What Happened Here??
Suburbicon (2017): A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.
What happened here? What is this travesty? Hang on. Let me rattle off the names of the people involved with this travesty. George Clooney. Matt Damon. Julianne Moore. Oscar Isaac. The great composer Alexandre Desplat. Last, but not least.... JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. How did this happen? Please, explain. I'll wait............ This is a complete train wreck. An absolute dumpster fire that is trying to do too much. What is the purpose of this film? Is it a whodunit? I hope not, because don't worry! You'll figure out the "whodunit" of this tale about 20 minutes into the film. Is it a statement about the inequality in our past social and racial structures and how those inequalities are still relevant today? If so, then why does that story line feel like it is just tacked on as a mere afterthought, with each cut to the Mayers family (which this story line is based around) feeling extremely jarring and out-of-place? The foundation of this film's problems lies in the fact that it's trying to do too much. As a result, it doesn't do anything well and creates an extremely messy and unorganized film.
Let's start by talking about the good of this film. Even though there isn't much. First off, the production design. The production design in this film is good. There was a good amount of care that went into crafting the sets of this film, and it does a pretty good job of capturing 1950's suburbia. This is about the only thing director George Clooney really nailed. Also, Oscar Isaac steals the show as far as the acting is concerned. (In fact, he's the only good thing about the acting in this movie) He is having a blast as the insurance agent, and he shines despite his extremely limited screen time. He's only in this 104-minute film for about 10 minutes, but he provided some much-needed relief because by the time he shows up I had already figured out that this is a bad film. I think he realized this was a bad movie too, because he is screen chewing to the max in his brief role. (And I love it) Finally, the first 5ish minutes of the film are amazing! The initial satire on past (and present) racial biases was on point. The film opens with your very stereotypical 1950's-esque mailman delivering the day's mail to suburbia (it's either a mailman or a milkman, right?) and when he gets to the new neighbors that just moved in, the Mayers, he's shocked and dismayed to discover they are black. After the entire block loses their mind over this fact, we cut to the best scene of the entire film in which an angry room of townspeople complain over the city council's attempt to integrate a family of color into their community. A lot of racial tropes we still see today are used, and for the first few minutes of the film we have a very sharp and smart commentary about racial and social structures both past and present. Unfortunately....the film has an abrupt cut from this story line to go downhill with its main story, a whodunit you figure out almost immediately.
Aaaaaaand this is where the problems for Suburbicon begin. To say the main story line isn't interesting is something of an understatement. Keep in mind.... when I go to a whodunit film, I usually try not figure out the story before it happens on the screen. I find spending time on the actual "who did it" to be distracting, and I like to be surprised at the end when the curtain is pulled back. However, Suburbicon's whodunit story line is so blatantly obvious I managed to figure it out very quickly, without actually spending any energy to try and figure it out. This film is depressingly predictable. I immediately figured out where this film was going, and hey! It didn't stray from where I was expecting it to go AT ALL. The film also tries to tell its main story from a child's perspective, similar to The Florida Project, which also just came out recently. (I also just reviewed this MASSIVELY superior film last week....you can check that out here) All Suburbicon did in this storytelling aspect was remind me just how great a film The Florida Project was, because boy does this film fail miserably here. The kid, Nicky, (played by Noah Jupe) is exposed to some of the most terrible sights a kid could possibly be exposed to. The things he sees should scar him for life. But does the film even bother to acknowledge this? NOPE. He's fine he'll brush off watching people literally die in front of him no problem! (among other things) I mean....my God, George Clooney/Joel and Ethan Coen. Y'all wrote this pile of garbage. If you're going to try and tell this story from the perspective of the kid, you need to acknowledge how these extraordinarily traumatic events are affecting him! Oh, my bad, I forgot he puts a piece of wood in front of his door to keep the bad guys out. Ya! Nailed it! Additionally, this whodunit story line doesn't mesh with the Mayers systemic racism story line at ALL. They are not even remotely related, and the only way they even connect with one another is when Nicky has a few conversations with the Mayers kid, Andy. (Played by Tony Espinosa) But these conversations feel tacked on out of place. They seem like they're only there because Clooney/the Coens figured out these two story lines didn't mesh together, so they added some dialogue between the kids to "patch it up." Not to mention the ending, which is......just awful. Minus the part where that meant it was actually over.
I haven't really mentioned acting beyond Oscar Isaac, but that's because everyone else is pretty bland in this film. And that's saying something when your leads are Matt Damon and Julianne Moore, but that's exactly what they were! Bland. Finally, the score does nothing to add to this film. This happens a lot in film nowadays, (I mean just look at every Marvel movie ever) but it's not supposed to happen when the great Alexandre Desplat is scoring your film. I was shocked and depressed to discover he was the composer for this movie. A man with a staggering 8 Oscar nominations since 2007 (and 1 win) is not supposed to compose a score this forgettable, however that's exactly what Suburbicon's score is. Honestly, this entire movie can be boiled down to 1 word: messy. This film is messy, unorganized, out of place, and without an identity. (I guess that's more than 1 word) There is no doubt there are some great people involved with this movie. They have made great films in the past, and there's no doubt they will do so again. But this is the very definition of a misfire. A misfire that no one should have to see. Tear it down and start again.
The Critique: A train wreck of a film, Suburbicon tries to do too much with its story and thus fails with all of it thanks to a messy and unorganized structure.
The Recommendation: You haven't heard this from me in a while, but it's certainly warranted here.... AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage
Great until the final moments
The Florida Project (2017): Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.
So close.....I was so close to being able to gleefully say "A24 does it again!" There is so much to like in this film. The casting is phenomenal, (this film features all newbies to the industry minus the masterfully cast Willem Dafoe) the cinematography is great, the production design is gritty and dirty despite its superficially beautiful appearance, (I LOVE the production design of this movie!) and there's a wonderfully told story to boot. Uuuuuuuuuuuuntil the final 180 seconds of this film. This film comes in at 115 minutes. Through the first 110(ish) minutes, I was completely entranced by this film. But then the ending came and did its absolute best to ruin it all.
So usually I start with the good parts of a film, but here I'll start with this ending. Because, sadly, it is all I can think about. So I won't spoil, (because I think this film is still worth the watch despite this ending) but the film basically ends in the middle of the climax. You see this incredibly intimate and emotionally powerful moment between two main characters immediately followed up by this loud and tone deaf montage that ends with an unexpected fade to black. I get what they were trying to do with this ending, but unfortunately it is very out-of-place, and the jarring cut to black (because remember, before this odd montage we were in the heart of the climax) left everyone in the theater, myself included, shocked. I heard several people next to me say, "Is that it?" Because it leaves so many unanswered questions! This jarring and rushed conclusion does its best to spoil the rest of the film, but the rest of the film is so marvelous that I am willing to forgive this ending. There were a few missteps in the story, but given the fact that it's told from a child's perspective I was more than willing to forgive the occasionally messy story structure.
But yes. The rest of this film is almost perfect, and it makes the ending that much more frustrating. However, you can say it's almost a good thing when you're left wanting to know more about what happens to these characters. Because that means you were invested in them before that. You certainly are! The relationship between Moonee (played by newbie Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (played by another newcommer, Bria Vinaite) is at the forefront of this story. Apart from the two having incredible chemistry, (they might as well be mother-daughter in real life) their story of constantly struggling to simply survive day-to-day is heartfelt and human. That's probably the best way to describe this film: it is very human, raw, convincing, and down-to-earth. Halley does everything she can to survive, despite many of those things being questionably legal at best. Honestly on the surface she looks to be a terrible mom, but through this story you come to understand her connection and how deep her love for her child really goes. It's simply beautiful. Moonee and her friends are also awesome, as they are more than capable of carrying themselves. I loved some of the antics we saw between them, even though they certainly made some questionable decisions too. The icing on this cake is Willem Dafoe. This may very well be the single best performance I have ever seen from him. He plays the manager of the hotel Halley and Moonee are staying at, and he tries to be a father figure for both Moonee and her equally troubled mom. They could've easily screwed this character up in any number of ways, but fortunately, Bobby's intentions are simply pure. This makes some of his interactions with Halley that much more devastating. But overall, this film is acted incredibly well, and because everyone besides Dafoe are basically newbies to the industry, we have to give a TON of credit to director Sean Baker (who also did the great 2015 film Tangerine and 2012's Starlet, which both featured newbie casts similar to this film) and his casting crew for these picks. They are excellent.
Oh oh oh! Can I talk about the production design here? Because holy crap I LOVED the sets of this movie! There are basically two hotels in this movie, and both have very different color schemes. On the outside, the hotels look almost nice. There's even a joke about these color schemes in the film. But on the inside there is a very different story. Overall the design is gritty, dirty, and unkempt, (the room of Monee and her mom Halley is a great example of this) despite its attempts at superficial beauty. There's even a joke about a slow cooker in here that goes a long way to showing just how poor these people are. The cinematography was also great, though I will admit that's not necessarily that hard a thing to do in a drama like this. However there are some pretty good camera angles throughout the film that help reinforce the notion that this film is occurring via the perspective of a child. Ultimately, The Florida Project has more than enough going for it to be classified as a good film. But, because of its rushed, tone-deaf ending, it falls short of (what should have been) greatness. I still give it a strong recommendation, just be prepared to leave the film feeling somewhat empty and unfulfilled.
The Critique: Featuring beautiful production design and great casting, The Florida Project should have achieved greatness but falls just short thanks to a sloppy ending.
The Recommendation: This movie is still well-worth the watch, especially for those wanting to see what all the buzz is about with its studio, A24. Just be prepared for this trainwreck of an ending.
The Verdict: I'm gonna bust out a rare .5 score for this one because this film really should be great. But that ending. So....
7.5/10 Almost Great
A shockingly good horror comedy
Happy Death Day (2017): A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.
Whoa, where did this movie come from? When you see as many movies as I do, it's hard to miss trailers for upcoming films. When I saw the trailer for Happy Death Day, I did not have very high expectations. It looked like one gimmick (the Groundhog Day trope of reliving a day over and over again) with a lot of jokes that appealed to frat bros, and that was about it. But wow did this movie deliver! While yes, it is just a gimmick, and while yes there are a lot of jokes that appealed to frat bros, (I mean, c'mon.... obvious hazing in the middle of the quad where a dude faints and we're supposed to laugh at it? Good one, guys.) but there's still a lot to like here. Look. It's a stupid movie. I'm not gonna say otherwise. But it's a stupid movie that I had an absolute blast watching. If you have a soft spot for horror, or for the slasher genre, then do I have a movie for you!
So, let's start with the good. The film is anchored by Jessica Rothe (making her feature debut as a lead) as Tree. Tree? That's the name we're going with for the main character? ...... sure. Silly name aside, (though if your real name is Tree then I salute you) Rothe is excellent here in the lead role, as she might as well be a real-life sorority sister. And her character is great! Tree is not your standard damsel-in-distress. She is definitely a power lead that can take anything sent her way. Heck, she isn't even all that likable. But you can't help but love her and feel for her as she experiences all these traumatic events/deaths over and over again. Equally charming is another relative newcomer, Israel Broussard. He plays Carter, aka the guy Tree (still can't get over that name) wakes up to every morning. I found myself rooting for him by the end of the movie, and that doesn't often happen. But I couldn't help myself! They just have such a nice chemistry! I know the movie is playing me like a fiddle but I don't care! There are a lot of problems with the story, which we'll get to, but it still hit all the right notes at exactly the right time. And I knew it was, too, but it didn't matter! There's even a surprisingly emotional moment right in the middle of it that caught me off guard, but it still worked. And I did not see the final twist coming, believe it or not. It was a good twist! There are definitely some plot holes with this twist, but who cares? You're not here to analyze, you're here to have fun! Like I did! I had an absolute blast watching this movie, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise. There's not a whole lot else going on with this movie. The editing was alright, but nothing that would blow your mind, and the set design/score/cinematography were all b-movie level. Which is totally fine for this film. Oh! Costumes! Most of them were whatever, but can we talk about how creepy that pig mask is? What a great costume choice. The killer overall is pretty awesome, as they're a faceless, voiceless terror, and it's pretty darn creepy.
That said...... there are a lot of problems with this movie, besides the frat bro jokes and the fact the lead character's name is Tree. It's hard to talk about without throwing in spoilers, but there's about 20 minutes of this film that's just straight fluff right around the start of the third act. Which is a problem when the film is only 96 minutes long. I don't want to go into it any more than I have to, but let's just say the film sets up a certain character arc, and it makes a big deal about said character arc just to go, "NOPE! JUST KIDDING." Which made those 20 minutes feel like a complete waste of time. And then by the end it got pretty ridiculous, too. Like "roll your eyes and laugh" kind of ridiculous. But I think that was intentional so I won't fault the movie too much for that. Also, this film's rules are kind of confusing. As in there are no rules. Tree keeps reliving the same day over and over but each time she wakes up she's a bit weaker for some reason, and then we never understand why she's given the ability to relive this day in the first place. Because that's not an important question or anything, right? Also, when the villain is revealed.... it's a good twist, but was that person really capable of some of the crazy deaths we saw? I say no, but who cares. Those deaths were certainly over-the-top so what does it matter. Ultimately, Happy Death Day is a shockingly enjoyable horror comedy that's well worth a watch, however it falls apart the second you try and analyze it. So just go see it, have a good time, and leave it at that.
The Critique: A surprisingly good horror comedy, Happy Death Day plays its gimmick just well enough to be enjoyable, despite leaving a lot of plot holes along the way.
The Recommendation: If you like horror or slasher films, this one is well worth your time. If not? This may be a good one to see to jump into-it's still kind of mild when it comes to both the horror aspect and slasher aspect.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
A Towering Visual Spectacle
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.
Ok, first off, GO SEE THIS MOVIE. It's not doing all that well at the box office and that is a HUGE SHAME because this movie is a visual masterpiece! You don't need to have seen the original Blade Runner to follow along here. I can speak with personal experience on that one, because that's exactly what I did. But.....look at that picture! Doesn't that shot just look stunning? The film looks like that basically the entire movie! So stop reading this review and GO SEE IT. NOW.
Ok, now that you're back, let's talk about Blade Runner 2049. First off, the good! As I may have mentioned, the calling card of this film is the cinematography. Master sci-fi director Denis Villeneuve brings one of the greatest cinematographers ever into the fold in Roger Deakins to film this movie, and this may be his best work yet. From the lush colors to the incredible wideshots, there is not a single ugly shot in this entire film. And while the film has these unforgettable wide shots, it makes sure to knock the intimate close ups out of the park too. Seriously.... you could watch this movie with no sound on whatsoever and still be entertained. I feel confident when I say this film will be a favorite to win Best Cinematography at the Oscars, because it is one of the best visual works I have seen in a long while. (At least since 2015's The Revenant) But that's not the only thing this film has going for it, because if you turn the sound off you will miss out on the other great thing here: the score. This film's score definitely follows up the original's iconic score, as (once again....the dude is on fire this year between this and Dunkirk) Hans Zimmer creates a dark and eerie soundtrack that somehow rides the line between sounding similar to the original, while not being just a carbon copy of it. Simply incredible. No doubt Zimmer is on the top of his game right now, and he's making a strong case for winning his first ever Academy Award this year as well.
But that's not all. In addition to the cinematography and score, this film features an incredible set design and great costumes. I mean, look at that picture I used! It's beautiful! There are some scenes that take place in a Vegas casino, and the set design of those scenes is pretty amazing as well. Ironically, the blandest costume in the entire film is worn by Harrison Ford, but that was certainly intentional. Speaking of Ford, the acting is also fantastic. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford are great, and Ana de Armas plays her role well too. Sylvia Hoeks is a newcommer for me, but her performance was excellent as Wallace's right hand replicant. She's definitely a bona fide badass, and I look forward to seeing what she does next. Jared Leto is the screen hogging to the max (as usual) and I can't help but love it, though I think his performance will become somewhat dated as time goes on. OH! And Barkhad Abdi is in this!!!! We finally get an appearance from this great Somalian actor! Woot woot! Buuuuut he did not tell Gosling or Ford that he was the captain of this film now, so I was a little disappointed by that. But seriously, Hollywood: get this guy more work! He's great!
I do have a few faults, though. By far my biggest issue with this film is with Arma de Armas's character. She's basically Gosling's projection girlfriend, but she has a really sloppy and shallow character arc that is "resolved" in a very mute and messy way. It's the focal point of some backlash against the film, and I can kind of see why. As great as Armas portrays the character as this childish and somewhat naive projection that matures throughout the film, the movie itself could not care less about her and her existence. Sadly she's just there to be sexy, but thanks to the talent of Armas she makes it a bit more than that. However it's still easily the weakest point of the film. Really, that's the only major complaint I have with this movie. I wish they had shown us some off-world colonies, but wishing for more film is hardly a gripe to have. Oh! Here's something else: the final climatic battle scene was kind of poorly shot compared to the rest of the film and was a little too chaotic, but given the beauty of virtually everything before it I'm more than willing to forgive that. That sequence is shot at night and I understand why, but I still kind of wish it had just been shot during the day so we could see everything. Ultimately, Denis Villeneuve leads a talented group and creates a gripping and immersive sci-fi drama that falls just short of perfection thanks to some shortcomings in the character arcs. However this film is MORE than worthy of your time and money, and is certainly worth going to the theater to see just to stare at its beauty and listen to the score. Make the time to see this one.
The Critique: A marvelous visual spectacle, Blade Runner 2049 is more than worthy of your time and is headlined by incredible cinematography and a fantastic score.
The Recommendation: You guessed it: an absolute must-see for everyone. There's more than enough to like here for all.
The Verdict: 9/10 Amazing
Oscar Talk: I think this film will get an easy nomination for cinematography, and it may very well earn Zimmer a nomination for the score as well. (Though the Academy may go for the more commercially successful film of his and give him a nod for Dunkirk) I could see costumes and production design, but this film may be coming out too early for that. We'll see!
Too Erratic for my liking
American Made (2017): A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.
Ah yes. The classic conundrum for me when I write a review of an average film. How do you talk about a film that's fine? Because that's exactly what American Made is. It's fine. I had a decent amount of fun watching it, but I couldn't get into the rapid pacing and erratic tone of the film. Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise, but pretty much everyone else in the film hardly exists. Which is a shame because I love Domhnall Gleeson so I really wanted more of him in this film. There's some good editing in this film, as well as a pretty good set design, but the costumes and makeup were just ok, and I hated the cinematography. What's with all these films going to uncomfortably close headshots recently? At least in Mother! it felt intentional, whereas here it seemed accidental. Also, why does this film feel like it was shot like an episode of The Office? That was really distracting. Anyway, let's talk more about this film, shall we?
Let's start with the good. The hero of this film is Tom Cruise. This is arguably his best performance since he stole the show as Diet Coke addict Les Grossman in 2008's Tropic Thunder. I feel over the past 15 or so years Cruise has become a parody of himself. He's played basically the same character in every film and he's made tons of money doing it. However here he does a good job reminding us why he gets paid the big bucks. Cruise was excellent as Barry Seal, and while it still felt like we were watching Tom Cruise play Barry Seal, there's enough in Cruise's performance for me to at least kind of see the character come out. Kind of. Additionally, the set design of this film is gorgeous! The film travels to a lot of different locations throughout its brisk 115-minute runtime. Each spot is captured very well, with the highlight for me being the air strip on Columbia when Cruise first meets Pablo Escobar and company. Director Doug Liman and company did a great job here.
But I guess that's as good segue as any into the bad of American Made. This is Tom Cruise's film, and as a result every other character in it takes a back seat in the story. There isn't nearly enough of characters like Pablo Escobar, or "the wife" Lucy Seal, or her brother JB, or Agent Schafer, or Arkansas AG Dana Sibota. All of these characters are played really well by their respective actors, but none of them amount to anything beyond footnotes in the story of Barry Seal. This left me with a TON of questions as the film moved briskly along. Maybe that was the point of the movie, (it probably was) but it just distracted me. Ultimately that's my biggest problem with American Made: it's too erratic for my tastes. Maybe you'll appreciate the rapid pacing of the film, but for me it was too crazy for a story as expansive as this. But I can at least appreciate when a director tries to do something different. This film is certainly no War Dogs from last year, because at least this movie is trying to have some fun with itself! But there's also the cinematography. This film feels like it was shot like an episode of The Office. For those that never saw The Office, (first off, change that) that series was shot as if there was a documentary crew filming the main characters of the show the entire time. This film was seemingly shot entirely using handheld cameras, with similar push-ins and shaky cams and pans like the show and it was REALLY distracting for me. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but I will chalk this one up to a-swing-and-a-miss for American Made. Also, can we get more Domhnall Gleeson? Please? Ultimately, this film is fine. (Sound familiar?) It features a great performance from its lead, a crazy story, (didn't really touch on that, but the story here is pretty nuts and naturally dramatic) and has some good sets, but falls short for me thanks to its erratic tone and an overall lack of a meaningful supporting cast.
The Critique: The classic example of "it's fine," American Made features a great performance from Tom Cruise but falls short at the hands of its erratic storytelling style.
The Recommendation: There's a lot to like here for Cruise fans, and I think this story has enough to keep most engaged, however I would recommend waiting on this one until it's available to stream.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
"Like" Enter the Movies on Facebook for the latest and greatest on all things movies! OR ELSE FACE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A KILLER RABBIT. Sorry about this one, guys. Not my decision. He volunteered. And is just absolute dynamite!