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American Honey (2016)
American Honey is a film about the bottom of the American dream. A bottom that it emblematic of the entire dream itself. Where the poorest of society try to make by, in an economy that has left them behind. Andrea Arnold fascinatingly shows characters reaching for hope in a situation they know is hopeless. Star, our main character, comes for the ride out of loneliness and longing for a family of her own, despite the fact that to stay apart of this family, she frequently debases herself. What we see in the micro, is reflective of what many people feel in the macro. Even though we the viewers aren't unfortunate enough to understand Star's plight, we know to a certain extent what it means to sell yourself short in order to get what you want.
Great performances from Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf. As a whole, American Honey is fascinating, but overlong and meandering. Many sequences could have been cut. We could have done without the two unnecessary sex scenes between Star and Jake, which if anything, pads this film out to nearly 3 hours. Worth at least one watch.
Good Boys (2019)
Past Your Bedtime.
If you came for Superbad Jr., that's what you're getting. A fitfully funny, raunchy, gross comedy featuring middle school prototypes of the bad boys from Superbad. For a lack of a better term, Good Boys has a playground to explore the tropes of tween life, and twisting them into comedy gold. At times, the movie goes for it and the jokes land very well. The more ballsier the joke, the more fun it is to watch. Plenty of "Oh My God" moments, especially in the opening half-hour. But in other times, there's much to be desired. The sentimental message at the end really didn't work for me at all. It smudges the entire purpose of what we are watching. If the premise is to have pre-pubescent children get into outlandishly adult situations, just pound your foot on that comedy gas pedal and never pull back. Good Boys isn't brave enough to go that distance, but it isn't cowardly enough to avoid it's share of moments either. In the end, it's filled with enough laughs for a good time at the movies, but it shows the flaws of comedy in 2019, and why it makes sense that industry comedy movies are not flooding the box-office like they used to. McLovin', I miss you.
Cult of the Occult.
The future of horror is here. Thy name is Robert Eggers. The Witch is close to being a perfect modern horror film. Reminiscent of classics from the mid-20th century, The Witch pushes the boundaries of what a film can accomplish, psychologically and visually, in scaring you. This is eye's wide open terror. You can hear it, you can smell it, you can feel it. Matched with performances that are all around breathtaking. Anya Taylor-Joy shocks the senses in her feature debut. Ralph Ineson as William is absolutely earth shattering. His booming, shivering voice praying to God for mercy will haunt you for days. The deeper we get into the curse of witches, as they inflict on this poor family, the darker and deadlier of a fate it becomes. None of us are spared either. Thomasin gives into the curse by the film's end, and by proxy, so do we all. In that sense, it's not as scary as it is hypnotic. But once you reenter the real world after your screening of The Witch will the dread of what you just watched overcome you. Boom. That's how you do Horror.
There may never be another filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino. If there is, we surely are in luck. But in all likelihood, future generations will just be students of his, and thank God for that fact alone. He's a filmmaker's filmmaker. His love of cinema verges on fetishism. His mission in life, it seems, was to keep his celluloid memories alive and in the American psyche in a time long past it's expiration date. So long as there's a reel and a way, Tarantino will give you a ticket to the greatest shows on earth, filled with filthy language and splattering gore violence. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is his 9th feature film. It's been announced as his second to last film. Rumor has it, if the film basks in an exponentially warm reception, this could be his last film. I pray we can all sit down one last time for the number 10, but if Quentin is seriously considering it, I'll warmly and happily accept that. The truth is, it's all been leading up to this moment. Quentin's personal crescendo, encapsulating all he has learned and all he has experienced as a man living in Hollywood and a successful filmmaker from within it. He went for it, and he did it. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the best film of 2019, and easily his best film since Pulp Fiction. For me, nothing short of perfect. Everything I wanted it to be, and yet it still shocked and surprised me. I'm convinced that after the second and even third viewings, i'll still find new things to love about it. For nearly three hours in length, it grabs you up from your seat and never lets go.
Here's the story. The year is 1969. We meet the dashing Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his frisky stuntman sidekick, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The dynamic duo of black and white television, and old, gunslinging cowboy movies. They were the best, they were the most handsome and they were the most talented. They were the best actors in Hollywood.. until now. After an unkindly meeting with his agent, Marvin Schwartz (played in outrageous fashion by the great Al Pacino), Rick is told in no uncertain terms that his time as a leading man is over. In other words, he's lost everything. Reduced to playing walk-on roles in late-60's TV shows, and B-grade Italian spaghetti westerns that nobody will ever see. Devastated, he returns to sulk in his luxury home in the Hollywood hills, while Cliff goes home to a dingy trailer next-door to a drive-in movie theater, to feed his loyal pit-bull Brandy. California Dreaming is not all that it seems. But wouldn't you know it, Rick Dalton has a new neighbor. One Roman Polanksi and his wife, superstar Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). The contrast doesn't get much starker. As Rick Dalton disappears into the hazy California sunset, Tate and friends are dancing in the middle of it. We begin to alternate between these two stories. Rick Dalton's personal misery in landing mediocre roles, and Sharon Tate humbly enjoying her career at it's peak. She's so humble, in fact, she attends screenings of her own movies in town to kick her feet back and laugh with the audience. But in the middle of the high and hard times of show business, evil lurks in the background, ready to attack. That evil being the Manson family. Cliff, Rick and Sharon all have individual run-ins with Charlie and the gang, dismissing them as your average dirty hippies, not realizing they are all about to make a head-on collision with Helter Skelter.
From it's very beginning, Tarantino doesn't just show you how things were in 1969, he places you there right along with it. I was there with all of them. Many of the sequences here include interludes of driving with an authentic live radio blasting (not unlike K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's) the soundtrack of our film. Killer psychedelic tunes and radio ads narrate the few times where our characters stay silent, which in any Tarantino film, is brief. The first hour and a half of the film may even puzzle viewers with how little happens between the characters. But that's the point. Tarantino places the audience through multiple POVs in order to illustrate this time in Hollywood. It was a technique I didn't expect, but I adored it all the same, and if anything, I'll always remember these sequences first when I think of the film. DiCaprio lights up the screen as the manically depressed Rick Dalton who goes between arrogantly strutting on set as if he's still a hot shot, to wrecking his trailer in a fit of insecurity and rage. Brad Pitt is effortlessly cool as Cliff Booth. Dude is the suavest partner-in-crime since Paul Newman. Robbie plays Tate, and with the responsibility of playing the prime victim of one of the most gruesome and horrifying murders in American history, she needed to bring honor in this special tribute to her. Not only did she bring honor, but she also brought beauty, grace, wistful optimism and love. If she had a a song, it would probably be "Good Morning, Starshine", though we all know she was a Paul Revere and the Raiders fan. Tate represents here all that was good of the late 60's. That far-out, free-spirited, love your neighbor, flower power that most Californians at that time adopted.. so long as you didn't take it to the extreme. If you did, you'd turn into one of those goddamn dirty hippies.
That's the other thing that Tarantino explores in 1969. If you were worried about a film about the Manson family that glorifies them as super cool anti-heroes, you best sit down and let this film do the talking. Because Tarantino clearly doesn't just hate Charles Manson, he loathes him. The man who, in his mind, killed the 1960's and the Hollywood he loved. On that note, you might be asking yourself.. this film doesn't really reenact the events of that horrible night, does it? Well, I promise you, this is a spoiler free review, but lets just say the events of August 8th 1969 don't play out here as they did in history. What results is the biggest middle finger ever given to the Manson Family in an epic finale so mindbogglingly brutal and relentless, it will make your jaw drop.
I left the theater having felt like I drank a strong cocktail of Boogie Nights and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, ripped a bong and got awakened by a punch in the face. This is a movie, and a trip and an experience you won't soon forget. See this thing, right now. See it twice. See it three times. Invite in into your head and let it stay there and stew. Explore this tapestry of Americana, booze, sex, drugs, rock' n' roll and movies. You'll be exhausted, but you will be satisfied.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
The irony of Woody Allen directing a movie about women dealing with mediocre and abusive men is tragically hilarious. But perhaps he was the perfect one to direct it. Perhaps he's all too familiar with this story, after all, you'd be driven crazy too if you had to live with him.
What's also ironic is that this is one of the few film of his where the women have three-dimensional character development. All culminating with a spectacular performance from Cate Blanchett who more than anyone else makes Jasmine Francis a real person. True is her troubles and anxiety, true is her disappointment with a loveless life of wealth, true is her aggravation from her deceitful husband. Jasmine is a powder keg, and by the film's end, she explodes. It takes everything out of an actor to portray a human being at their breaking point, and Blanchett goes there. It is breathtaking to watch. Sally Hawkins and Bobby Canavale also light up the screen as an engaged couple who's love lives are just as uncertain as Jasmine, but better coping mechanisms to deal. For an at times choppy filmography, Blue Jasmine is ones of Woody Allen's standout films. A film so oddly meaningful and understanding coming from it's sourse.
Right now, a category 1 hurricane has been traveling through New Orleans, and movie goers are being treated to a survival horror movie about alligators in hurricanes. The irony is sickening.
You know what's also ironic? Crawl is good. Like, pretty good. Not bad, as so many had thought. If you were expecting GatorNado.. you are in luck, because every dumb monster movie cliche of the past decade is nowhere to be found here. What we do have is a champion swimmer and her father trying to make it out of their basement alive as a Cat 5 hurricane threatens to drown them and a hoard of hungry alligators swarm the premises. This is survival horror at it's greatest. Nothing seems preposterous about this situation. It's as claustrophobic and tense as you'd want it to be. I was on edge for the entire way through, and Aja doesn't let his viewers off the hook that easily. This is a fun, fun summer movie.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
What is Life?
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players"
Charlie Kaufman visualizes Shakespeare's famous quote literally in Synecdoche, New York. A film about a dying stage director who's entire world is captured before his very eyes on stage, and the line between fiction and reality blurs. Some have called a narrative masterpiece. Considering the complexity and scope of what is captured here, it's certainly an impressive feat. But it's just too overwhelming and confusing. I barely reached the half way point, and I had no idea what was going on. I didn't know who was who anymore.. or what characters were important to the story, or anything. I like abstract films, but I don't enjoy trying to solve one like a Rubix cube. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is EXCELLENT here, no doubt. So is Michelle Williams. But the performances alone aren't enough to keep you from losing patience. This is a rough one. Neither good nor bad. I have to pass.
Mad as Hell
"This is the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings."
Earlier this year I saw Network on Broadway with Bryan Cranston playing Howard Beale. As a theatrical experience, It was wild and fun. But curiously, I never saw the movie it was based on. Network, the motion picture is a classic of the 1970's. A film way ahead of its time in terms of what it foresaw about the future of television and it's influence on our way of life. In 2019, unfortunately, Network is a reality. The line between entertainment and honest journalism has nearly been erased. Our television programs rival between propaganda and gratuitous debauchery. Paddy Chayefsky, like a poet, rants and raves through the many characters we see here as a word of warning to viewers in it's time. TV is going to kill us. In this instance, It killed Howard Beale.
Howard Beale is a madman. Well, he was an average man who went mad after learning that the network was going to fire him. In an act of desperation, he declares that he's going to commit suicide live on the air. The network swings into panic mode, until one shrewd programing executive, played by Faye Dunaway, realizes the potential of having Beale stay on the air. Beale gets more airtime and begins to raise the stakes of what television was able to broadcast at that time. It all culminates with that famous blood-curdling speech in which he directs the audience to get up out of their chairs, open their windows and scream to the heavens "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!". Beale becomes a television phenomenon, and UBS is in the money. But with fame comes corruption and risk. What Beale and the rest of the network begin to realize is how the influence and power of television sucks the humanity out of our very existence and how basic dignity is replaced with ratings.
It goes without saying, but Network is a powerhouse film for outstanding acting. Dunaway, Holden and Duvall command the screen at every turn, and bounce off of each other with ease. In that sense, it's feels like more of a stage play than a film. Then, of course, is Peter Finch. This was his final performance on film. What a hell of a way to go out. There hasn't been, nor will there ever be a more passionate on-screen performance than this.
To Rome with Love (2012)
At it's best moments, To Rome with Love is a love letter to one of the most treasured cities on the planet. At it's worst, it's another vapid, misogynistic Woody Allen movie. The problematic director has made unbelievably good films, there's no question. But when he falls, its embarrassing, and creepy. The women in this movie have no dimension or depth. All are objects for men to deal with. Rome is a city of love, but watching this movie, it seems like a brothel. Only two of the four stories leave a gratifying impact. Roberto Benigni as the tortured celebrity is a really funny, exaggerated look at paparazzi culture. The shower taking Opera singer is a hilarious side story as well. Everything else falls apart like a stale slice of tiramisu. Italia, you deserve better.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
I'll Be Home for the Holidays.
When buddy movies are discussed, this one usually comes up right at the outset. There's a damn good reason why. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is just about the world's most perfect buddy movie. Down to a science, every joke, every pratfall and every tearjerking moment is engineered to land on target every time. Most of that credit belongs to John Hughes, the defining filmmaker of the 1980's. But let's not forget Steve Martin and John Candy. Martin plays the uptight Neal Page. Candy plays the chatty, rotund Del Griffith. Together, it's the match made in comedy heaven, especially in 1987, when both comics were at their peak of greatness. It harkens back to the best material from Laurel and Hardy. Not to mention, Hughes plays with the agony traveling horror stories, and cranks it up to 11. It's a gauntlet of bad luck, and every last gag cracked a huge smile on my face. It's really difficult to do slapstick correctly. If it's overdone, it's painful to watch. PTA accomplishes just enough subtlety and silliness to make all of the gags work. Any time of the year, but especially during the holidays, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is crowd pleasing, heartwarming viewing.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
To Infinity and Beyond.
Toy Story. The animated franchise that has defined me as a filmgoer, filmmaker and writer. I'm turning 24 next month, and Toy Story has damn-near been in my life for all of those years.
The first film was released on Thanksgiving of 1995. I was 4 months old, sleeping in cribs, without any indication of what movies where, or for that matter, any kind of entertainment. But little did I know it would be the first film I would ever watch. The VHS was released the year after, and as I was learning to walk, talk and play, Toy Story played in the background. Something inside me clicked while I watched it. I was enchanted by it's world of make-believe. A world of talking toys. What more could a little kid want? My mother swears that I knew every line of dialogue from the film by the time I was 2 years old. Woody and Buzz where my bread and butter. I had both of them as toys of my own. To me, I was no different than Andy, because Andy was every kid in the world. What Toy Story so astoundingly captured was the bond between a child and his toy. It's unmistakeable and iconic. Needless to say, Toy Story was the family film we never knew we needed, as as a feat of technological genius, one of the finest films ever made.
Toy Story 2 was released 4 years later. By that time, I was old enough to see it in a theater. I'm happy to tell you that I still haven't forgotten the memory of seeing it nearly 20 years ago. My parents took me, and I took my Woody doll with me. We went on a cold and snowy November afternoon. I placed Woody next to me in my seat as the theater lights dimmed to darkness. We loved it. Not to mention, not a single dry eye in that audience during Jessie's ballad, "When She Loved Me". But from that experience, I vividly remember leaving Woody behind in the theater, and we had to drive all the way back to retrieve it. Life imitates art.
The gap between Toy Story 2 and 3 was 11 years. That's an eternity to a child. That's your entire elementary and middle school years in the books. I had enough Pixar movies in between to hold me over. By the time Toy Story 3 was released in the summer of 2010, I was already finished with my freshman year of high school. This time, I didn't see it in theaters, and I still don't know the reason. Was I going through a phase? Was I becoming cynical? Did i think I outgrew the material? Lord knows. I watched it when it premiered on cable later that year. That same spirit still stuck with me. The trilogy was complete, the toys left Andy and there was nothing else left to say.. or so we thought.
Toy Story 4 is here. I wouldn't blame you if you feel weary about that. If ever there was a film franchise that shouldn't be milked to death and exploited until every last capital of it has been exhausted, you are looking at it. To even justify a fourth installment, they needed to work hard and get it right. The weekend isn't over and the jury is still out, but i have my verdict. Toy Story 4 is necessary and beautiful. To all fans of the series and any fan of animation, drop what you are doing and see this now. This is worth an hour and change of watching non-streamable content. This is how cinema lives on in the year 2019. For me, as a grown man, this brings it all full circle.
We pick up right where we left off, with the toys belonging to little Bonnie. Still going on grand adventures in the bedroom. It's the first day of kindergarten for Bonnie, and she's too shy and scared to make any friends. Lucky for her, Woody comes to rescue and provides her with supplies to make her own friend. From there, we meet Forky. The product of what happens when toys play God. He's a stick figure made out of a spork, with a serious existential crisis. He keeps throwing himself in the trash. That's right, Forky is suicidal. You couldn't have a Pixar movie without throwing in a little dark social commentary. Bonnie and her parents take a road trip to an amusement park and the toys come with. But Woody gets carried away while guarding the troubled Forky. Woody and Forky get left behind after another episode, and vow to catch up to the park in the morning. As they walk into town, a vintage antique store catches Wood's eye with memorabilia attributed to Bo Peep, the toy that got away long, long ago. The antique store is filled with lost, abandoned toys, including a lonely girl doll named Gabby Gabby who's only friends are creepy ventriloquist dummies who stand upright on their own.. yeah, they are just as creepy as they sound. Forty is captured and Woody escapes the store. He lands in a nearby playground filled with even more abandoned toys, where he is reunited with none other than Bo Peep. It's been a long time since Woody has seen her and she's gotten a 2019 upgrade since. She's a swashbuckling badass now, accompanied with her tiny adorable sidekick, Officer Giggle McDimples. Woody and Bo join forces with Buzz , two smart-ass plush toys (voiced by Key and Peele) and a Canadian daredevil biker (voiced by Keanu Reeves) to save Forky and return him in one piece to Bonnie.
I could gush about this film for hours. First, on a technical level, Toy Story 4 is the most gorgeous looking film of the series. You can see every scratch, blemish and texture on every toy. Gone are the awkward polygons and fuzzy graphics of the Windows 95' generation. I was captivated by everything, from the photo realistic backgrounds to the shining reflective porcelain that gleams off of Bo Peep. It's as sharply funny as any of the Toy Story films, with enough adult asides to keep anyone in the audience from being alienated. It brings the series to an appropriate end that, while wasn't entirely necessary after the third film, concludes the journey of Woody and friends in a totally satisfying way.
Do I envision watching Toy Story 5 at 40 years old? Or 6 at 60? I don't know, but if indeed they are in the works, and if they are as lovely as all 4 previous films have been, I'll warmly invite the opportunities to see more. These movies awesome. To infinity and beyond.
Life of the Party.
Booksmart is being compared to many films. Superbad and Bridesmaids just to name a few. I feel that no comparison gives this film any justice. Booksmart is it's own thing, and it's a pretty damn good thing. A brand-new classic hang-out movie. Whip smart, really funny and endearing. This is Olivia Wilde's directorial debut. I have one word of advice for you, Olivia. Please keep making movies.
Booksmart is about senior year of high school, and the two most unlikely party crashers, Molly and Amy. Both overachieve in academics and passionately wear their progressive political hearts on the sleeves. They think they have it so good, until they realize that everyone else around them partied just as hard as they studied. The shocking realization sets in that they may have wasted four years of high school by being "not-fun". Even worse, it's the last day of school and graduation is tomorrow. Molly and Amy form a pact, that on this night, they party as hard as they can before graduation to prove to the world that they can get down as hard as the rest of the class.
Chaos ensues. A wild night filled with memories they will never forget, if those memories include robbing a Pizza boy who happens to be a serial killer on the run, and tripping balls on drugged up strawberries resulting in a bad trip where the girls turn into Barbie dolls. No joke is too overdone, or too gross, or too raunchy. But theres too many of them to count. Booksmart throws so many ideas at the wall, and all of them stick. Why does it all work so well? Well, not only do we have a naturally gifted director in Olivia Wilde (given her mother, could be genetics) and an ingeniously clever script written by four brilliant ladies, but also because the entire array of characters, every last one of them, are three dimensional and fully realized in their own special ways. I fell in love with all of them. The privileged rich kid with a heart of gold, the flirty young teacher, Amy's dorky parents, the pseudo-hipster principal (Sudeikis), the Drama school power couple, and so many more. All are familiar people you might know, and thankfully, none of them are sidelined or relegated to simple cheap shots or stereotypes. Wilde treats them all as equals, and has affection for them. They all bring Booksmart together, within a wonderful, goofy universe that ultimately teaches our two main characters to not be so judgmental and uptight. In the end, Molly and Amy find the healthy balance between hard work and good fun, and all the while, spending time with people they thought they were too good for. Booksmart's moral is quite simple. Loosen up. Guaranteed, it will loosen you up.
Ma is a throwback to campy 1980's horror. Filled with teens, alcohol and bad decisions. But this time the killer is played by Octavia Spencer, who was wronged a teenager when the parents of the kids we see here played an awful joke on her. It's as simple as that. As most slasher movies historically operate, this is a revenge fantasy. Spencer is creepy and convincing as Ma. It's a fun horror movie to watch in a theater. Turn your brain off and enjoy.
Hold Me Closer
I think it's going to be a long, long time before we see another biopic as whimsical, freeing, high-flying and visually spellbinding as Rocketman. Everything this movie is, ultimately, is what Bohemian Rhapsody should have been. A flamboyant whirlwind, so fitting of the wonderful, colorful world of Elton John. You couldn't have made it any other way. True, it's a bit unusual to be making a musical biopic about a man that hasn't died, but Elton has lived so many lifetimes and lives, it's hard to imagine him leaving us anytime soon.
Rocketman is a tapestry of Elton's life from childhood to his troubled, but decadent adulthood. What is revealed is how miserable a life he truly had. Dealing with a father who was never truly there for him, and a love life filled with so many grifters, it seemed as though he was never going to fill the emptiness of his heart. Artistic brilliance truly comes from grief, as Elton pours his feelings out into every last song. Listening closely to the lyrics, and along with Dexter Fletcher's impeccable cinematic structure, we realize how many of these catchy, unforgettable tunes represented Elton's loneliness and longing. We also explore Elton's many unfortunate addictions. Drugs, sex and alcohol kept him at bay, until they nearly killed him. I got a kick out of how the film was crafted along the confines of an intervention, populated not only by Elton's many lovers, loved ones and acquaintances, but the many versions of himself.
Not to mention, Rocketman is a jukebox musical on steroids. All the hits are here, and the entire cast has a swinging time performing them all. Shouldn't all musical biopics be like this? For my money, this is a nice change of pace from how formulaic and tiresome some biopics have become these days.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Gotta Catch It?
I'm a 90's kid, of course I grew up with Pokemon. I watched the anime, I played the videos games (both portable and console), I saw the movies, I collected the cards. Pokemon, the phenomenon, was essentially a virus. Now, it's a source of great nostalgia for so many millennial. Pokemon Detective Pikachu was made for us. Quintessential fan service. But expect nothing more than that.
This is a brain-numbing experience. There is no real story or anything that makes any sense in this movie. If you've never seen or heard of Pokemon before, you will be hopelessly lost here. That's a flaw, for certain. But make no mistake, if you came for Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, you will love it. He's electric.. mind the pun. It's Deapool, without the curse words. I never thought I wanted to see a wise-cracking Pikachu, but i'm please that I did. Many other Pokemon (Pokemen?) appear in the background and foregrounds of the film, yet I could't help but notice so many that were left out and too many that kept repeating. That's kind of lazy. We aren't working with 150 of them anymore either. But you will be delighted to see them walking around and co-existing with real people, in what seemed like a unique cross between Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Men in Black.
Detective Pikachu is dumb fun. Period. All it should have ever been.
The shame of an American, or in this case, one of the most significant Americans of all time. Ted Kennedy. a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Brother of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Known to many as "The Lion of the Senate" for his unabashed, outspoken advocacy for progressive policy. All of this seemed to cover for the fact that in 1969, he involuntarily killed Mary Joe Kopechne in a car crash off of the Dike Bridge of Chappaquiddick Island. What would any honest man do but report the incident to the police and deal with the tragedy, hard is may be, by resigning from congress. That is not what Ted Kennedy did. He neglected to report the incident and initially lied about what happened to the press, his friends, his family and the family of Kopechne. In essence, he placed his political future above basic human dignity. But because of his stature and his privilege, he managed to skate by and continue a life-long and prosperous career as a U.S. Senator. The times he lived in where on his side. He could have never gotten away with it today, nor should he.
Im impressed by how good this film is. There was a solid chance they could have bungled and over-dramatized the real events, resulting in an embarrassing flop, but Chappaquiddick turns out to be as honest and true as the history itself. Jason Clarke portrays Ted Kennedy in earnest. He doesn't shy away from how slimy and calculative his demeanor was in the aftermath of the tragedy. Spellbinding is Bruce Dern as Joseph Kennedy Sr., the Kennedy patriarch, who never forgave Ted. I would say if you are a political junkie or a fan of biographies, this is worth your time in watching.
This movie is none of those three things. Let me rephrase it for you. Extremely Boring, Shockingly Banal and Dull. You're looking at the biggest waste of time this year on Netflix, at the movies, and anywhere else. Was the world clamoring for a Ted Bundy biopic? Not particularly. Is it an interesting concept for an independent film? Fair enough. What can be done with the facts at hand, and the demented character of Bundy himself? Well, I don't really want to go down that dark and gruesome rabbit hole, but I can guarantee you it would be something much better than this. Joe Berliner took his engrossing documentary and turned it into a narrative farce. Watch the doc, and call it night on Netflix. You would have missed out on nothing. This is a dressed up, over calculated, horrendously acted dramatization of real events. You don't need to see it.
Zac Efron, despite being a total dead-ringer for Ted Bundy did not convince me as a psychopath. The real Bundy was a snot-nosed aristocrat who politicked his way into making people think he couldn't have committed those murders. Efron plays him as some dreamy frat boy. No, all wrong. Even worse is John Malkovich (fulfilling what I gather is a 5-picture deal with Netflix) as Judge Edward Cowart, the man who sentenced Bundy. The real Cowart is a hard nosed southerner who saw through Bundy's charade, knocked his block off and led him down the path of justice for his crimes. Malkovich plays him as John Malkovich. No acting required. A real paycheck casher, indeed. Lily Collins is fine here, and admittedly tries hard for a character that was written without much thought or care.
You'll notice that less than half of this movie is told from her perspective, while the film was advertised as it was entirely through her POV. The narrative structure is all over the place, and as sloppy as a biopic can possibly get. You have to make a decision in a biopic between telling a true story using the perspective of the real-life character, or tell the story as a faux-documentary as the events played out. You can't do both.
I left having learned nothing I didn't already know about Ted Bundy, and not enjoying myself watching it either. Even if serial killer movies and docs are your thing, this film will let you down.
Death and Twinkies
Nut up or shut up. 10 years ago, audiences everywhere fell in love with Zombieland. Consider it the American equivalent of Shaun of the Dead. Just as inventive, just as bloody and nearly as funny. Complete with a central cast that just clicked so well together, and that doesn't happen everyday. Jesse Eisenberg's clinic in neurosis acting is a grating chore to watch looking back, but here, it suits him well. Something about a wormy coward running away from zombies that want to rip him to shreds is funny. Woody Harrelson is a good laugh and a half as Tallahassee. Hard as nails, but a sucker for Twinkies. Of course, the funniest scene in the film, hands down, is the Bill Murray sequence. He's playing fan service for certain, but he comes at it with his A-Game. This is worth seeing if you haven't. I am now prepared, and I happily await the sequel coming this fall.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Go for Broke.
A western in the era of the great recession. Hell or High Water is quality cowboy action with enough social commentary to give it an extra kick. An excellent study on what drives people to become common criminals. The two brothers on the run commit evil deeds, but aren't necessarily evil themselves, if you catch my drift. Jeff Bridges lights the screen on fire as a crusty old sheriff who's seen it all.
Four men spend a weekend whitewater rafting in the deepest depths of Appalachia. They thought they would take it easy. They thought it would be fun. They were never the same again.
Deliverance is a film about fear, horror, survival, justice, retribution and remorse. A man's personal reckoning, in ways many people never thought of. It's also about a loss of innocence, one that many Americans felt during Vietnam and Watergate. A sense that you can never really trust your neighbor and never walk through life wistfully unaware of the evil that lurks in the most unsuspecting of places.
John Boorman, in real time, explores a camping trip from hell. Every last excruciating moment of it. The bare naked wilderness, surrounded by toothless, inbred hicks that want to do some very bad harm to innocent city folks. To those who know of that famous scene, you know better than to assume it represents the entirety of the film, but you also know that it's horrifying nature makes it impossible to think of this film without thinking of it. To those who don't know what I'm talking about, consider this your trigger warning.
John Boorman is a filmmaking realist. He chose Deliverance to represent a moment in cinema where the intimate fears of the average man can be screened for the first time. The fear of the uncivilized world, and how it can bring you face to face with death. Reynolds, Voight, Beatty.. acting perfection. I cant say enough good things. Deliverance is an all-time classic. The 70's at it's best.
Does Room Come Together?
Room is half an extraordinary film and half a decent one. Both halves, in my opinion, don't properly come together to create one incredible product. The tonal and narrative shift that this film takes is jarring. Perhaps that was the intent.
We begin within the confines of a makeshift room inside of a shed. Ma and Jack are the captives of a disgusting cretin named "Old Nick". He kidnapped Ma years ago, and he subjects her to sexual slavery. I might note that the film shows us what "Old Nick" looks like, and I think that was a mistake. Why you might ask? It's because of the powerful dynamic that director Lenny Abrahamson establishes right from the very first moment we meet Ma and Jack. We see the special place they've created for themselves in spite of their circumstance. Everything about it seems ordinary, and that's because Ma makes sure that it seems that way to Jack. Jack only knows Room. It's his only base of reality. Abrahamson purposely centers the film through both points of view. In this sense, this first half of the film is extraordinary So why did we need to humanize their captor? Only a sub-human creature would do this to two innocent people. We know these people exist in real life. We choose not to recognize them in news reporting, for the mere risk of legitimizing who they are and the crimes they committed. Cinematically speaking, it would have been more powerful to have made "Old Nick" an off-screen character. It would have been more real, and more chilling.
Ma and Jake ultimately escape captivity through a crafty ruse of an emergency that includes hot water and a rug. We enter the next half of the film. Life outside of Room. Ma and Jack readjusting to the real world, and Jack's inability to cope with what the real world is. All he knows and loves is Room, and it leaves him completely detached to what is normal. Jacob Tremblay gives an incredible performance. However, the new characters that we meet in this half do not add anything new or substantial to this story. Or at least that is what it seems like, because of the drastic tonal shift this film takes. Needless to say, I wasn't as hooked into this world as I was inside of Room. I wish I was.
But warts and all, this is a well made, and extremely well acted film. Brie Larson's role of her lifetime was this one. To realize she's accomplished this and Captain Marvel before turning 30 is mind-blowing. She has not years, but decades of greatness ahead of her. The same can be said for young Jacob Tremblay. Room is, if nothing else, an effective emotional ride, which was all it ever needed to be.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
The Hurt Locker is a war picture with a killer adrenaline rush. These aren't ordinary soldiers. These men work with bombs. It's a race against the clock as Sgt. William James tries to find and disarm IED's in war torn Baghdad. Kathryn Bigelow was born to direct scenes like this. It's excruciating to watch, but you can't have it any other way. I want a war movie to rattle me. The Hurt Locker did just that.
Need I also forget to mention that the film stars Hawkeye and Falcon? Saving the day for the first time. MCU fans will not be disappointed.
The Lobster (2015)
The Lobster is a genius spark of insanity. A great introduction into the eccentric world of Yorgos Lanthimos. Colin Farrell is David, a man in his own personal hell. Welcome to a dystopian future, where single men and women are forced to establish romantic relationships, over the hanging threat that if they don't, they will be turned into an animal of their choice. .. and you thought Tinder was bad. Yorgos gleefully mocks the patriarchy, and has a ton of dark and twisted fun doing it. The characters, the dialogue, the locations among so much else are rich with humor. Unlike most independent films, you'll notice The Lobster consistently standing out on it's own. If you try and compare it to any classic or contemporary piece, you'll come up short. You may love The Lobster or hate it, but either way, you won't forget it.
Spring Breakers (2012)
Spring Break Forever?
Spring Breakers is an experience meant to feel like a blur once you finish it. When I was a Senior in High School, it was the word-of-mouth film everyone was talking about. Some said it was amazing and some said it was the worst film ever made. But those who saw it then, in large multiplexes, sadly knew nothing of it's creator Harmony Korine. The Godfather of hardcore hipster cinema. Surreal art pictures like Gummo and Trash Humpers. If you know what you're getting, you'll understand Spring Breakers, and realize that this is actually his most commercial film to date. If you don't know that, you probably wont like it at all. The right word for this is polarizing.
Spring Breakers is intoxicatingly unpleasant. That's an oxymoron, but it's an apt description. Korine introduces us to these four girls. Right off the bat, you are repulsed by them. They come across as vapid seekers of cheap thrills, no matter how depraved and sadistic. Instead of getting money at the ATM, they arm rob a chicken restaurant. How sweet. Gomez plays the outlier of the group. A good Christian girl who sees nothing but trouble from the jump, and is the first to bail when things get real. Curiously, as Alien (James Franco) enters the scene, Gomez exists thereafter. We never see or hear from her again. I'll admit that this makes for shoddy character development, and at this point in his career, Korine should know better. But forget that. Just go with it.
Shots of sweaty bodies and beer guzzling occupy the frames of the wild parties these girls go to. Think of Project X, but artsier. At this point, we are introduced to Alien, played by James Franco. A low-life drug-dealer, small-time rapper and wealthy baddie, surrounded by cars, wads of cash and machine guns. He's a white trash train-wreck. Evidently, this may be James Franco's best onscreen role. At least until he played Tommy Wiseau, but does that even count as an original performance? He takes these girls under his wing, and trains them to be his personal hit squad.
Spring Breakers is what it is. A nonsensical film about sex, dugs, alcohol, guns and crime in sunny Florida. In some ways, it's a cautionary tale about getting caught up in the wrong crowd. In other ways, it's a midnight stoner flick. I can't say it's a great film, but I don't think it's bad either. Once you are sucked in to this world, it's hard to come back out of it, and you end up being seduced by it's vile nature.
The Pianist (2002)
A harrowing, devastating story of the miraculous survival of a Jewish pianist during the holocaust. Like Schindler's List, The Pianist accurately documents the horrors of the holocaust to such an extent that it exists less like a work of art, and more like a public service. Films like this help us never to forget and never to repeat this awful moment in human history. Classroom viewings are mandatory. Not to mention, a world class performance by Adrian Brody. He is immersed in this role. To see him wandering through the rubble of Warsaw, looking for any last morsel of food to eat is a stroke of acting and cinema genius that you won't believe even when you see it. This is what dedication to storytelling is all about.