultimately only be loved by those who will get the full experience from it. There are more than a couple of heightened scenes sprinkled throughout, but this movie is an epilogue first and foremost, which is meant to wrap things up in a quieter manner.
Some viewers will surely miss the absence of Walter White, played superbly in the series by Bryan Cranston, but I'll say there are more than enough nostalgic surprises to fill that void. Aaron Paul was always great as a Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, but this time around, his character has truly evolved and I'm not sure if I've ever seen him better. He knew this was probably the final thing fans would ever see from these core characters of the show (Better Call Saul aside) and it really shows in his performance here. Award-worthy once again.
In the end, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is absolutely more than satisfy most fans of the series and provide them with closure in ways they didn't know they actually wanted to see. Vince Gilligan truly cares about the characters in this over-arching story and his screenplay here feels like a casual continuation of the original premise. It doesn't take as many risks as the series did, but this particular story didn't have to. The camerawork and editing style is very reminiscent to that of the series, but when you bring back the entire main crew from the series, you should come to expect that. If you are a fan of Breaking Bad, I absolutely recommend checking out El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Gemini Man (2019)
Sadly, a Misfire that Visually Looks Great
I will always admire films that take chances or try to push the boundaries of cinema. Whether or not you enjoyed Avatar or not, it's without question that it was an exceptional achievement, visually. More recently, movies like Gravity or Life of Pi have also pushed the boundaries of the technical side of filmmaking and both accomplished wonders. Director Ang Lee, who also directed Life of Pi, is at the helm here for Gemini Man, and while it may look fantastic in terms of cinematography, this movie is a misfire. Here's why I believe Gemini Man isn't worth your time.
Following a hitman in Henry Brogan (Will Smith) as he's on the verge of retirement, this film kicks into gear when he discovers that a younger version of himself was cloned and sent to kill him. That's pretty much the premise of the movie, so if you were hoping to dive deeper than that, then you're going to be disappointed. Honestly, if you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've seen all the major story beats it hits. Gemini Man does nothing to wow or surprises its audience, which is a surprise in itself, given the director at hand.
From Brokeback Mountain to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee has directed a few of the most celebrated movies over the last 20 years. I haven't seen the majority of his filmography, but of the films I have seen, this is easily his weakest effort yet. Not to say he wasn't trying, because the effort is clearly on display, but it just doesn't work overall. The most notable aspect of this movie is the cinematography by Dion Beebe. This man has been in the business for over 27 years and his talents have yet to waiver. From the very opening shot, my eyes were glued to the screen. Sadly, the pacing and overall story ended up taking away from this, and not very subtly either.
Now for the most distracting and frustrating portion of the movie. The premise and the way it's executed are already off-putting enough, but the big selling point about this film is the fact that Will Smith gives two separate performances, both as himself and a younger version. He actually gives a far better performance than this film deserves, but even I (who is usually fairly forgiving about things like this) have to admit that the facial work on his younger version stood out like a sore thumb. Even down to the hand-to-hand combat scenes. It was clear that the person he was fighting had CGI work done to him. This idea is neat in concept, but it really didn't work here.
In the end, Gemini Man surely started as a concept that had director Ang Lee very eager to bring to life, and although his vision and Beebe's framing truly do stand out as positives, this is a film that had too many conflicted writers working on it, and it shows big time. Smith puts his all into this performance and his back and forth with Mary Elizabeth Winstead was even nice at times, but this movie extraordinarily suffers from a bad screenplay and distracting visuals. I really wanted to like this movie and even chose to ignore the audience and critic reactions, but I'm with the majority on this one. It's quite a bad film as a final product.
A Fantastic and Unnerving Character Study
Films based on comic books have been the craze over the last decade or so, to say the least. From Iron Man launching a franchise bigger than any interconnected cinematic franchise in history to The Dark Knight being known as one of the best films of all time, we're currently living in the golden age of comic book adaptations, so it should come as no surprise that a few unexpected outings would be attempted as well. Joker has now hit theatres and while I can say right off the top that it won't be for all moviegoers, this is a fantastic piece of storytelling.
Being alone his entire life and thrown to the side by society, Arthur Fleck still lives with his mother well into adulthood and has a full-time job as a street clown. Having a condition that causes him to uncontrollably laugh, this character study is engaging from start to finish. Slowly realizing the truth about his life, things begin to devolve into chaos in his mind. Joker is simply a study of the mind of someone who has nothing left to live for or be happy about. For this reason alone, this is going to be a tough watch for certain viewers. Having a homicidal maniac as your core focus is not exactly an easy sell.
Now, Joker shares quite a few similarities to other classic films, which is being criticized a lot throughout many reviews, but I didn't see that as a negative. There are so many formulas that have been emulated to create great works of fiction that calling this movie a rip-off would be an insult to the filmmakers. On top of that, this movie is held together by a performance by Joaquin Phoenix that's truly out of this world, so any minor issues I had were usually overshadowed by him.
Phoenix's portrayal of this character, like every actor who has played this character in the past, is extremely committed, whether or not you like the outcome. Thankfully, I think his portrayal is completely different from anyone who came before him, making this movie one that will be able to stand on its own for a long time. From his quirks when the film begins to where he ends up during the final act, each and every moment was riveting.
In the end, Joker does borrow a little too much from classic to really call it a masterpiece or perfect, but it's pretty close in my opinion, in terms of holding your interest for an unlikely anti-hero. It's directed very, very well by Todd Phillips and I was more than happy to see him evolve as a filmmaker here. This is something that I never thought I would see him do and, aside from the level of great comedy in a movie like The Hangover, this is probably his best work to date. I loved nearly everything about this movie, even though it will upset some viewers and make them feel very uncomfortable. In fact, for that reason alone, it has done its job very well. You're not supposed to root for him, but rather understand where his actions come from. This is a great film.
Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Very Distant from the Rest of the Franchise
The Rambo franchise hasn't been known for its subtleties and that was proven when Sylvestre Stallone returned to the role back in 2008. The amount of violence throughout that film gave action junkies everything they were asking for. It also took the outrageously bloody aspect of the franchise to another level as well. Wrapped up in a nice bow by the time the credits rolled, 2008s Rambo seemed to be the finale. Well, apparently not, as Rambo: Last Blood is now in theatres. Sadly, this franchise definitely should have ended with the previous instalment. Here's why I believe this movie simply doesn't work.
Now retired and taking care of a ranch out in the county, John Rambo has evolved into a (seemingly) much calmer man. After his niece makes a poor decision to find out the truth of who her real father has become out in Mexico, all hell breaks loose as John finds himself on the hunt to save his family. Without ruining anything, one thing leads to another and he eventually needs to use his home as a giant war zone/booby-trap to fend off his enemies. In theory, this premise is a great set-up for an action film that simply wants to focus on the action itself, but it really doesn't feel anything like a Rambo movie.
Being a war veteran and fending off his enemies throughout the course of his entire life, John Rambo is a character with a lot of complexities. For this reason alone, many of the Rambo films have been able to tell interesting stories, even if the execution wasn't always there. This time around, he has become a family man and an emotional tie is what gets him back in the game. The finale of this movie is the only remotely entertaining aspect, but the set-up for it just felt like an excuse for a revenge movie, which is never truly what the Rambo films have been.
Stallone is committed to this character as always and Yvette Monreal as his niece is actually quite good, but their dynamic just felt like it belonged in another movie. With the addition of some very cheesy dialogue at times and the fact that John Rambo is the only one who feels like a real, fleshed-out character, I found myself not really caring about what happened to anyone here. That said, audiences who watch Rambo movies are usually there for the action anyways, and if you're a fan of gory violence that's done well, then the final 20 minutes may be enough for you.
In the end, Rambo: Last Blood is a mixture of elements from movies like Taken and Home Alone, with an elderly war hero at the forefront and the violence cranked up to a thousand. There are moments of enjoyment and even a few times where I was having a little fun, but it really is an emotional movie that doesn't feel earned. It asks you to care about characters that haven't been around for much of the franchise and I just couldn't buy it. For die-hard fans of the franchise, maybe check it out once it's available to rent or buy at home, but I really don't think it's worth your time.