For the beauty of the craft
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018): A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.
Barry Jenkins is a master filmmaker. Plain and simple. He can take any story, no matter how crass, and craft it into a mesmerizing work of art. That's what If Beale Street Could Talk is: an overbearing (and at times slightly insensitive) story composed by one of the true masters of the craft in Hollywood today. We are truly blessed to be in the presence of Barry Jenkins, who, unlike someone like Adam McKay, proved that his breakout film was no fluke.
The calling card of this film is the filmmaking itself. Director Barry Jenkins displays an extraordinary ability to make any scene captivating, regardless of circumstance. Barry Jenkins brought back most of his crew from Moonlight and excelled in the cinematography, editing, and score: all three are very close to the best I've seen in 2018, with the later being the best I've seen BAR NONE. Nicholas Britell follows up his amazing score for Moonlight with an equally captivating and memorable score. But this time, it also packs an emotional wallop that brought me to tears at several points. That's right: the SCORE of this film made me emotional. It's that good. Barry Jenkins personal cinematographer, James Laxton, crafts an incredible work of art with the camera lenses. Shots feel beautifully intimate while carrying an undeniable gravitas to them thanks to the intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. Various scenes have a beautiful rhythm to them thanks to the constant and subtle camera movement. I honestly cannot believe Laxton was snubbed a Best Cinematography nomination. Performance-wise, Regina King leads the way, (and received a deserving Oscar nomination) but this is certainly an ensemble film. People like Bryan Tyree Henry, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, and Pedro Pascal only have a scene or two, but all of them do the best with what they are given. Especially Bryan Tyree Henry. Oh my GOD he's so good. He gets literally one scene, but his performance is unforgettable. When Sharon Rivers (King) finally gets her moment, though, she doesn't let it go to waste.
That said, I've been beating around the bush of the somewhat major fault of this film, and now we gotta talk about it. The story here is…..mediocre. It's overbearing and it hasn't aged particularly well. There are some voiceovers scattered throughout that do nothing but act as a crutch and overexplain things to the viewer, and the subject matter of this story feels a bit inopportune given the #MeToo era we currently live in. Barry Jenkins does a fairly good job at walking the tightrope between two very real problems, (and I, being the straight white man that I am, certainly don't claim to have any firsthand knowledge of either) but there were a few moments where I found myself a little uncomfortable at the approach. The voiceovers are the bigger culprit, though it doesn't detract too much from the overall film, because even as we see an overbearing voiceover, we're still looking at some gorgeous craft. But, sadly….. this story is no Moonlight. Nor does it even deserve to be used in the same sentence.
In summary, the craft of this film was exquisite to watch, but it does surround a screenplay that is both crass and oppressive. Barry Jenkins makes this film great with his technical mastery, but the film is held back by it's subject material. Oh, and it's main characters. I haven't mentioned them at all to this point because Tish and Fonny are a tad forgettable The chemistry between them is…..uninspired. But when the craft is so intoxicating to look at, it's hard to care. This will be a phenomenal movie to watch in film class down the road, because this is exactly how movies should be made.
My number: 8/10 Great.
Let the past die
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): When the island's dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
Let me start by saying this: I had VERY low expectations heading into the latest installment to the Jurassic Park franchise. (There are now five of these damn things.) I was not a fan of the “reboot” of this franchise, 2015’s Jurassic World, primarily because it was a mindless popcorn flick that tried so hard to be more than that. The film tried to recapture the magic of the original Jurassic Park, which is (objectively) one of the best summer blockbusters ever made, and naturally looked like a complete fool in the process. HOWEVER, much to my amazement, after 25 years of living in the shadows of Jurassic Park, Universal Studios, Collin Trevorrow (who merely co-wrote this one….J.A. Bayona sat in the chair this time around) and everyone else involved finally accepted the reality: Jurassic Park will never be topped or followed up. And, instead of trying to live in its shadow, it does what every other sequel in this franchise should've done: it leans into the over-the-top, CGI dino porn aspect of it all and embraces the fact that it's nothing more than a mindless popcorn flick. That's right, folks: I actually liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I'm honestly just as surprised as you are.
Now, that's not say it's a great film by any means: there are PLENTY of eye-roll worthy moments that will likely bother me more on future viewings. On quite a few occasions I found myself thinking, “That's not how any of this works!" whether it be with things like "Chris Pratt crawls away from lava" or really anything relating to science in the movie. (There's a big one involving one character that from a science perspective is a huge revelation that the film could not be less interested in.) Ya, don't expect much in the science or ethics department. Also, the motivations of the villains are really dumb and one-dimensional. “Bad guys want to sell dinos and make money for the sake of making lots of money. And will stop at nothing because of money.” Several great actors are wasted because of this. (Looking at you, Toby Jones.) SPEAKING OF cashing it in, Jeff Goldblum. The dude phones in a totally unnecessary and silly reprisal of the classic Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park. I don't even know why he's here! For the marketing, of course, but not much else. Finally, there's a huge moment at the very end of the film (that helps to justify the inevitable sixth installment) that had the potential to be a wonderfully complex and emotional ethical quandry. It was the only time I thought the film was really trying to tackle the ethical questions that Jurassic Park addressed so effectively, which (naturally) led to a SOLID swing-and-a-miss from writers Trevorrow (who may be the worst thing about this franchise) and Derek Connolly. Like, swing-and-look-like-Bartolo-Colon kind of swing-and-a-miss. But, it sets up a TOTALLY absurd sequel that I'm actually excited to see. Because the rest of this movie is just plain, Fast and Furious-esque fun.
Also, PSA moviegoers: I do not understand why parents think it's a good idea to take their five year old kids to this movie. These dinos are scary! Unless your kid really wants to go to this thing, don't force them to it. It's not as bad as something like Deadpool, but there are plenty of horror-esque moments to be found, and there were several crying kids that had to be escorted out by their parents in my screening. Just because you wanna see it doesn't mean your kids want to! Anyway, moving on.
The "fun" aspect is where Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom excels. It's just that: fun, (mindless fun, but fun is fun is fun is fun) and that's really all J.A. Bayona and co. are going for this time around. My enjoyment of it starts with the cinematography. Mad kudos to cinematographer Oscar Faura, who didn't hold back at all with the totally ridiculous over-the-top shots. (One good example is in the trailer and the pic I used for the banner of this review-a wideshot of a T-Rexstanding over a dead dinosaur while a giant volcano erupts in the background. Why is this T-Rex still hunting as the island he lives on is literally exploding? Who cares, honestly.) This film is full of visual overload-shots that Michael Bay dreams about but could never execute because Faura somehow manages to keep the frame chaotic but comprehensible. Oscar Faura honestly makes this film for me, and seeing it in IMAX made these absurd shots that much better. Universal also realized that they had two charming leads on their hands that they didn't let be themselves last time around, so they changed that: Bryce Dallas Howard (in her boots instead of heels, which the film made sure to remind us of) and Chris Pratt are both really solid. They bring a great blend of charisma, wit, and the wherewithal to actually get out the situations they find themselves in. Even better are franchise newcommers Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda. While Smith did occasionally have the stupid moment, he's still a far cry from Jake Johnson. (Not to mention Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins…..yikes remember when that was a thing?) Daniella Pineda, though, stole the show. Her trash-talking, fend-for-herself, no holds-barred portrayal of Zia was extraordinarily topical for the times. (Her character even called herself a “nasty woman” at one point.) She made this film that much more entertaining to watch, and that's really all that matters. This is the first thing I've ever seen Pineda in, but I suspect it won't be the last.
Finally, the biggest strength of this film is what I've been alluding to this whole time: after 25 years, the filmmakers actually decided to lean into the mindless popcorn flick aspect of it all. The film rapidly transitions from one major CGI dino setpiece to the next, only slowing the pacing to take a breath in the final act. (Primarily to set up the next one.) Unlike its predecessor, which featured a lot of eye-roll-worthy moments leading up to its final exhilarating sequence, this film effectively intersperses many fun and exciting sequences among the eye-rolling moments. Many will probably say this film is “the death of the franchise” because it's the one where the filmmakers finally gave up trying to be like Jurassic Park and embraced being a big, stupid, dino movie. I can understand where they’re coming from. I now hold this franchise in the same realm as something like The Fast and the Furious. If you read that and felt like banging your head against your desk, I get it. It takes time to go through the five stages of grief. But if you can reach that fifth stage, if you can accept the fact that this franchise will never even set foot on the volcanic mountain that 1993’s Jurassic Park stands atop of again, you'll have a good time (maybe even great time) with this latest installment. I've accepted this franchise for what it is now - well-made and executed CGI dino porn - and had a shocking amount of fun because yes, this movie is a mindless blast to watch and an over-the-top exhilarating spectacle. I'm not looking for much more out of a summer blockbuster nowadays. You may still want this franchise to deliver a follow-up worthy of the 1993 classic, but if you let the past die (kill it, if you have to) and accept this franchise for what it is today, I have very little doubt that you're gonna have a good time. Jurassic Park is dead. Welcome, to Jurassic World.
The Critique: After 25 years of trying to set foot on the mountain Jurassic Park stands atop of, the franchise has finally embraced what it was destined to become: epic, over-the-top shots of CGI dinos just being awesome. If you can accept what this franchise has become, you're gonna have a surprisingly good time.
The Recommendation: If you've hit that wonderful final stage of grief, it's well worth a watch on the biggest screen you can find. If not, stay away and complain about how bad it is in the comfort of your own home when it hits Redbox.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
My Number: 7/10 Good
An incoherent mess
Downsizing (2017): A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.
These raw thoughts come to you from Darkness Brewing immediately after seeing the film.
That sucked. That really sucked. I wanted to like this film. And somewhere here, there is a really good movie. But it's too long, SUPER PREACHY, and overall just a mess. This film is a mishmash of ideas, and unfortunately barely any of them stick. It's been a bad year for Matt Damon, as i think both this and Suburbicon will find themselves on my “Worst Films of the Year” list.
There isn't much good to say about this film, but the highlight is undoubtedly Hong Chao. She is sensational as Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese woman forced to “downsize” while in prison. While there are some worries that her character is a racial stereotype, (I believe those complaints are overblown, but have some validity) she still dazzles in her role, providing a glimmer of hope for an otherwise joyless film. Matt Damon is…..Matt Damon in this, and outside of Christoph Waltz, who's at least somewhat charming, the entire supporting cast is pretty lifeless. Why is Kristen Wiig even in this??? Actually, she's part of a bigger problem with this film.
As I said before, this film is a mishmash of incoherent ideas. But it also feels like two films thrown into one, and that doesn't help its cause. The first half of the film features a totally unnecessary “origin story” for the downsizing process, (seriously - the first 15 minutes of this film are completely useless….we don't need to see the origins of the downsizing concept) then we get this uninteresting story of Damon and Wiig deciding whether they should go through the procedure, just to have Wiig RANDOMLY decide to not go through with the process at the LAST possible second. This 180 from her character isn't earned AT ALL, and in the second half she's all but a distant memory. So….why was she such a prominent character early on? Beats me.
Finally in the second half we see Hong Chau's character, which was a wonderful thing because by that point I was really struggling to get through this disaster. For the briefest of moments, I saw glimmer of hope: a love story between her and Damon that made me think of the movie Her: a mismatched relationship with a lot of complexity and depth and heart. But as soon as this glimmer came…..it faded away, and the film morphed into this ridiculously preachy statement on global warming. It felt like “The Day After Tomorrow meets Birdemic” with this abrupt OMG GLOBAL WARMING IS GONNA KILL US ALL TOMORROW SO LET'S ALL ENJOY ONE FINAL SUNSET TOGETHER surrounded by some terrible, TERRIBLE exposition. It was so stupid! Look. I don't mind being preached too about something that's important. But what director Alexander Payne does here is basically stop the entire film to be like LOOK, GUYS. GLOBAL WARMING, AMIRITE? Matt Damon has a decent character arc in the second half, but his “Wow! I can't believe this is happening to me!” mantra gets really old, really fast. It didn't end up mattering how good or bad his character arc was, I just wanted him to stop talking by the end of it. Also, for how good Hong Chau was, her character was not written very well. She has no arc to speak of, she just gets a few good lines. But she is the only redeeming quality in this otherwise disappointing film. See it for Chau’s (likely soon-to-be Oscar nominated) performance, just wait for it to hit Netflix so you can skip the first 75 minutes of it.
My Number: 3/10 Bad
All the Christopher Plummer in the World
All the Money in the World (2017): The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.
Happy new year everyone! So I'm going to try a new thing here on Enter the Movies. Some of my favorite posts in the past have been the ones where I write them almost immediately after seeing the film. I also do this every year immediately following the Oscars. So I'm gonna turn this into a new series that I will use occasionally. Aka whenever I feel like it. Hope you enjoy it!
These raw thoughts come to you from the bar at Braxton Labs in Newport, KY, immediately after seeing All the Money in the World.
There's a great story behind this. After allegations of sexual assault arose against Kevin Spacey, director Ridley Scott and company removed him from the film just six weeks ahead of its nationwide release, and they stumbled onto gold with his replacement, Christopher Plummer. The highlight of this film is Christopher Plummer’s performance as J. Paul Getty. Plummer was Scott's first choice before Sony asked him to “find someone more famous” for the role, and I can see why he wanted to go with Plummer initially. HOWEVEr, that does not excuse the glaring faults of this film. The film plays fast and loose with its subject matter, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me given how naturally dramatic the actual story is. After getting off to a bang with some terrific sequences with J. Paul Getty, the film doesn't know what to do with itself as it slugs through its snoozefest of a second act, losing all momentum it had initially built. It does manage to recapture some of its intensity in the final act, but it also torpedoes itself here with this completely absurd town sequence that had me practically saying, “There's no way that happened in real life” out loud. Not to mention a rather silly epilogue that's only there so we can feel like we “stuck it to the man.”
This may be Scott's best work in recent memory (though if it were me I'd probably still go with Alien: Covenant) but he just can't get out of his own way. In real life, Gail Harris (played beautifully here by Michelle Williams) wages war with her grandfather-in-law in the press. Here, the press is nothing more than a leeching paparazzi group, and we only get one scene in the film of Harris using the press to her advantage. Even in that scene the press is vilified for no real reason other than to be vilified. Ugh! The second act of this film could've been this interesting cat-and-mouse political game between Harris and Getty, but instead we got this slow moving section that doesn't know what to do with itself.
That said, the acting is excellent. Christopher Plummer leads the way with one of the best performances of the year, and when you factor in the fact that his performance was shot in nine days it becomes all the more impressive. Michelle Williams is, once again, great and Mark Wahlberg is pretty good too.... though he admittedly doesn't have much to do other than “be mysterious.” He has one exchange with Getty that was a great scene, but it was CLEARLY a Hollywood-esque scene. Absolutely no chance it really happened. (Like way too much of this film) While it is a pretty enjoyable film, and it will get some love from the Academy, (definitely more so than Downsizing and The Greatest Showman, the other big studio “for your consideration” Oscar films) there's just too many absurd moments for me to consider it a must-watch. And I SWEAR TO GOD IF RIDLEY SCOTT IS NOMINATED FOR BEST DIRECTOR AT THE OSCARS. What are you doing, Golden Globes? Yes, it's impressive that they did these reshoots in nine days, but it doesn't overshadow the other glaring problems of this film. Many of which come at the hands of Ridley Scott! (Deep breath) Anyway..... Watch it if you're a cinephile like me and want to see what a performance shot in nine days looks like, otherwise there are better things to see at the theater.
My Number: 5/10 It's FINE
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