Even though we stayed out long past midnight, we were up early once more with our final day in Cannes. The final day of our accreditation program coincided with the final day of the festival, which meant the primary venue was screening the "best of fest" films. This gave me the opportunity to see the film that won Best Actor, (Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory) Best Actress (Emily Beecham, Little Joe) and the ultimate winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or. (Bong Joon-ho, Parasite) Quite an action-packed day that started bright and early at 8 AM!
Pain and Glory
The queue for Parasite was absolutely insane. And this was before it officially won the Palme d'Or.
And with that, our journey through the wonderful world of Cannes came to a depressing end. For 3 delirious days, we were at the pinnacle of the movie world: not watching the cultural conversation through the lens of social media, but actually at epicenter of it all. It was nothing short of incredible, and something which I look forward to repeating next year in my final year of eligibility for this program. Till next year, Cannes!
The intro that greeted us before every film during the festival. It's kind of cheesy, but it's undeniably iconic.
After sprawling out on a Mediterranean beach until the wee hours of the early morning drinking cheap wine with great company, our journey through Cannes continued with an early morning screening of the new Terrence Malick film, A Hidden Live. At least, it should have. The film gods had something else in store for my early morning screening.
Chambre 212 (On a Magical Night)
Il Traditore (The Traitor)
The first real day of my adventure in Cannes began bright and early with a 9 AM screening at the venue's premier theater, the Grand Theatre Lumiere, for a screening of Xavier Dolan's latest work. We also had a chance to see a film at another venue, the Salle Debussy, which on the outside looks like a tent, but on the inside had some of the best seats in the entire festival. We also took advantage of our accreditation program and saw two films at the Les Arcades, including the best film I saw at the entire festival. Onward!
Matthias & Maxime
The view inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere. Easily a 2k capacity movie theater!
Sorry We Missed You
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
This year, I was fortunate enough to experience one of the oldest, most prestigious film festivals in the world in Cannes, France. I made the most of my trip, seeing 13 films both during my 3 day accreditation program, as well as the day before the accreditation began. This journal will chronicle the films I saw during those dizzying days, the highs and the lows, the good, the bad, and the downright bizarre. (But, for real.... Wounds, though.)
This entry chronicles the films I saw before my accreditation began. There is another film festival the runs simultaneous to Cannes, the Quinzaine, or Directors' Fortnight. We were fortunate enough to see a premier on our prelude day, as well as one of the craziest bad films you'll ever see. First on our journey, though, was a trip to the Olympia, (a cineplex in Cannes) to see the film that opened the festival.
The Dead Don't Die
Fortunately, the fun is just beginning. Now, we step into the big leagues with the first day of our journey.
Great until the final moments
Toy Story 4 (2019): When a new toy called "Forky" joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.
I've always had a strong connection with the Toy Story franchise. The first 2 were my most-viewed animated films in my childhood, and I was lucky enough to have Toy Story 3 release the summer I was heading off to college, adding even more emotional wallop to easily the greatest ending in any Pixar film. (I think that's a safe assumption even with my biases.) The ending of Toy Story 3 is one of the most emotional moments I've ever seen in a film, period. It is the definition of a perfect conclusion. So, when Toy Story 4 was announced, to say I was skeptical that it would be nothing more than a cynical Disney cash-grab is an understatement. But…. I was genuinely impressed with most of the end result. Up until the final 5 minutes, I'd even say it was a grand time. The story is simple, the animation is fantastic, the film features one of the best female leads I've ever seen in a Pixar film, and even cynical Joe, looking for reasons to say this film doesn't deserve to be in this near-and-dear franchise, couldn't find any in the first 90 minutes. But then, the ending happened.
Ok, positives first. The best thing this film has to offer, by a considerable margin, is Bo Peep. Initially the only female toy in this entire franchise, (ya, the first Toy Story doesn't even pass the Bechdel test) then completely MIA in Toy Story 3, Bo Peep makes a triumphant return in Toy Story 4. Her character is the strong, independent female lead that this franchise so desperately needed yet hasn't really seen to this point. (Jesse in Toy Story 2 is the closest thing, but even she had, and still does, for that matter, severe limitations with a surprising lack of personal identity, despite one of the most emotional montages in a Pixar film.) Bo Peep is not only intelligent, witty, and resourceful, she is the undisputed leader for much of the second and third act, covertly taking on the role of Woody for much of the film as he can merely follow her around. It's a beautiful character and story around her, while not being in-your-face about it. Love it. The new characters are also fun and engaging (even though we spend entirely too much time with them over the existing characters, something cynical Joe thinks was corporate-mandated to sell merchandise and appease the Supreme Mouse Overlord) with Key & Peele (Ducky & Bunny) leading the way and putting their unique and welcomed stamp on yet another major IP. Also, Keanu Reeves. 'Nuff said. The "villain" of this film, Gabby Gabby, (Christina Hendricks) is also dynamic and interesting. (Definitely more interesting than Lotso in Toy Story 3.) She fits into the overall world perfectly, with her motivations lining up with the likes of Woody and the rest of the core characters in an intriguing way, culminating with a great emotional moment that SHOULD HAVE been the finale of this film. But it wasn't.
Instead, the film goes on for another 5 minutes and finishes with one of the most abrupt, frustrating, about-face transformations for a significant character in this franchise that even the Game of Thrones writers would scoff at. (Seriously, the turn from Daenerys was less abrupt than this.) It's a depressingly cheap emotional string pull from screenwriter Andrew Staunton, eliciting an ugly cry simply to elicit an ugly cry, while also cheaply setting up a potential Toy Story 5. It single-handily brings down the entire film for me, and since it is the actual final moment it will be the one that sticks long after finishing this review. I've been struggling to think of a worse ending to a Pixar film than this, and for it to happen in my beloved Toy Story franchise makes it all the more frustrating. Also, the toys interact with their environment faaaaaaaaaaar more in this film than they did in previous installments, which drove me bonkers. The toys even talk to their human counterparts, which led to cheap laughs, sure, but also broke any semblance of immersion. (Yes, I get that this is a world where toys come alive, but with how much they interact with their environment in this film there's NO POSSIBLE WAY a human would not have realized that this was happening. Maybe it's setting up a human counterpart storyline in Toy Story 5, which I'm not looking forward to.) The later, though, is an admittedly minor complaint, especially when compared to this dumpster fire of an ending.
While the journey is a blast, the destination is as frustrating as it gets with its infuriating conclusion. It's hard for me to think of anything else, but I'll try to....Bo Peep is a boss, and I'll certainly give it that. Gabby Gabby is very interesting, and Forky is a lovely and surprising new character to this franchise. And Key & Peele are great! Just..... brace yourself for a trainwreck at the end.
The Critique: A fun new cast of characters join the beloved Pixar franchise and deliver a fun new installment, despite an infuriating ending.
The Recommendation: Definitely fun for the whole family, as you would expect from a Pixar film.
My Number: 6.5/10 Almost Good
The biopic Elton John deserves
Rocketman (2019): A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John's breakthrough years.
…...and you can tell everybody, this is your review. It may seem quite simple but, now that it's starting..... this movie is freaking great. Regardless of whether you actually like Elton John or not, this film is the standard-bearer for what a musical biopic should be. Step aside, Bohemian Rhapsody. (Actually shoves BoRap off to the side to be forgotten forever.) There's a new queen in town.
This film works on so many levels, but it starts with actually getting Elton right. Taron Edgerton is phenomenal as Elton John. From his voice actually sounding like vintage Elton (you hear that, Rami? Yes, I'm gonna take pot shots at BoRap throughout this review because society won't actually let me forget it) to matching the mannerisms with incredible makeup to boot. The A-lister is absorbed by the mystique of the knight. And it helps that the story here is the story Elton deserves. Each scene embodies the definition of what Elton John stands for while actually being informative about his life and teaching us, the viewers, some lesser-known things about his life. Never did this film feel influenced by the man himself. Never did this film feel entirely too complimentary of its subject matter. Never did it feel revisionistic. (Betcha don't know what film I'm indirectly referring to!) It felt accurate and meticulous, moving gracefully from one flamboyant scene to the next, surrounding Elton's rockstar life with the music he actually released in those moments, using his songs to actually convey the emotion of individual scenes. Ah! It's so good!
Oh ya, this film is a musical, and the music is wonderful regardless of your feelings towards Elton. The dance scenes are actually well-choreographed and shot, with only the editing rearing its ugly head at a few points. (Though, let's be real…. It's not the worst editing to come out of a musical biopic recently. Cough cough) Also, I do take slight issue with John Reid's (Richard Madden) near comedic villain character. For a film that feels as meticulous as this, Reid feels very out-of-place. I'm not sure how accurate that character was to his real life counterpart, but it sure beats creating an entirely fictitious character to turn down a certain rock band after a DESTINATION ALBUM RECORDING SESH. THAT DOESN'T EVEN MAKE SENSE, WHY WOULD YOU TURN DOWN THE END RESULT OF A MILLION DOLLAR RECORDING SESH? That eerily specific example doesn't refer to anything in particular, I swear! That said, Reid is made up for by Elton's partner-in-writing, Bernie Taupin. Portrayed wonderfully by the incredibly underrated Jamie Bell, Taupin helps to ground Elton throughout most of the film, almost turning into an "audience POV" character as Elton's worst impulses play out. All wrapped up in a dynamic and intriguing supporting character that is the embodiment of a true friend. Not someone we're supposed to laugh at because he wants to write a song about loving his truck. (Kristen Bell sums up my sentiments right about now.)
In short, Rocketman is wonderful, and soooooooooo much better than Bohemian Rhapsody it actually hurts. I hate that I've taken pot shots at BoRap as much as I have, but when one film becomes the highest grossing musical biopic in history and the other is struggling just to break $75mil at the domestic box office, it's hard not to constantly remind people that Rocketman is just that much better than BoRap. It encompasses Elton to a wonderful degree, complete with beautiful dance montages and amazing song choices from the knight scattered throughout. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll dance, you'll sing. What more could you possibly ask for? I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind, that I put down in words. How wonderful this film is, now that it's in the world.
The Critique: The story Elton John deserves, Rocketman is the best musical biopic I've seen in years, showcasing his life brilliantly with great musical numbers and an incredibly engaging story.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for everyone. I think that's my first must-see rec of 2019?
My Number: 9/10
The Sundance Short Film Tour is starting to make the rounds across the country, and I had the wonderful chance to see them early. For those unfamiliar, the collection is a small snippet of the shorts that play at the Sundance film festival every year, a showcase of the incredible diversity the festival sees year in and year out. Overall, they're definitely worth a viewing, despite the occasionally varied quality, if not simply to see facets of our country and our cultural consciousness you wouldn't have the chance to see otherwise. Here are my thoughts on each of the shorts as I watched them in order of programming.
EDITORS NOTE: These short films are coming to Cincinnati World Cinema's Garfield Theater June 21-30. I had the chance to see these films thanks to this organization, an organization which I also volunteer for.
Sometimes, I Think About Dying
Starting off the list of shorts is a heartbreaking film from Stefanie Abel Horowitz. The 12 minute film grips you from the opening moment to the credits thanks to an incredibly genuine performance from its lead, Katy Wright-Mead. She is absolutely wonderful in the main role: timid, shy, reserved, but thanks to a great use of voiceover narration, thorough and dynamic. That said, it doesn't really feel like it's saying anything about it's subject matter - a quiet character who's obsessed with death. The short frustratingly cuts to black right before a moment of coping is able to take place, instead leaving us with a film that simply stars a character who thinks about death, despite simply knowing that's not healthy. I don't know, maybe that was the point, and the abrupt cut to black at the end was supposed to signify the beginning of this coping phase, but it frustrated me personally. That said, it's still a good short, with a great lead and some great editing / cinematography. (Mad kudos to how director Horowitz handles texts.... Sherlock would be proud.)
My Number: 7/10
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take away from this one. A docushort about a Native American horse relay team, Fast Horse doesn't seem to know what it wants to say. Sure, there's some interesting cinematography, (particularly in the finale of the relay itself) but the short seems to be rather aimless, a Free Solo knock-off with a far less satisfying ending. (Seriously, the main jockey is built in the exact same mold as Alex Honnold.) There's really not much else to say about this one. Good cinematography, enjoyable (albeit not satisfying) finale, but no message, heart, character, or really any substance worth mentioning. Hard pass.
My Number: 3/10
I've mulled over this one in particular the last week or so, and the more I think about it, the more firm my low number becomes. There was an opportunity here to showcase the depressing struggles of the Native American population in our country, an opportunity this film let slip away in order to tell the story of this race team. Which is totally fine, but if you're going to go all-in on the race team, the final result needs to at least showcase some room for future improvement. We get none of that, and the result is exactly what I mentioned before. Sure, the filmmaking is very good, but it alone is not enough to make this short feel truly worthwhile.
Suicide by Sunlight
I'm very torn on this one. On the one hand, it's a bold / interesting premise that's executed fairly well. A world where vampires are widely known / accepted to the point that there's intriguing societal issues surrounding them, (similar to the issues facing our society today) but the main character, Valentina, isn't particularly alluring to boot the premise. The first half of this 17 minute short is spent almost in a "is she or isn't she a vampire" story, which feels like a total waste because when we finally do establish that she is, (something which you'll know by reading the actual first sentence of the synopsis on IMDB) the short abruptly flies through its most interesting bits, not even taking the time to establish that Valentina is even struggling at all to contain her bloodlust. (She's a vampire who works in a hospital, Only Lovers Left Alive taught us that there's plenty of ways for a vampire to sustain themselves in a flippin' hospital. A single scene of this not being enough would've gone a long way.) So, while this short does present some interesting ideas, it spends far too much time establishing the simple fact that Valentina is a vampire for it to reach its full potential. Sacrificing this first half and speeding through a lot in the second half is as criminal an oversight as it is a frustrating one. But hey, at least the end credits song is great!
My Number: 5.5/10
This one is extremely short, clocking in at just 4 minutes in length, but it's 4 minutes of adorableness. It's animated wonderfully and has a charming message about how one interacts / interprets art that's executed well in the brief runtime. Also, the art that's interacted with here is wonderful and hilarious. You'll definitely get a solid laugh out of it, and it serves as a nice change-of-pace from the serious tone of the rest of the shorts to this point.
My Number: 7/10
Buckle up, y'all. This one is WILD, and I loved it. This is a crazy short that has a lot to say about friendship and showcasing your talents wrapped up in two characters with mostly useless superpowers. It's shot in a very Arrested Development kind of way, highlighted by some comedic zoom-ins and totally ADHD editing, which hammers the unknown / unpredictability of growing up aspect of the short. There's a LOT going on in these 15 minutes, and while I think it will be rather divisive among the general public, something like this is exactly what I want to see in the Sundance batch. Crazy, zany, quirky, and unpredictable, but still bringing quite the wallop. Despite some so-so acting from the leads. Wasn't a huge fan of their performances. It felt like they, too, were going "Whaaaaaa?" when they were reading the script. But, still. It'll stick with you simply because it's so uncanny. Also, it is easily my favorite to this point.
My Number: 8/10
This film continues to resonate with me a week+ after watching it. It has such a relatable message encrusted in its zaniness, I can't shake the look into these girls' lives while also having (mostly) useless superhero powers. While it may be divisive, I think this short has the boldest filmmaking in the bunch.
We're on a roll now. This short, from director Robert MacHoian, stars a real-life grandfather and his grandsons, showing a small portion of their everyday lives. The genuineness of this short is its selling point - MacHoian does a phenomenal job eliciting great performances from his cast of first-time actors; certainly not an easy thing to do with 3 of them are kids. It's a very simple, yet heartfelt story, as it merely captures a quick scene in their lives - band practice - but peel away the topmost layer of the short and there's a lot more going on. A grandfather yearning for a past life while enjoying spending time with his grandsons. Kids who are just discovering music and still approaching every moment as if they've never experienced it before. How music is a common language that transcends all barriers. All of which is conveyed in a very brisk 10 minute runtime. It's lovely, and far more approachable than Crude Oil. I have one short left to go, but this one is a surefire crowd-pleaser.
My Number: 8/10
And Brotherhood provides the emotional wallop to bring us home. This devastating short film from Meryam Joobeur follows a family from a Middle Eastern country around Syria, confronted with the return of their son from Syria with a new wife. The elements at play here are ancient yet devastatingly current: a father who sees his son for the first time in over a year and cannot accept his traditional Muslim wife, and a son who returns seeking acceptance from his father. As the events of the short unfold, a picture is unveiled that leads to easily the most emotionally devastating climax in this entire collection. The performances are genuine and grounded, the cinematography is amazing, as director Meryam Joobeur makes great use of shooting on film throughout the 25 minute short, and it all leads to a simply incredible finale that will leave you speechless. This short alone is worth the cost of admission for the group, the definition of perfection in under 30 minutes. Don't miss it.
My Number: 10/10
Hope you enjoyed my takeaways from these shorts! Do yourself a favor and don't miss them if they are playing at a theater near you!
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51b3dc8ee4b051b96ceb10de/t/5bff15171ae6cfb7775d0efd/1543443741245/?format=2500w (Sundance Banner)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19914-2-1100.jpg (Sometimes, I Think About Dying)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19918-1-1100.jpg (Fast Horse)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19931-4-1100.jpg (Suicide by Sunlight)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19912-4-1100.jpg (Crude Oil)
http://www.sundance.org/images/filmguide/2019/19913-2-1100.jpg (The Minors
Quick Reviews, Spring 2019: High Life, Pet Sematary, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Detective Pikachu, Aladdin, Godzilla: King of the MonstersRead Now
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
More of the same, and I ain't complaining one bit
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019): Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin's guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head - he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
The latest installment in the unexpectedly solid John Wick franchise is exactly what you'd expect: more of the same. Now, is more of the same a good or a bad thing? Did you like the first two John Wick films? Then it's safe to say you'll like this one. Did you either not care / not watch either of the previous two films? This probably isn't the place to start. That said, I fall squarely into the former category, and, as you would expect…. I had a ball of a time here.
At its core, John Wick is a phenomenally choreographed action movie with some breathtaking visuals. This franchise is the pillar for what a modern action film should look like, second only to the Mission: Impossible franchise for best action movie franchise in Hollywood today. (Sorry James Bond / Fast and Furious.) At its core is its heart-stopping fight sequences. These sequences showcase the very best of what Hollywood can do in 2019, with cinematography that actually allows you to see the action unfold. Who knew doing something as simple as shooting your action sequences with as few cuts as possible and giving us wideshots so we can see everything would make such a huge difference, but that's why someone like me (who couldn't care less about the John Wick lore at this point) keeps coming back to this franchise. In a post-Bourne Identity world, where so much of what's considered "action films" is inhibited by Marvel doing whatever they feel like with whatever budget they want, few franchises pay this close attention to detail while making every cent of their production budget count.
That said, the budget of this film clearly went to the stunts / action sequences, because the lore continues to be completely uninteresting to me. Sadly, much of the second act of this film investigates said lore of this franchise, and for people like myself who don't care it was veeeeeery boring. On a surface level the lore is interesting, but it contorts itself to service the protagonist John Wick at every turn, which makes it ridiculous, unbelievable, and boring. Also, Keanu Reeves's portrayal of John Wick has lost the pisaz it once had, an unfortunate result of the fact that there's now 3 of these films. Long gone are the iconic lines of previous installments.
However, that's a rather marginal complaint for the film and franchise as a whole, after all you come for the breathtaking action sequences and tolerate the lore as a tradeoff. Because of how much time this film spends on its lore, I don't think Parabellum will do a good job bringing in new fans, (start with John Wick: Chapter 2 if you're new to the franchise) but for those who are already dug in, Parabellum delivers exactly what you're looking for: mesmerizing action scenes with an increasingly mediocre story to compliment it.
The Critique: Pulse-pounding action sequences continue in blissful fashion in the latest installment of the John Wick franchise.
The Recommendation: This franchise continues to be an absolute must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of action movies. Don't miss it
My Number: 8/10. And that's a testament to how phenomenal the action here really is.
A hilarious and raunchy modern buddy comedy
Booksmart (2019): On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
Booksmart is 2019’s Blockers and I love it. A raunchy, over-the-top buddy comedy that's actually about something and makes you feel things (even in your cold, cold heart) by film's end. We've had a surprisingly decent run of American comedies between surprise hits like Blockers, Game Night, and soon-to-be (currently just Sundance darling) Booksmart. I am actually starting to have hope that directors like Kay Cannon (director / savior of Blockers) and newcommer Olivia Wilde (Booksmart, directorial debut) may actually be able to bring the genre back from the hopeless abyss it's been in for the last decade or so. That statement may be a bit too optimistic, but after being this uplifted by an American comedy, (again! For the second time in a year at least!) I'm ready to say anything. Let's keep it going, Hollywood!
At this film's core is a wonderful, genuine, and charming relationship between its two main characters, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy. (Kaitlyn Dever) Seeing two well-written, strong, intricate high school female characters lead a film like this is totally invigorating. Every time they're paired on screen together, Booksmart shines brightly. There's a palpable chemistry between them - a gravity that pulls all other forces in this film to their undying, unyielding presence. From the opening scene featuring the hilarious monologue in the trailer, you can't help but root for each of these girls as they realize there's more to life than just schoolwork. Straight up: this is one of the best buddy comedies I've ever seen. An honest, personal, convoluted relationship between two women is so refreshing to watch. This film is well worth a watch with your best friend just for some quality bonding time alone. Just.... be prepared for the raunchiness because there's a lot of it. But I know I found myself laughing more times than I could count. I had a blast watching this film.
That said, these two aren't on screen together the entire time, and when they're not together the film power recedes slightly. I still enjoyed it, but some of the storylines felt rushed, messy, and too conveniently placed given the overall chaotic tone of the film. There's some time around the start of the third act where Amy and Molly spend about 15 minutes apart, and I found myself getting kind of bored during those moments. Amy has a romantic subplot that, while fresh in its originality, resolves itself in a rather cliché way while the duo goes through a very overused "events separate them but they get back together because of X" trope you see in a lot of modern American comedies. (Like, all of them.) Formulaic, is the word to use here. The film gets formulaic in its third act. But, formulaic isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? I just wish a film with this much originality (depressingly) didn't have such a formulaic final act.
Booksmart was a hit at Sundance, and I can see why - it's a trailblazing film, despite some of its faults, from a beloved indie actress making her anticipated directorial debut. Olivia Wilde's mumblecore roots can be felt throughout the film, (I'm sure there will even be some comparisons to Drinking Buddies) and it is wildly refreshing to see a premise we hardly ever have the chance to see put forth in a modern American comedy. It's opinionated, it's raunchy, it's ridiculous, and it's uplifting. It's exactly what we need in a modern American comedy in 2019.
My Number: 8/10 Great.
2018's most underappreciated film
Widows (2018): Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
This review is from the archives of Enter the Movies, also known as getting lost in my Google docs folder until now.
You want a suspenseful heist film that grips you from the first pulse-pounding moment and never lets go until the credits roll? May I present to you: Widows. The latest work from director/writer Steve McQueen, (who's last work, 12 Years a Slave, only won him Best Picture so it's not like there's a high bar or anything) Widows, for me at least, has come out of nowhere and become one of my favorite films of the year. Featuring a phenomenal cast, unpredictable story, and masterfully executed filmmaking, it just might be the best heist film I have ever seen.
There's not much this film does wrong, but there is one slight hiccup in the character Amanda. (Carrie Coon) In a film that takes the time to develop its large cast, this glaringly underdeveloped character stands out even more. Despite being one of the namesakes of the movie, (she is one of the four women who loses her husband at the beginning of the film) she becomes nothing more than a plot device as time goes on. I'm guessing there was a scene or two with Amanda that was cut for one reason or another, (the movie is 129 minutes long, so time was probably one of them) but it is a real shame. Especially since the other three core characters are developed so freaking well.
This is, by far, the strongest point of Widows. The characters of Veronica, (Viola Davis) Linda, (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) each experience unique and fleshed out arcs. Each cope with the loss of their husbands in different ways and each way is equally compelling. The three also have phenomenal chemistry together, and if Viola Davis could lead every movie ever made, I'd have absolutely no issue with that. The rest of the cast here is equally phenomenal, and all bring something unique to the table. Jamaal and Jatemme Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively) are starkly contrasted by Jack and Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall, respectively) in their race for the 9th Ward of Chicago. All four of these characters receive plenty of opportunities to shine, and shine they do. Daniel Kaluuya in particular provides some of the most memorable sequences in the film. (Including a sequence that did make my favorite movie moments of the year.) The contrasts between how these politicians run their races, and how they go about trying to achieve their ambitious goals, is one of the best parts of this incredible script from Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl acclaim) and McQueen.
Which brings us to the filmmaking. Steve McQueen's footprint is all over this film. The cinematography is where it's most notable: there are a mess of unorthodox shots here that are rich and full of insight into the world these character's live in. One of the best shots of the entire film focuses on Jack Mulligan's car as it transitions from the poor section of the 9th Ward to the rich section, where Mulligan's house resides. Cinematographer Sean Bobbit, a long-time collaborator with McQueen, is at the top of his game here. There's also some terrific editing here courtesy of Joe Walker. He does an amazing job building up suspense with his cuts, while also providing a great deal of fluidity throughout the film. There is a boatload of meandering character development in Widows, and yet thanks to the editing the pacing never slows down from start to finish.
In short, Widows is amazing, and would have been higher on my top 10 list (it was number 9) were it not for the treatment of one of its core characters. That aside, this is a phenomenally executed piece of filmmaking dressed up as an engaging heist film, and if you need to find me I'll be on my soapbox screaming to the heavens that this was EASILY the most underappreciated film of 2018. Whatever you do, do not miss Widows!
The Verdict: One of 2018’s best films, Widows is a masterfully executed heist film with interesting characters, great filmmaking, and an unpredictable story.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for all!
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
A triumphant conclusion
Avengers: Endgame (2019): After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos' actions and restore order to the universe.
What a way to go out. The conclusion of the Marvel's ambitious 11 year plan that began with 2008’s Iron Man can be described with a multitude of glowing superlatives: triumphant, dramatic, nostalgic, emotional, and most of all: entertaining. It's hard not to overlook how captivating it is to watch a film with a billion dollar budget unfold in front of your engrossed eyes. For all its faults, Endgame is still the final result of the most (seemingly) unattainable project in cinema history, and for every time my cynical side came out watching the same rules established in this wildly flawed universe be broken over and over because, “plot,” (remember when it took 5 people just to hold one Infinity Stone?) I found myself internally screaming with glee. One thing's for sure: Marvel saved the best for last.
Ok so as I jump into what I liked and disliked, know I'll do the best I can to avoid spoilers. But, let's be real: if you truly don't want anything spoiled for you, stop reading now and come back after you've seen the film. It is worthwhile joining the other billion people that will watch this film in the theater, so do yourself a favor and do that and come back. Get it? Got it? Good. So. By FAR my biggest complaint of this film is what the Russo brothers did to its once-great villain. The previously complex Thanos is reduced to little more than a psychotic madman: a villain who simply wants to watch the world burn because he feels like it. Had we not already experienced Infinity War, Thanos would've been just as forgettable as the many one-dimensional Marvel villains that preceded him, simply more overpowering. Like, hilariously OP. Additionally, since I'm cynical and leading with this film's faults, the film does drag in its first act. This film is a HARD 3 hours, and if you're not a die-hard Marvel fan that's watched every film and knows every line, you may find yourself rather bored early on. As the film tugs on your nostalgic strings, it will leave those behind that haven't taken the time to watch the other 22 films in the giant MCU.
That said, there's no denying that if you have been with this bloated franchise since the beginning, you're gonna love every second of this. Cynical Joe was in the backseat during this film's wild and unparalleled final act. While it takes a gratuitous amount of time to reach this film's pulse-pounding climax, when it arrives the payoff is 10+ years in the making. We may never see an action sequence like this ever again. The embodiment of unforgettable filmmaking, it's a sequence that's overarching and bloated yet somehow managed to be emotional and poignant. It is the single best action sequence this franchise has to offer by a considerable margin and one I'll be revisiting for years to come. Additionally, the solid writing from Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus gives each of the franchise's original characters a worthwhile and engaging character arc while simultaneously tapping into our nostalgia for the MCU during this film's (admittedly) clever second act. While it is too long, I, as someone who's seen every Marvel film and knows far more about this franchise than I care to admit, was never bored. However, I do think the first half of this film (and especially the first act) will not stand up well to rewatches, as I'll almost certainly be fast forwarding though it before long.
In conclusion, there's not much that can top the gravitas of Endgame's finale, and directors/architects Anthony / Joe Russo's gratifying decisions far outweigh the frustrating ones throughout the 3+ hour runtime. Marvel wraps up its epic 10+ year plan with a completely satisfying conclusion, despite leaving a couple victims along the way. If you're invested, bring the tissues and prepare yourself: we're in the end game now.
The Critique: one of the wildest climaxes we'll ever see in cinema caps off the MCU in dramatic fashion, despite its mangling of certain characters along the way.
The Recommendation: …….lol
Rewatchability: gonna break this down
First Act - Moderately Low
Second Act - Moderately High
Final Act - so high it's ridiculous
My Number: 8/10 Great.
High Flying Bird
Crazy, outlandish, masterful horror
Us (2019): A family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them.
This movie is WILD. Us is an insane step inside Jordan Peele's crazy mind. While Get Out was the film Jordan Peele (apparently) made so that we would all accept him as a legitimate filmmaker, Us is the end result of a studio giving the man that made Get Out a blank check to do whatever he wants. And I LOVE it. It has resonated with me far longer than the average studio film, with a chaotic story, amazing filmmaking and a TERRIFIC performance from Lupita N'Yongo.
That said, there are a few things that are harder-to-swallow. Jordan Peele's mind is a bit of an insatiable one. There are several moments in this film that feel entirely too self-indulgent. As if Peele is saying, “Hey! Really made you think there, didn't I?” Nowhere is this felt more than the forced twist ending. While it was unexpected, it felt somewhat unnecessary and rather forced. I think I may ultimately be in the minority on this one, but I felt like this twist ending was there primarily just to have a twist ending. To give us, the viewers, something to talk about as we exited the theater. It painfully detracted from an otherwise brilliant screenplay.
And yes, the rest of this film's screenplay is brilliant, in its unabashed outlandishness. While Jordan Peele wrote a much more safe and systemic (and still brilliant) screenplay in Get Out, his sequel feels more like the film he wanted to make. There's a lot of passion behind this script, both behind the camera and in front of it. The film's core characters are great, led by Lupita N'yongo, SOMEHOW in her first led role after her groundbreaking, Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave. Only took her 4 years, right? N'yongo CARRIES this film with two polarizing yet mesmerizing performances. It breaches all acting norms: a performance that's both subtle and over-the-top, all dependent on the individual scene. The year is still very young, but this may be one of the best I see throughout all of 2019. Her performance is so powerful that it's kind of easy to forget that both Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss are fantastic as well. They will likely be mostly overlooked ion what is certainly Lupita N'yongo's (second) career-defining performance.
And it's all surrounded by some truly amazing filmmaking from Jordan Peele. The master auteur puts on a clinic in crafting meaningfully suspenseful sequences that are equally scary and resonating. This film, while weirder than Get Out, is also more terrifying, delivering some breathtaking jump scares that are not just in the film for the sole purpose of scaring you. If you're not a fan of the horror genre, be forewarned: this film is legitimately scary. It'll resonate with you too: I saw the film Thursday and I'm still dissecting individual scenes. This film is every bit as captivating as its spiritual successor was, well worth the watch as it stretches across genres with a crazy, supernatural story and wonderful filmmaking. It proves that Get Out was not just "lightning in a bottle" and firmly establishes Jordan Peele as one of the greatest masters of suspense Hollywood has ever seen. Make it a date night and check out the latest from the wild mind of Jordan Peele. You'll thank me later.
My Number: 8/10
A mildly fun time that doesn't offer much else
Captain Marvel (2019): Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe's most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.
Captain Marvel is a charming film. It has some witty dialogue, a few surprisingly intimate moments (for a Marvel film) and decent action sequences. But, the incredible one-two punch of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, two films which brought powerful new voices to the overbearing Marvel formula, feel like an eternity ago following a string of bloated (Avengers: Infinity War) and hopelessly mediocre films. (Ant-Man and the Wasp) The eye-rolling self referential humor is in full force throughout this origin story, and a rather disappointing villain (after Killmonger and even Thanos himself) left me yearning for so much more as the third phase of Marvel's plan for global domination comes to a somewhat uneventful close.
That seemingly damning intro aside, Captain Marvel is.... fine. The film's title character (Brie Larson) leads Marvel's first female-led superhero movie, and Larson brings her wonderful brand of quick-witisisms, and eyebrow-raising charm we've come to know and love in full force. This film basically answers the question, “What would happen if Envy Adams became a superhero?" and I'm so happy it does. I had lofty expectations for one of my favorite actresses in the business, and she didn't disappoint, even if I know she's capable of a lot more. (See: Larson's truly unforgettable performance in Room) Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is himself, but I'm more amazed by the magic of movies with his character: the 70 year old actor looks like he's roughly 40 in this film, and it's rather disconcerting. Uuuuuuuntil he runs. Or fights. Or does anything requiring strenuous physical exertion. But that's besides the point! Fortunately directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck don't do much in this regard, so Fury mostly just has a sly remark to offer every now and again, and strikes a friendship with a CUTE kitty, Goose. That cat is the real MVP of this film. Not gonna lie.
The filmmaking here is also pretty good. There are a few shockingly intimate moments in the second act, and there's even some silence during these emotional peaks! As someone who's been frustrated by the sheer noise for the sake of noise in seemingly every Marvel movie, the intimate moments scattered throughout were a WELCOME change-of-pace, even if the audience I saw this film with were visibly bored during them. (I think about 7 people got up to go to the bathroom during one such intimate moment - learn to recognize great filmmaking, people!) The emotionally intimate moments are a staple of directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, (1co-directors of It's a Funny Story and Sugar) and really allow them to flesh out the characters and emotional foundations of this story. Seriously, so many Marvel movies blaze past this so we can have another action scene, so it is very welcome here.
That said, the faults of this film start with its villain. We have squarely returned to the realm of the forgettable in Marvel's villain problem. You see the “twist” with the character coming from a mile away, and the villain basically has 15 minutes to make an impression on screen, with very little to do to make a lasting impression. No thanks. While the villain is topically tied to a great statement on our current administration's fear mongering with immigrants, the character itself is extremely forgettable.
End of the day, Captain Marvel is fun and charming, as most Marvel films are, but outside of it being the first female-led Marvel film, there's not a whole lot to differentiate it from the other 22(ish) Marvel films that preceded it. Maybe history with prove me wrong, but this time I'm feeling pretty confident that my opinion of this film, groundbreaking or not, will stand the test of time. (Unlike Black Panther, a film I enjoyed early on but only saw the true gravitas long after its initial release) See it because of its societal importance, and the fact that Brie Larson is wonderful, but don't expect much other than an ok fun time.
My Number: 6/10 Above Average
Leave No Trace
At Eternity's Gate
Mary Queen of Scots
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.
An intimate family epic
Roma (2018): A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Every so often, a glorious film comes along that completely reinvigorates my love of cinema. In 2017 it was Phantom Thread. This year it was films like The Favourite and Eighth Grade. Now, you can add Roma to the list. Director Alfonso Cuarón returns for his 8th feature film, set almost entirely in Mexico City in the early 70s. The acclaimed director also wrote the screenplay, produced the film, edited the film, and shot the film. In short, Roma is Alfonso Cuarón's baby, and it is undoubtedly his best work yet. (Which is high praise given his previous film, Gravity, was my number 1 film of 2013.) The film has a simple, intimate, yet emotionally powerful story surrounding the housekeeper Cleo (played by first time actress and star-in-the-making Yalitza Aparicio) and her relationship to the family she cares for as her life unfolds over the course of a year. That's it. Far cry from the technical achievement that was Cuarón's previous film. And yet, this film feels every bit as epic as Gravity did with the extra emotional kick that comes with a truly great story. If you haven't figured it out yet, Roma is well worth your time, and easily the best film Netflix has distributed to date. By a significant margin.
Let's start with the most obvious thing we can see: the acting. The entire cast, outside of Sofía (Marina de Tavira) are first time actors. (Furthering the mythos of Alfonso Cuarón) Cleo is the center of the story, and the intimate, human, genuine performance Yalitza Aparicio gives portraying this character is one of the best of the year. She effortlessly displays an immense range of emotions, and the genuineness of these emotions were increased thanks to the bold decision of Cuarón to hold back key plot details from her until they actually happened. (Yes, including the unforgettable emotional climax of the film.) Actually, that's a good moment to mention the fact that Cuarón was very secretive about the script. The entire film was shot sequentially, (which is actually fairly unusual in filmmaking) with the director often not even giving the actors the script for an individual scene until the day that scene was to be shot. (Something which director Hirokaza Kore-eda also did shooting Shoplifters, to achieve a similar effect.) While this does sometimes hurt the film more than it helps it, particularly in the opening few scenes, it's still mesmerizing to see this cast have as much chemistry with each other as they do with such an incredible level of authenticity.
But the calling card, of course, is the sheer scale of Cuarón's vision. This film is a triumphant family epic if there ever was one. The production design, sound editing, sound mixing, and cinematography are all the best I saw/heard in 2018. Cuarón captures so many nuanced details in every frame: so many extras, creatures, and natural occurrences unfold to a dizzying extent in his grand (and I mean GRAND) one-shots. It will take your breath away, and needs to be adored on the largest screen possible. I know that's a bit of a cliché in movie reviews, but it's deserved for Roma. There was not another film that dropped in 2018 that will sweep you off your feet more. And it's all held together by some of the most amazing cinematography I've ever seen. Alfonso Cuarón certainly made Chivo (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki - originally slated to shoot Roma before scheduling conflicts arose and Cuarón's cinematographer on films like Gravity and Children of Men) proud with the stunning 65mm black and white aesthetic of the film. The camera is always a calm but confident presence, with a lot of slow, poignant pans from left to right and vice versa being the signature of Cuarón's style. With the two best-looking films of 2018 almost certainly being Roma and Pawel Pawlikowksi's Cold War, also shot in black and white, I think the great film critic Roger Ebert may have been right when he said color handicaps film. (That's a great article he once wrote, by the way. You should read it.)
And that doesn't even mention the sound design. The sound is another reason why you need to see this on a big screen. (At least watch it with surround sound.) The sound mixing is possibly the best I have ever heard, with a mesmeric attention to detail taken by Skip Lievsay, Alfonso Cuarón, and company. You are immersed with the sounds of Mexico City, with the sound making the camera feel like you are right in the middle of each scene. From shopkeepers to mariachi bands to something as nuanced as food being made behind you because the camera is facing the bar and the food is behind you, there is never a moment missed within the sound mixing.
This film is a masterpiece. It'll capture you within the first few moments and not let you go until the final plane soars overhead. It is a flawless epic that is beautiful in both its emotional intimacy and ambitious scale. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and do everything in between. A film like this is exactly why I love the movies, and it gives me the mental drive I need to sit through lesser works. It's also a wonderful foray into the world of foreign film: if you've always been intimidated at the idea of having to read the dialogue unfolding in front of you, (I know I was for a long time) this is a fantastic place to start. And, with it on Netflix right now, there's every reason for you to make tonight a movie night.
The Critique: an emotional powerhouse told on a grandiose scale, Alfonso Cuarón's triumphant masterpiece is a wonderful reminder of why I am hopelessly in love with the world of cinema.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for all.
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect.
Crazy Rich Asians
On the Basis of Sex
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