Monthly Archives: October 2018

“First Man” Movie Review

That’s one small step for Ryan and Damien. One giant leap for cinema. Or at least, relatively speaking. This space-based biographical drama premiered as the opening night film at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. Following subsequent screenings at the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals, it was released in theaters by Universal Pictures on October 12th, 2018. Made on a budget of $50-70 million, the film struggled to even placed third during its opening weekend. Despite this, the producers remain optimistic on their prospects, hoping that the waves of positive reviews can carry them for a few months. Directed by Damien Chazelle of Whiplash and La La Land fame, the rights for the nonfiction novel, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James Hansen, had been up for grabs as early as 2003, with Clint Eastwood interested in taking the reigns. In the mid-2010s, following the massive critical and financial success of his musical dramas, Chazelle was signed on while Spotlight co-writer Josh Singer penned the script. It’s also Chazelle’s first film with a major studio. Based on the true story, Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong, a NASA test pilot who’s recruited as an astronaut in their intensive outer space program. Taking place from 1961 to 1969, America is constantly attempting trial and error in its space race against the Soviet Union. Still grieving and struggling with his wife Janet, Armstrong does everything he can as NASA continues to become the first ones to land and walk on the Moon. It should be no surprise to anyone that I absolutely love both of Chazelle’s previous films, Whiplash and La La Land. It’s increasingly hard to find a young filmmaker these days whose able to produce back-to-back masterpieces in just the span of a couple years. So no doubt was I curious about what he could accomplish not only with a biographical picture, but his first one made for a major studio. And while First Man may not be as incredible as his last two films, it’s still a great film and one that pushes the director’s boundaries even further. My biggest issue with this film has to do with the main subject. No, no, not that stupid American Flag controversy that’s gotten some conservatives worked up for no reason whatsoever. Rather, it’s Neil Armstrong himself. While we see quite a bit of the man’s struggles and accomplishments, including his two-year-old daughter Karen dying of cancer, it’s hard to crack his shell. I’m not quite sure if it’s because he was a private person to begin with or Josh Singer’s script didn’t dig deep enough. It definitely is a “mission movie” as marketed, and is at its best when it focuses on that mission to the Moon. Still, there’s a little something left to be desired when it comes to the man. If nothing else for that, Ryan Gosling gives one of his finest performances as Neil Armstrong. Not nearly as showy as typical biopic leads, his performance is very internalized and quiet; we see so much happening within his face that he doesn’t need to say a word. In fact, he doesn’t speak many lines of dialogue. By his side is The Crown star Claire Foy as his wife Janet, who’s equally impressive. While it does seem like a typical nagging/concerned wife archetype at first, she evolves into a woman struggling to keep her family whole after a tragedy. She’s also right to be scared for him and her sons, angrily asking her husband, “What are the chances it’s the last time they see you?” The supporting players include Cory Stoll as Neil’s feisty wingman Buzz Aldrin, Kyle Chandler and Ciaran Hinds as NASA figureheads, Jason Clarke as the fellow wide-eyed test pilot Ed White, and Christopher Abbott as one of the few astronauts to form a genuine connection with Armstrong. Some feel typecast, some seem a little to showy, but no one does a bad job in their roles. Meanwhile, technical side of First Man show that Damien Chazelle is still in complete control of his own voice, bringing previous collaborators back in several areas. This includes Linus Sandgren’s handheld, cinéma vérité style of cinematography, which works extremely well with the intent of the story. By primarily using 16 mm, 35 mm, and eventually IMAX 70 mm film stock, a lot of what’s shown on-screen is completely practical and given more colorful texture. It also makes it seem like a long-lost home movie, placing us directly in the cockpit with Neil Armstrong. Thanks to production designer Nathan Crowley, who also worked on Interstellar, the sets all feel incredibly lived-in and real, whether it’s a model spaceship or a 1960’s suburban home. At certain points, it genuinely felt as though the actors and crew were filming in space, especially with all the fantastic lighting effects. Meanwhile, the editing by Tom Cross is very similar to Whiplash in its visceral intensity and command of perspective. Often times, it’ll switch from a huge wide shot of the spacecraft to a P.O.V. from inside Neil’s helmet, making the journey feel even more perilous. Admittedly, it can get a little too shaky for its own good, as there are some shots where it’s really hard to tell what’s going on. But again, that just brings more to the intense feeling of being in the man’s shoes- or rather, his space boots. Academy Award-winning composer writes the instrumental score for the film, and it’s completely different from La La Land. Gone are the upbeat, jazzy tunes and instead we get a soundtrack that is at once intimate and epic in scale. The use of a subtle Theremin and low, staccato strings in several tracks creates a ghoulish, almost otherworldly feel to the true story. It also signifies a feeling of haunting grief that Armstrong struggles to move on from. The greatest and most effective track comes when the Moon Landing itself comes about, a 5-and-a-half minute piece with a consistent string melody. It gradually builds with more percussion and horns, crafting one of the most memorable moments in a film I’ve seen this year. When it’s all said and done, this film actually made me appreciate the Apollo mission even more. Nearly 50 years later, it’s a feat that so many people in our society almost take for granted. Watching all of these people working tirelessly to get things right, and constantly failing to figure out their margin of error, was extremely gripping. I was never a believer in the whole idea of Stanley Kubrick faking the Moon Landing, but now these men and women have my deepest respect. First Man is an exhilarating account of a historic achievement that occasionally loses sight of its humanity. Not quite a masterpiece, but it still shows that Damien Chazelle is able to handle larger productions without losing his personal touch. An almost Spielberg-ian look into one of the proudest human accomplishments of the last century, while Neil Armstrong is still something of an enigma, there’s no denying his indelible contribution to history.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” Movie Review

Alright, so I had originally planned on reviewing this film last year as part of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s release. However, since that video game had been delayed by virtually a whole year, I postponed it. Now that it’s officially out on the shelves and as part of my New Year’s Resolution, now’s as good a time as any to review. This epic Spaghetti Western was originally released in Italy on December 23rd, 1966. It reached cinemas in the United States about a full year later, mere months after its two predecessors hit theaters there as well. While it managed to gross over $25 million at the box office against a $1.2 million budget, surprisingly, the film was initially received negatively by American critics, primarily for its exaggerated depiction of violence. Today, it is rightfully considered one of the great films of its decade and genre. Directed and co-written by Sergio Leone, the film was originally pitched by screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, which received backing by the Hollywood studio United Artists. Its star initially was hesitant to return out of fear that a supporting player would steal the spotlight from him. Based on the timeline and events of the film, it’s actually a prequel to the previous two film, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood returns for the 3rd time as The Man With No Name, nicknamed “Blondie,” a morally ambiguous gunslinger drifting through the New Mexican desert. In 1862, at the height of the American Civil War, he and two other rogues- bandit Tuco and mercenary Angel Eyes -learn of a cache containing $200,000 of Confederate gold. Each man, some having a little more knowledge than others, set off to find it, all while trying to avoid the ongoing carnage from the Union and Confederacy. If you guys read any of my reviews from spring of last year, you might have noticed that I’m a pretty big fan of Western movies. While I had only seen one other Spaghetti Western at that point, Once Upon a Time in the West also directed by Sergio Leone, watching (and reviewing) them had made me find a new appreciation for the genre in certain areas. I got the chance to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time a few years ago, but it was very late at night. After watching the first two in the Man With No Name Trilogy last year, I decided to revisit it and see if it was as brilliant as I thought it was. Spoiler alert: it completely succeeded my expectations. It’s a bit unfair, though, because after watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it becomes incredibly hard to watch or enjoy other Western movies. The genre used to be a hotbed for Hollywood for about 30 to 40 years, mostly ones that were starring John Wayne or Yul Brenner. While the vast majority of them played a straight story of good riders and bad, cowboys and Indians, there emerged a huge subgenre in Italy that was low-budget but highly profitable. Leone was one of those leaders, crafting a morality play that satirizes the absurdity of war and the lengths some men go to just for a cache of gold. The main star would later address this Frontier issue in his own film Unforgiven, this is simply on a more epic scale. Speaking of its star, this film launched Clint Eastwood’s huge career for a good reason. While he doesn’t speak much and is almost always scowling, his is the type of cool masculinity that illustrates why you should never cross them. He also displays some great sarcastic wit, saying “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly” after witnessing a bloody Civil War battle. Lee Van Cleef is also excellent as Angel Eyes, the “bad” gunslinger of the trio, playing a cold-hearted mercenary willing to kill innocent people to get the job done. His stoic demeanor and sociopathic behavior towards others demonstrates a violent ruthlessness on the level of Anton Chigurh or The Terminator. Finally, there’s Eli Wallach as Tuco, the more comical and irresponsible of the bunch. His delivery of some deadpan lines provides a great and unexpected sense of humor as he virtually bumbles from point to point in the desert. In a way, it’s more of Tuco’s journey with the amount of focus the story puts on him. Meanwhile, with the technical aspects, we get to revel in a truly wonderous motion picture with some revolutionary techniques. Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography is extremely precise in how it can really draw out a violent confrontation between characters. Along with some gorgeous wide shots of the Italian and Spanish plateaus, there are an abundance of close ups on the subjects. It uses these shots to build the anticipation of the conflict, moving between extreme close ups of faces and sweeping longs to highlight the space between the characters. Thanks to the immaculate editing of Nino Baragli and Eugenio Alabiso, the flow between these shots is perfect. Whether it’s like a bird’s eye view of a massive Civil War set piece or a more intimate shootout between outlaws, we’re always present where the violence occurs. Ennio Morricone may have finally won the Oscar for The Hateful Eight a couple years ago, but he deserve more recognition for his iconic film score in this film. Utilizing a wide arrangement of different instruments, we truly get to feel the scope and scale of this story. Some of the characters have more specific leitmotifs, such as wood flutes, whistling or yodeling. But other pieces make brilliant use of percussion, an actual coyote howl, and trumpet solos to create gun-like sound effects. Sure, the main theme is one that everyone knows, and plays over the memorable opening credit sequence. Yet it’s because of tracks like “The Ecstasy of Gold” and “The Trio” that hep truly mark its place in history. All of these elements come together for the immortal final showdown, a Mexican standoff between the three titular gunslingers. Without any dialogue spoken at all, a beautiful score, and fantastic camerawork, it keeps me on the edge of my seat each time I watch it. If ever there were a moment in cinema that defined why I loved movies, that scene would certainly be up near the top. While its deliberately slow pace and lack of verbal exposition may make it seem like a chore to some, to cinephiles, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a stunningly beautiful and captivating Western defiant to age. You literally don’t need to have seen either A Fistful of Dollars or For a Few Dollars More in order to watch this classic. It defined a genre, it defined an era, and it defined the career one of the biggest movie stars ever to appear on the silver screen.

“Halloween” (2018) Movie Review

Sometimes, you just gotta go back to the basics. This slasher horror thriller premiered as part of the Midnight Madness section at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Following screenings at a handful of other genre centric festivals, Universal Pictures released it in theaters on October 19th, 2018, almost 40 years to the day of the iconic original film’s release. With a global box office intake of over $173 million thus far, it has easily become the highest grossing film in the entire franchise. It also broke a number of other records, including the third-biggest Thursday previews for an R-Rated horror film and highest grossing film with a lead actress over the age of 55. Directed by David Gordon Green, the rights to a new film had been tossed around for a few years after Rob Zombie failed to produce his own sequel. Jason Blum and his Blumhouse banner got a hold of it eventually, scoring a deal with co-writers Green and Danny McBride. What’s more is that the film was executive produced and given the creative stamp of approval by John Carpenter, the director of the original Halloween. Taking place 40 years after the events of the first film, Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, now a mother and grandmother still living in Haddenfield, Illinois. Her near-death experience with Michael Myers has deeply traumatized her, making her something of a social pariah to the rest of the town. However, her fears are soon realized when Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution during a patient transport. Now Laurie must get her bearings to protect her estranged daughter and granddaughter and prepare for (potentially) one final confrontation with The Shape. Obviously, I’m a huge admirer of the first Halloween from 1978 by John Carpenter. I think it’s a genuine classic horror film that deserves the same recognition and celebration as any of the Bela Lugosi pictures from the early 20th century. Prior to this I had only seen one other sequel, and the rest of them didn’t ever interest me in the slightest. So I was very glad and intrigued to hear that this new installment essentially wipes away all of them, including Rob Zombie’s remake, from continuity, making the one true sequel that matters. Especially with John Carpenter’s official involvement, this new Halloween certainly had a lot to live up to. And while it’s certainly not as good as the original, it is indeed a deserving follow-up in a franchise full of mediocre installments. What’s most surprising, and interesting, is how its plot is actually somewhat relevant in the #MeToo era. You see, Laurie has spent the last 40 years of her life traumatized by a horrible attempt at violence that happened to her and has prepared for her attacker ever since. Because of this, she has become distanced from her own kin, who think she may be overreacting to the situation. The most fascinating part about it is that Laurie is not interested in being seen as a victim but a survivor. There’s a certain indescribable connection between her and Michael, telling her daughter, “He’s waited for this night. He’s waited for me. And I’ve waited for him.” Whenever the film focuses on something else, it feels less strong. Franchise star Jamie Lee Curtis carries this movie on her two shoulders as Laurie Strode once more. This is not the shy bookworm we saw 40 years ago; she’s a callous, calculating woman with a determined control over everything that happens in her life. Newcomers to the series, for the most part, fail to leave a lasting impression. Judy Greer is mostly believable as her grown daughter Karen, who has an extremely conflicted relationship with Laurie. She initially believes she needs to seek help for her mental health, but soon gets genuinely frightened as she tries to remember the intense training from her childhood. Meanwhile, teenage breakout Andi Matichak is something of a revelation as the granddaughter. Echoing Strode’s scream queen in the original, she brilliantly mirrors that arc for a new generation. Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney, meanwhile, return as Michael Myers or The Shape with ease. Without speaking a word, even with just that iconic breathing, they’re able to inject a presence that’s hard to shake. He’s NOT Laurie Strode’s long-lost brother, or anything else the previous sequels tried to say. He’s a relentless, unstoppable force of pure evil that will kill everyone in his way. (For the most part) Meanwhile, from a filmmaking perspective, David Gordon Green is able to make Halloween a treat for both the eyes and the ears. With cinematographer Michael Simmonds, nearly every shot in each scene is displayed on a Steadicam that captures everything. The crisp widescreen framing allows for a dark, autumnal color palette, especially in its strong use of lighting. The very subtle bits of mist or fog add to the atmosphere, particularly an early scene with some gorgeous car headlights in the middle of the night. It goes well with Tim Alverson’s calculated editing. It wisely cuts away from Michael’s head early on to make him like a faceless monster, until he puts on the iconic William Shatner mask. There’s an amazingly smooth tracking shot of Michael moving from house to house finding new victims, one almost completely void of any dialogue. All of it makes it feel as though the original director made this movie himself, or possibly even David Fincher. John Carpenter isn’t just an executive producer; he returns to write the musical score with Daniel Davies and his son Cody. The soundtrack beautifully emulates the sound and the immortal theme song of the original, especially with its glowing orange opening credits sequence. There are also some new tracks worth enjoying, most of which primarily use the synth or electronic guitar. Each one seemingly builds and builds in its intensity as The Shape gets ever closer to his would-be victims. It can also be really creative, such as one where it involves the distorted sound of Carpenter slowly scratching his pantleg. Despite an abundance of callbacks to the original film and some humorous moments that don’t really work, Halloween is a fun and scary good time, and a welcome return to form for the saga. Seeing it in a packed theater at night with your friends is sure to be a great way to spend or celebrate the titular season. I can’t say for sure if this is truly the end of the road for Laurie and Michael, but for a major studio horror film, it certainly ranks among to most satisfying entries in recent memory. 2018 will be remembered as a fantastic year for horror cinema, and this reboot/sequel hybrid might be the best way to cap it all off.

“Crazy Rich Asians” Movie Review

In which a demographic that spent years being desexualized by the media get two attractive leads to show how stories, no matter how old-fashioned, can be applied to anyone anywhere. Take that as you will, that’s a reality. This landmark romantic-comedy was released in theaters worldwide on August 15th, 2018. It has thus far grossed over $207 million at the worldwide box office, staying atop the #1 spot for three weeks straight and becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy in nearly a decade. It also attracted the largest Asia-descended audience in North America in quite a few years, plus the immense support of other Asian artists in the industry. And now, there’s a sequel en route with most of the same cast and crew to return. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the adaptation of the titular novel by Kevin Kwan was in development hell for about 3 years, primarily because producers wanted to cast a Caucasian actress in the lead. Following an intense bidding war between numerous studios, Warner Bros. scooped it up for theatrical distribution, beating Netflix’s extremely high offer. This is the first major Hollywood film in 25 years to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast, the last one being The Joy Luck Club. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, a first-generation Chinese-American economics professor at NYU. Her longtime boyfriend Nick Young, played by Henry Golding, asks her to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding in his home country of Singapore. When they arrive, she is surprised to learn that he hails from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in all of Southeast Asia. Now Rachel must contend with the very rich and famous elite of Singapore, including Nick’s domineering mother Eleanor. Earlier this year, Netflix released two delightful rom-coms, Set it Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Despite their lack of theatrical release, they proved that the classic formula still works in the modern era without any of the regressive gender stereotypes. Not going to lie, I initially had little interest in seeking out and watching this film in theaters. It’s not that I don’t like romantic comedies, just that the story being advertised for Crazy Rich Asians seemed so tired and overly glamorous. But after seeing all of the positive, confident buzz building up, I gave it a try, and I’m glad I did. This movie deserves a chance to be seen by as many people as possible while it’s still in theaters. Yes, the central story of a character meeting their love interest’s eccentric family is one of the most well-worn synopsizes in storytelling. But what makes this version of that story so unique is how deeply it understands numerous aspects of Asian culture. The cold opening, taking place just 20 years prior to now, reveals the struggle for families, particularly matriarchs, to gain respect in the Western world. Moreover, it details the cultural divide between someone like Rachel, who was born in the U.S. with some privilege, and Eleanor, who worked hard to build her family’s huge fortune. While their skin tone and mother tongues are ultimately the same, they come from radically different backgrounds, which essentially forms the emotional bedrock for both the film and it’s central conflict. Although I haven’t watched any of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, Constance Wu’s performance in this movie now really makes me want to. She really is charming as Rachel, in command of her own agency and tries never to let any of Nick’s family put her down. In his first film role, newcomer Henry Golding, meanwhile, is equally excellent as Nick and promises a great acting career. Charismatic and attractive, his insane family wealth is contrasted beautifully by his personal humility. The two of them share great chemistry, despite their differences in backgrounds, and play up the typical rom-com moments with ease and grace. Nearly all of the supporting cast members help to break cultural stereotypes in their quirky roles, but the best two were Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh. Awkwafina continues her mean-streak from Ocean’s 8 as Goh Piek Lin, Rachel’s eccentric Singaporean friend from college. She delivers some of the most hilarious lines in the movie. Yeoh, meanwhile, gives perhaps her best predominantly English-speaking role as the mother Eleanor. Despite her tough, seemingly cold exterior, she brings an honest concern and care for both her spoiled children and her connection to them. She constantly feels that they’re in danger of forgetting their heritage or how they got there, which is completely understandable. As for the technical aspects, director Jon M. Chu helps to craft one of the most polished and handsomely produced rom-coms in years. Cinematographer Vanja Cernjul uses many styles of camerawork, each of which works perfectly. Whether it’s used in intimate face-to-face shots or sweeping looks at the lush island of Singapore, it always makes it look interesting. Not to mention the gorgeous locales for filming and use of color. Different shades of gold, white, yellow, or green are frequently brought out either in the outstanding costumes or production designs. Speaking of costumes, they are truly eye candy for how expensive and glamorous they are, reflecting the near-materialistic wealth of these characters. Brian Tyler wrote the original score for this movie, but I promise I can’t remember anything he wrote. Instead, the soundtrack has a wide range of different songs, mostly ones about money or classic Chinese tunes. The most memorable song in the entire film is a Mandarin cover of “Yellow” by Coldplay, performed by The Voice competitor Katherine Ho. Chu apparently wrote a long, impassioned letter to the band members after the initially refused to license it out, explaining how it showed him how his skin color was truly beautiful. Thank God they gave in, because I dare say that it’s better than the original version. With her amazing voice and the dynamic instrumentation, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since watching it in theaters. While its overall plot may be extremely familiar and at times cliched, Crazy Rich Asians is a fun, old-fashioned step forward for on-screen representation. A charming cast, wonderful scenes and settings, and a great balance between humor and heart make this easily the best rom-com of the year and one the best in recent memory. I recognize that I may personally not be the most qualified person to discuss this film’s potential cultural impact on Hollywood, but if there’s an audience member or two who’s able to see themselves onscreen for the first time, then it should undoubtedly be a success.

“Fifty Shades Freed” Movie Review

*Sighs* Why do I keep doing this to myself time and again? I feel like each time I subject myself, it gets just a little bit more painful. The third and final(!) installment of this trilogy of so-called “erotic romance dramas” was released in theaters around the world on February 9th, 2018. Yet again, it was essentially slaughtered by film critics everywhere, but now that seems to have finally had some sort of impact on its financial prospects. Over the totality of its theatrical run, the film grossed just about $371 million at the box office, officially becoming the lowest-grossing entry in the saga. People finally seem to be learning from previous mistakes. Once again directed by James Foley, the film, based upon the novel of the same by E.L. James- which, mind you, started out as Twilight fanfiction -was shot back-to-back with the second entry in the series. Foley, who also helmed the 1992 drama Glengarry Glen Ross, replaces Sam Taylor-Johnson after having a number of disagreements with the author. Also worth noting is that the final two films were written by James’ husband, Niall Leonard, virtually giving her more creative control over the final product. Picking up not too long after the seemingly inconsequential events of the second film Fifty Shades Darker, billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and his girlfriend Anastasia Steele have now gone full tilt in their “romance.” They marry and try to adapt to a newfound life together while still sharing all the luxury and BDSM type of love. But now they’re confronted by a number of shady people from their past who want to try and tear apart their relationship. You know, there was a very real (albeit small) part of me that actually held an inkling of hope that this franchise would get a decent conclusion of sorts. I had already been far too optimistic in the past with my expectations from the Fifty Shades films, but still. And yet, just as with the previous two, any shred of hope that I had was completely eviscerated just in the first few scenes of Fifty Shades Freed. I dare say that this one is the worst out of the three films, which is honestly really saying something. I legitimately can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that seemed so utterly indifferent to the cultural climate that it was being released in. Granted, Christian Grey was already a gross, creepy man way before the #MeToo movement. But the fact this movie, and the book upon which it was based, continues to shamelessly glamorize his toxic and abusive relationship with Anastasia after all the revealing stories from the entertainment industry came out isn’t only terrible timing; it’s potentially dangerous. There are (Unfortunately) many women out there who genuinely like these movies, and condoning Grey’s disgusting behavior in 2018 of all years is both terrifying and upsetting. At this point, it’s very clear that the stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are both done with this saga like the rest of us. The two of them continue to be completely devoid of any chemistry as they attempt to chug through some truly atrocious lines and actions. Their characters are still completely incompatible with one another, despite all of the time they’ve spent together. As for any of the side characters… I can hardly remember any of their names because they’re basically all 100% useless. Even just from a technical point of view, Fifty Shades Freed is such a surprisingly incompetent picture. John Schwartzman does his best to make the film visually appealing with beautiful people and locations. However, despite all the sleek colors and luxurious settings, it isn’t very hard at all to make something really awful look decent. The film is also edited by Debra Neil-Fisher and Richard Frances-Bruce in such a way that makes any friction or heat totally dull. The scenes are never cut together in a satisfying manner, especially one laughable flashback sequence early on in the film. One has to imagine what that looked like in the screenplay. Despite being rated-R, I guarantee you that being cut into a PG-13 rating or even lower wouldn’t affect the movie in the slightest in terms of plot or character development. Sadly, even the music is tired and dumb. In the previous two installments, the soundtracks, at the bare minimum gave us some original songs that were somewhat catchy. Whether it was The Weekend’s Oscar-nominated “Earned It” in the first or Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik’s collaboration “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” they at least tried to make the experience okay to the ears. Here, the best they can do is a lame ballad called “For You” by Rita Ora, who also has a role in the film. The best it does is diminish the sexiness (Re: creepiness) of the love scenes into softcore porn for girls; without them, there’d probably be an Unrated or NC-17 cut. But they’ve gotta try and get as many seats as possible filled in the theater, I guess, so whatever. I will be genuinely shocked if there is a worse film released this year. The more I think about it, the angrier I become at its success and mere existence. I really hope that all of the parties involved can bounce back in recovery as they find better projects to work from in the future. In the meantime, Fifty Shades Freed is nothing if not an obligatory conclusion to an affectless, toxic franchise. I can somewhat see how some see this series as a kinky fantasy, but there’s no way in hell any of its tone deaf elements work for me. But I’m just glad that it’s FINALLY OVER!!! All there is to do now is wait for the next obnoxious romance saga to hit screens soon.

“Halloween” Movie Review

Big budgets don’t always have to equal great horror movies; in fact, some are great because of their restraints. Consider this classic to be among the top of them. This horror slasher thriller was originally released on October 25th, 1978, almost 40 years to the date. Made for the extremely low budget of around $300,000, it became inredibly profitable by grossing over $70 million at the global box office. Critics managed to warm up to it and it managed to spawn a huge multimedia franchise and create several established tropes within the horror genre for years to come. Directed and co-written by John Carpenter, the project originated when a pair of independent producers came to Carpenter to write a slasher film, having been impressed by his previous effort Assault on Precinct 13. The screenplay was written with producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill over the course of 10 days, after which it became very difficult to cast the roles with the limited budget. This also meant that almost all of the props and costumes used in the film were everyday or inexpensive items one could get for very little. The story follows Michael Myers, a mute serial killer with virtually no emotion or ulterior motive, and had been imprisoned for murdering his older sister as a young boy. After breaking out of a psychiatric ward on Halloween night in 1978, he then makes his way to the small town of Haddenfield, Illinois, to kill a group of teenage babysitters. One of those babysitters is Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, a bookworm who immediately notices Michael following her. She then attempts, for the next 91 minutes, to avoid his wrath while Michael’s former child psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis makes his way as fast as he can. Interestingly, the first time I actually watched this film was on Halloween night last year, which effectively made me no longer want to go trick-r-treating. I had always been a big fan of John Carpenter, with his 1982 film The Thing being my favorite horror movie of all time. And I mainly wanted to rewatch and review this classic because of the new soft reboot-sequel hybrid by David Gordon Green hitting theaters this weekend. So this has been something of a longtime coming for me, and now we’re in the appropriate season to be taking a critical look at it. And I must say, despite turning 40 years old later this month, the original Halloween still holds up as a remarkably frightening, effective thriller. What is it about Michael Myers that makes him so terrifying of a villain? Simple; he’s the ultimate manifestation of pure evil. He’s not Laurie’s long-lost brother or whatever any of the cheap sequels tried to opine later on. In fact, he’s just credited as “The Shape” in the original script, and it makes sense; he doesn’t really need a personality to become a viable threat. As Dr. Loomis puts it in a haunting monologue, “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” In her feature film debut, Jamie Lee Curtis is actually pretty great as Laurie Strode, even she herself can’t watch her own performance. She’s pretty much the only one of her friends with much restraintNick Castle may be completely silent and unemotive as Michael Myers, but he is still an incredibly imposing figure to be scared of. The influence he had on other big screen villains is completely apparent with his stoic nature and practically unstoppable physique; he may as well be the Boogeyman. The best performer is former James Bond villain Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, a man of reason stupefied beyond explanation by the evil of Michael. He’s able to deliver the dialogue with convincing concern and conviction, sure of his mission but terrified of the potential results. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Halloween reveal this as a John Carpenter film through and through. Dean Cundey makes use of the then-newly invented Steadicam to great effect, establishing a strong and unsettling atmosphere. His use of widescreen also makes for great fare, creating a big canvas that practically has you searching for Michael in each frame’s corner. The film opens with a startling 3-minute tracking shot of The Shape’s first kill, establishing that anything can happen in the suburb. The editing by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace is superb in its focus on tension and atmosphere over explicit gore. The two elements come together in a particularly spooky scene when Michael pins a body to the wall, and he just tilts his head to observe it. What makes The Shape even more scary: His iconic mask was just a William Shatner mask that they spray-painted, but now it’s unmistakably his. Since the budget was so low, Carpenter couldn’t afford to hire a real composer, so he was left to write the score himself. Despite claims that he can’t read or write a single note of music, the main theme has became almost as iconic as the film itself. With a basic, repetitive piano melody serving as the backbone, the swelling of eerie strings and ambient background noises. Other tracks include sudden bursts of dissonant chords on the synth, which usually telegram when The Shape is about to strike. It also makes effective use of Laurie’s sobs and Michael’s Darth Vader-like breathing to create a sense of unease, one which will likely last long after the credits roll. No wonder he was able to finish recording the soundtrack in just 3 days time. My respect for this film increased quite a bit after I read that Carpenter made this for virtually no money. The fact that all of the parties involved committed to finishing it, AND that it launched a massive franchise is a testament to its lasting power along with other slashers of its era. But unlike most of its contemporaries, this film is truly deserving of its impact on the horror genre and pop culture in general. Halloween is beautiful and hauntingly powerful in its simplicity, with plenty of autumn chills to spare. Although not quite as good as The Thing, this film is indeed up to par with the best of John Carpenter’s storied career. Each time I watch it, it keeps me on the edge of my seat as Laurie, Michael, and Dr. Loomis face off on the spookiest night of the year. And it’s just one of many great traditions of that day.

 

 

“The Godfather Part II” Movie Review

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the first great franchise of Hollywood. Well, at least it was for a little while, but that’s besides the point. This epic crime drama was released during Christmas time of 1974, a full two years after the original. Although it ultimately made less than its predecessor, with a box office intake of around $55 million against a budget of $13 million, it received virtually the same praise as last time. In fact, many critics consider it to be superior to the original, although others took a little while to come to their senses. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 6 and became the first sequel to win Best Picture, a feat only matched in 2003 by Return of the King. Once again written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the story stemmed from his interest in the dichotomy in the two central arcs. A number of actors from the first film, such as Marlon Brando and Richard Castellano, chose not to return despite their parts being written. It took over half a year for filming to complete, and only 6 months after that to prepare in time for a holiday release for Paramount. This time around, it’s both a prequel AND a sequel. The first story takes place in 1958, and follows Michael Corleone who has assumed the role of family Don. As he attempts to expand his family business into major venues, an attempt on his life leaves him weary of even his closest associates. In the other one, we see his father Vito in his young years emigrate to the U.S. during the early 20th century. And we watch as his empire gradually grows in New York City as Michael’s begins to fall apart. As anyone who’s read my blog before should know, I absolutely adore the first Godfather movie. In spite of all the difficulties Coppola had making that film, I genuinely don’t have any problems with it in terms of either narrative, technicality, or acting. For the longest time, I had been somewhat scared to watch the sequel, as I felt there wasn’t any possible way it could live up to the original. In fact, I only finally watched The Godfather Part II for the first time very early this year. And while I’m not quite sure if it surpasses the original, it is absolutely a worthy follow-up deserving of the exact same gushing. It’s very curious to watch the dual yet somewhat opposite storylines play out. As young Vito’s list of allies and associates grows, Michael’s gradually wanes in the face of paranoia. How both of these men come about it is shown in a very slow, deliberate, but engaging manner. Despite the epic runtime of 3 hours and 22 minutes, including a brief intermission, not a single moment felt wasted developing their stories. In fact, I’d argue that a minute shorter would diminish its power and significance. The movie is less a continuous crime saga and more a melancholy parable on the consequences American Dream, as Vito emigrated to the United States and built everything he had from the ground up. It’s at turns inspiring, heartbreaking, and shocking. Returning to his most iconic role, Al Pacino is even better than last time as Michael. Through subtle gestures and some occasional outbursts, this man becomes increasingly less sympathetic as the film goes on, but you still can’t help but watch. This time around Fred Cazale and Diane Keaton are given more room and time to shine as his brother Fredo and wife Kay, respectively. Each one has a tragic element that they expertly add to their character, partly due to their mutual fear of who Michael has become. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro shines in his Oscar-winning breakout role as a young Vito Corleone. A role spoken almost entirely in the Italian language, he shows why he is a man not to mess with as he kills people from rival gangs to solidify his power as the mafia Don. But he still is able to show genuine care, looking after his wife and infant sons and giving back to less fortunate members of his community. Once again, The Godfather Part II is also a brilliant piece of technicality that was revolutionary for the time and still impressive today. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer and gives a more muted look to the film. It was the last Hollywood picture to be made using the dye imbibition process with Technicolor until the 1990’s, and makes the most out of its set pieces. From the Dominican Republic to Sicily to a Senate committee, the production designers Angelo Graham, John Dapper, and Dean Tavoularis crafted many memorable locations across the epic story. Each one is edited by Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, and Richard Marks with ease, moving between each timeline with cross dissolves or some hard cuts. And yet, it still works effortlessly. Nino Rota writes the original film score for the second go-around, this time with a little help from the director’s late father Carmine Coppola. While the primary theme is kept mostly intact, there is some new music worth listening to as well. There are a handful of more lighthearted tunes for Little Italy scenes, consisting of bouncy percussion and accordions. What’s particularly memorable is the song that plays when Vito first sees the Statue of Liberty, a haunting and beautiful piece that illustrates his newfound freedom. Starting with a solemn trumpet solo before blowing out with strings and woodwind trills, it works as well as any piece of film score I’ve ever listened to. It’s truly a soundtrack for New York City. Even after this rewatch, I do need a bit of time to decide if I like this film more than the original, like many cinephiles proclaim. It definitely feels more free of the usual constraints faced by sequels, as the story is never beholden to the events of the original film. In that, it’s just as strong a standalone feature as it is a continuation of the story Mario Puzo had originally envisioned. The Godfather Part II is a brilliant Shakespearean family tragedy clothed as an operatic gangster saga. Just as with last time, there is virtually nothing wrong with this movie in any department and only gets better with age. Epic but not overlong, dark but not cold. The real question: What the hell happened to Frances Ford Coppola? That man was on a roll. But hey, at least we have this duology, (Yes, you read that correctly) The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, and frankly that’s all I need from him.