Category Archives: Crime

“Joker” Movie Review

I have rarely seen a piece media evoke such an evolving response that went from “we live in a society” memes to “this could be dangerous.” This psychological thriller initially premiered in competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. To the surprise of pretty much everyone in the industry, it won the prestigious Golden Lion award and continued its streak at TIFF the following week. Following what can only be described as one of the most unnecessary firestorms in recent memory, it was later released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 4th, 2019. After breaking records for the biggest opening weekend in October, it has gone on to gross over $937 million at the box office against a budget of $55 million- way below the standard comic book movie budget. Several sources have indicated that it might become the first R-rated film to break the billion-dollar mark. And while some outlets have cooled since its premiere, it has maintained a generally positive critical reception and huge Oscar buzz for its star’s performance. Directed by Todd Phillips, the filmmaker and co-writer Scott Silver originally came up with the film as an answer to the struggling DC Extended Universe. It apparently took them over a year to convince Warner Bros. to release the film as they had conceived it: a hard-R character study with no DCEU connections, no sequel setup, and a mid-range cost. While the cast and crew came together fairly quickly, there was a brief incident during filming when extras were trapped inside a train car, and a SAG-AFTRA rep was sent to monitor the rest of production. It also generated enormous controversy in the weeks leading up to release when some worried that it might incite violence among “incels,” leading to increased police visibility and the film getting pulled from screening in Aurora, Colorado. Set in 1981 Gotham City, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a struggling and isolated party clown. He suffers from a mental illness that causes him to laugh and cry uncontrollably at inappropriate times, which hinders his relationships and aspirations for a stand-up comedian. During a time when the city is going through social and economic strife, Arthur discovers a shocking secret held by his mother Penny, played by Frances Conroy, who he takes care of. This revelation, plus a number of other random and disturbing events happening in the city, propels him into madness as he decides to embrace his clown persona: The Joker. I’ll be honest, I only really became interested in this movie when Joaquin Phoenix signed on. I’ve never been fond of finding out the titular character’s backstory, as his mystique is part of the reason he’s such an endearing villain. But hearing tale that it was a mid-budget, R-rated character study rather than just a straightforward superhero story made it sound more enticing. The trailers showed exactly what I was hoping out of the film, as more of a street-level drama than a massive CGI-filled ensemble epic. Even with all of the controversy surrounding it, (We’ll get to that in a moment) I still had hopes Todd Phillips would be able to at least deliver something mighty interesting. And as it stands, Joker isn’t quite as brilliant as it wants to be, but it’s undoubtedly a big step forward for the genre in many ways. It’s very clear that Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver pay a great deal of homage to early Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Like the films of that legend, who was initially onboard as a producer, it tries to take a look at a mentally ill man disregarded by society who’s desperate for approval and attention from everyone. This is particularly spurred on because the city of Gotham is in such a state of disarray, and even Arthur’s social worker admits that the city doesn’t care about people like them. This portrait of mental illness and the violence it hath brought has also created an extraordinary controversy that, frankly, got blown way out of proportion. Regardless of the film’s deeper implications about the character, the idea that it would incite armed violence among an online community of incels is far too extreme, even with the current state of gun violence in America. Joker may leave some things to be desired in its exploration of these themes, but at almost no point does it seem like it’s glorifying his actions. Honestly, the mere fact that a major studio film like this even tries to approach these ideas, let alone with its bleak and apocalyptic tone, should be commended. In any case, Joaquin Phoenix continues his white-hot streak with one of his best performances here as Arthur Fleck. With a considerable amount of weight lost and an unassuming demeanor, he’s absolutely terrifying to watch as he spirals downward into something truly demented. He’s not afraid to speak his mind to other people, condescendingly telling his social worker, “All I have are negative thoughts.” By the end of the film, his body language has completely transformed in such a way that the Academy just has to recognize it. Robert De Niro also does some fine work as Murray Franklin, a talk show host whom Arthur is obsessed with. A direct callback to his early Scorsese roles, he convincingly portrays a guy who always wants to get to the next punchline, even at other people’s expense. Frances Conroy isn’t in the film for long, but she leaves an impression as Arthur’s confused and ill-stricken mother Penny. Although it’s clear that she’s having some delusions, we see how Arthur genuinely cares for her when everyone else has left. Other players include Zazie Beetz as Arthur’s cynical yet kind neighbor, Glenn Fleschler as a manipulative clown colleague, Shea Whigham and Bill Camp as GCPD detectives investigating Arthur’s activities, and Brett Cullen as self-righteous billionaire Thomas Wayne. While some are more important than others, they all feel perfectly fit for the decadent world created here. And from a technical perspective, Joker is certainly distinctive from many other comic book adaptations out there. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher creates a gritty, grimy aesthetic for 1980s Gotham. There’s a stark contrast in colors that helps make the frame feel deceptively inviting and gives a sort of grim beauty to the world. The camera is often steady and focused, always trying to follow Arthur as his movements constantly change. The most weirdly compelling moment comes at the end of the first act, when Phoenix launches into an improvised dance routine in a dilapidated bathroom, all captured on one shot. Jeff Groth’s editing job is similarly dark and disjunctive, always knowing exactly how long to linger on a subject. There are a handful of scenes where Arthur is laughing (Or crying) uncontrollably and the camera stays fixed on him as he tries to contain it. There are also a number of shots and cuts done in slow-motion, which helps to show how isolated he is in his world. Hildur Guðnadóttir provides the instrumental film score, and it’s one of the year’s most haunting and terrific. Far removed from other operatic soundtracks of the genre, this one is deeply unnerving and nefarious, much like the titular character. It relies heavily on low strings and percussion to build an atmosphere of tension and unease as Arthur gradually becomes the Joker. At first it seems somber as literally everyone and everything Arthur interacts with ends badly. But by the end, it’s come around to a more revelatory score, one where he finally embraces his clown persona. I can’t wait to see what else Guðnadóttir has in store for cinematic scores. Joker is a moody, sporadic, and sincerely disturbing reimagining of the greatest villain in any medium. Although I was initially skeptical of what it would come out as, Todd Phillips has crafted a real game-changer in comic book adaptations. It also helps that it’s anchored by a terrifyingly convincing performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who’s able to make this version wholly his own without trying to imitate or outdo his predecessors. Even though some aspects and themes of the film are still questionable, it’s hard not to least admire the attempt to create something truly different in this genre. If Warner Bros. actually goes ahead with the proposed DC Black label- one-off, auteur-driven comic adaptations with a mature edge -then I will be so satisfied. More of these, please.

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for Joker (#1 of 11)

“Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw” Movie Review

I don’t care what the title for it says, this is definitely a superhero movie. It may have the words “Fast and Furious” in front of it, but that’s honestly what these series has become. This science-fiction tinged buddy action movie was released in theaters worldwide by Universal Pictures on August 2nd, 2019. After snatching the biggest Thursday preview earnings for its two stars, it has gone one to gross over $758.9 million at the worldwide box office. Much of that intake has apparently come in from overseas markets, including the second-highest opening weekend in China this year. Considering that it’s not even a mainline entry in its franchise, that’s a particularly impressive feat. Directed by David Leitch, the film was formally announced a few months after the release of Fate of the Furious, which caused the planned ninth installment to be pushed back. This caused tension with one of the franchise’s mainstay actors Tyrese Gibson, who took to Instagram to publicly complain about it all. In addition, longtime producer Neal H. Moritz sued the studio for breech of oral contract after being removed from the film’s credits. It was subsequently announced that he would no longer have any involvement with the franchise going forward. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham both star as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, a retired D.S.S. agent and former mercenary, respectively. They are both brought on by the C.I.A. to find and take down Brixton Lore, played by Idris Elba, a cyber-genetically enhanced terrorist working for a tech cult known as Etreon. Things are further complicated when Shaw’s MI6 agent sister Hattie, played by Vanessa Kirby is framed for stealing a deadly virus that Lore is after called Snowflake. This sparks a globe-trotting showdown for Hobbs and Shaw to find a way to get rid of the virus safely, bring down Lore and his constituents, and clear their names. I won’t hesitate to admit that I only have a general familiarity with the Fast and Furious series. Before this movie, I had only watched the first two films, plus Fast Five, all the way through, just to have some idea of what this one would be like. Each one somehow managed to be more ridiculous than the last, which I suppose was part of the reason why it’s become so popular among audiences. Since they moved away from the main storyline, I figured I could jump headfirst into this spinoff without having to play catchup too much. And I’ve enjoyed David Leitch’s action work on John Wick and Deadpool 2, so seeing him directing two of the biggest action stars seemed rather enticing. And make no mistake, Hobbs and Shaw is not a masterpiece of any kind and barely feels cohesive at times, but is nonetheless entertaining and diverting. Sometimes, I go into a film hoping to be awestruck by its thematic resonance, wonderful storytelling, and acting. Other times, I go in wanting to see The Rock lassoing a helicopter with a pickup truck’s chain while on a cliffside chase. In no logical world can you allow that to pass by and still complain about the age gap between Deckard and Hattie, so suspending disbelief is pretty much mandatory here. One big bummer is that Hobbs and Shaw could have probably still worked just as well on its own without the Fast and Furious name slapped onto it. Its stars are both likable enough on their own terms to warrant a completely new IP, and this just felt like an attempt at brand recognition. But again, there’s only so much to complain about when looking at the movie as a whole. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham have been seemingly building up to starring opposite each other for a while now. If for nothing else, their chemistry and constant bickering are what help carry the film through its bloated runtime. Johnson brings all of the muscle and testosterone typically required of his characters and gets to fire off some pretty decent one-liners. Statham, meanwhile, is his usual rugged and agile self, always confident in his next move and never sheds the opportunity to be hard on his new partner. Idris Elba once again plays the role of the villain here as Brixton Lore, as silly of an antagonist as you’d expect. He totally hams the role up, and brings a certain charm to this cyberpunk bad guy who loves big ambitions and bigger flamethrowers. You can tell he’s having an absolute blast with the character, always confident in his abilities and even gloats to the heroes “I’m black Superman!” Mission: Impossible- Fallout and The Crown alum Vanessa Kirby also shouldn’t be overlooked as Hattie, Shaw’s younger sister. She has many moments throughout where she just unleashes a flurry of attacks on unsuspecting bad guys, proving she’s in desperate need of her own franchise to lead. She proves she can more than hold her own than the established action stars at the forefront of the picture and even has some surprising moments of drama. The supporting cast is filled with the likes of Helen Mirren, Eiza González, Eddie Marsan, Cliff Curtis, and Rob Delaney in various roles. Each one feels like they’re filling archetypes rather than actual characters, but seem to be having fun with their roles. There are also a couple of unexpected appearances that are best left unspoiled here, but which mostly feel satisfying. And from a technical perspective, Hobbs and Shaw has enough flourish to match its silliness and large-scale action set pieces. Leitch’s collaborator Jonathan Sela once again handles the cinematography with varying degrees of success. While the frame sometimes seems digitally washed out in colors, it always keeps the action in focus and follows each blow with precision. The camera frequently has some great movements, such as swoops across the battlefield, as Leitch’s superb blocking skills come to light. This meets with the editing job by Christopher Rouse, a veteran of action films such as The Bourne Ultimatum. Like Leitch’s other work, there are no rapid cuts between numerous shots in various set pieces. This is a breath of fresh air in the action genre and is able to keep things interesting during these scenes. The edits are able to capture exactly what it needs to, as highlighted by a creative split-screen intro for the main duo. Although they’re in vastly different places, we get to see how they both operate in their worlds on a daily basis. That being said, it definitely could’ve been trimmed down. I can’t think of any logical reason why this movie runs at 2 hours and 16 minutes, and it just feels like it keeps going on and on. At least a half hour could be shaved right off without a single narrative beat missed and no would be the wiser. Nothing earth-shattering or even very memorable, Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw is a bloated, indulgent but undemanding romp worth at least one ride. David Leitch once again shows his tenacity for behind the scenes magic, but the story and characters still feel secondary. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham prove why they’re deserving of more movies starring opposite one another and Vanessa Kirby gets even more of an opportunity to shine as a star. This is just not a movie that should have the “Fast and Furious” brand slapped onto it. I’m reminded of something Hobbs says early on: “I’m what you call a nice, cold can of whoop-ass.” That’s what this film ultimately is: fun, nice to watch, and harmless, but sterile and unambitious.

“Mean Streets” Movie Review

With Todd Phillips’ Joker coming out this month, there is so much attention given to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I decided if we’re gonna talk about that film’s obvious influences from Scorsese, why not go back to his real roots? This crime drama was originally released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 14th, 1973. Part of the reason it managed to see the light of day is because some of his fellow “Film School Brats” of the Hollywood New Wave helped him get it off the ground. When it finally did, it managed to gross over $3 million against a production budget of around $500,000, which was considerably low at the time. The film also managed to become extremely popular with critics and young NYC audiences when released, including a rare positive response from Pauline Kael. Co-written and directed by Martin Scorsese, the screenplay initially began as a continuation of characters from his debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door. The film is said to based on real events Scorsese witnessed regularly as child in the Little Italy neighborhood. The director almost made it in the style of a Blaxploitation film for Roger Corman before a connection got him in contact with producer Jonathan Taplin, who managed to secure studio funding. While it is his third directorial effort overall, it’s apparently the first one made completely of his own fingerprints. Set in a small New York City neighborhood, Harvey Keitel stars as Charlie Cappa, an Italian-American man and small-time hoodlum. He’s best friends with young gambler John “Johnny Boy” Civello, played by Robert De Niro, who’s swimming in debts to local loan sharks. Charlie is struggling to reconcile his deep Catholic beliefs with his aspirations to rise in the local mob run by his uncle Giovanni, played by Cesare Danova. However, as Johnny Boy’s behavior towards other street-level thugs becomes increasingly volatile, their chances of making it out alive get increasingly harder. This is not usually the film that people talk about whenever Martin Scorsese’s name comes up in conversation. It’s understandable why not, since it’s very early work and clearly lacking the finesse of some of his later films. But I still feel like it’s important to acknowledge where every artist gets their start, no matter how bumpy it is. Recently, almost all of the auteur’s early films appeared on Netflix, including Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I thought it would be a cool change of pace to steer clear of his more well-known pictures and choose something a little more hard edge for him. And Mean Streets proves to be a pretty good starting point for the director, even if it’s more amateurish than his later works. Scorsese’s career-long fascination with Italian-American crime is evident here in the look at all these small time hustlers. The mob itself isn’t captured in as much sprawling detail as it would be in the future with Goodfellas and Casino, but there’s a certain quality to it that makes it feel lived-in and real. Everyone in this neighborhood knows everyone and what they’ve done, and that doesn’t always bode well for the protagonists. Where Mean Streets falters a little is that it’s sometimes hard to care for the characters and what they’re all doing. There are numerous scenes where multiple people are talking over one another with lots of vulgarity, which helps give it a fly-on-the-wall feeling. But seeing this and watching them do reprehensible things for about 2 hours can get exhausting, especially because none of the characters really change by the end. Harvey Keitel has always been an underrated actor in my opinion, and his performance in this film is proof of that. As Charlie, he’s very conflicted about his choice of career as it contrasts heavily with his Catholic background. He does his best to keep cool but when pressured just enough, he explodes in a fury of anger that’s hard to look away from. And in the first on nine collaborations with the director, Robert De Niro is absolutely incredible as Johnny Boy, one of his most unpredictable characters. In every scene, he’s extremely volatile and fast-moving, practically refusing to stay in the same place for very long. There’s a tinge of melancholy to his character as he just gets himself into more and more trouble as the plot rolls along. These two characters are undoubtedly the main focus of the whole movie and rightly so. De Niro and Keitel’s chemistry is excellent and you really feel like these two have been friends for a long time. This duo is also flanked by a capable supporting cast of character actors, who fill various roles with lots of appropriate gusto. Chief among them are Richard Romanus as one particularly irked loan shark trying to collect his due, George Memmoli as a pool hall owner, Amy Robinson as Johnny’s cousin and Charlie’s secret girlfriend, and Cesare Danova as Charlie’s calculating and cautious uncle in the mob. Each one has something to lose to someone else and the film’s refusal to paint a black-and-white portrait of the characters is very engaging. And when it comes to the technical aspects, Mean Streets shows Scorsese’s distinct voice gradually developing. In his professional film, Kent L. Wakeford’s cinematography has a certain cinéma vérité quality to it. Nearly every scene is handheld and follows the characters through the grimy and ugly streets of New York. There’s also a beautiful use of the color red, as it often appears in a hazy dominance over several scenes. Whether it’s a birthday party for a drunken soldier or a simply night out at the bar, the color red is almost always there as if to foreshadow the bloodshed in this lifestyle. This just about works on par with Sidney Levin’s editing job, which cuts between each scene exhaustively. While lacking real precision, its intentions are still clear as it never tries to linger too long on violence or nudity to avoid being gratuitous. A couple moments also involve freeze frame, which gives leeway for Charlie’s narration of his thoughts. Although, there are a handful of moments where it’s hard to figure out who’s saying what, but that just adds to the immersion of this world. Mean Streets is a bumpy but solid start to a great auteur’s career. Although I’d never rank it alongside his best work, Martin Scorsese still manages to paint a unique picture of crime in an environment that seems familiar yet alien. With actors that would later become his own regular collaborators, it could certainly be argued that this served as the basic blueprint for his films to follow. It gets very rough around the edges and probably not worth watching more than twice, but if it helped lead to the director’s later masterpieces, than I am content with it.

“Serenity” Movie Review

About 3 years ago, I had reviewed the one and only season of the underrated and beloved T.V. show Firefly. In that review, I had promised readers that I would review its cinematic follow-up and conclusion Serenity “very soon.” Now, all this time later, I am finally making good on that promise and giving readers that same review and hope it encourages you to watch both. This science-fiction western hybrid film premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which sold out screenings numerous times. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Universal Pictures on September 30th, 2005, almost 3 years exactly from when inspiration first aired. Despite being highly anticipated, it performed poorly at the box office, barely making back its $40 million budget. However, it was mostly able to recuperate when it was released on home media and was praised by both critics and fans of the show. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, in his feature directorial debut, he had spent over a year rigorously trying to get Hollywood to help him continue the story after Firefly was unceremoniously cancelled by Fox. Eventually, producer Barry Mendel and executive Mary Parent became interested in the project and got Whedon to heavily cut down his script originally entitled The Kitchen Sink. Much of the screenplay takes some of the director’s original ideas for Firefly‘s unfilmed second season, and initially attempted to address all of the unresolved plot points from the show. There were numerous disputes behind the scenes over the budget and shooting circumstances of the film, such as whether to film it abroad or in California. Set in a new solar system about 500 years in the future, the story see’s the return of the titular Firefly-class vessel’s crew led by war veteran and space cowboy Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion. After rescuing the mysterious girl River, played by Summer Glau, from an Alliance-controlled facility, they intend to go on their merry way. However, it becomes clear that she holds key, deadly secrets regarding The Alliance and its infrastructure. This sets a shadowy assassin known simply as The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, on their trail as the crew attempts to unravel the clues on their hands. I was a huge fan of the short-lived Firefly show and will never, ever forgive Fox for cancelling it. It was such a creative and unusual take on the space genre, fusing it perfectly with sensibilities of a Western. Had Joss Whedon been given the chance to actually make more seasons, it could have possibly become one of the greatest shows of all time, and I stand by that. Very rarely do creators of a T.V. show get to continue, let alone conclude, their story on the big screen. And the fact that Joss Whedon actually got that second chance, no matter how it might have turned out, is amazing and a testament to the power of passionate fanbases. And that passion paid off because Serenity is a satisfying conclusion to the story and one hell of an enjoyable ride on its own merits. Unlike a lot of other cinematic continuations of beloved series, this follow-up doesn’t feel like it was forced by anyone. It really seems as though Whedon just naturally picked up where he left off with the story and characters without losing a beat. The crew of the ship are still wrestling with their own morality and choices, even if there’s been a gap in the timeline since the last episode. And even though we’re introduced to new planets and technology, Serenity still feels more like a Western than a sci-fi flick. Our heroes are undoubtedly cowboys looking for the next big score out in a virtually lawless sector of space and land. And seeing these cowboys finding a way to do what’s right even at the price of their own lives is all the more poignant, especially if you’re a big fan of the show like I am. Nathan Fillion has literally never been better than he has been as Malcolm Reynolds, and I’ll hold to that belief until I die. Beneath his smirks and cynicism is a man broken by war who tries to reconcile his own personal rules with what’s really going on with The Alliance. He’s also defiantly loyal to his own crew and never backs down from his mission, telling their assassin “I’m going to show you a world without sin.” Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk make a return as Zoe and Wash, Mal’s first mate and pilot on the ship, respectively. Although they frequently have strong differences with their captain, and are eager to share them, their unwavering loyalty makes them potent allies in the struggle to discover the truth about what’s going on. Their own husband and wife dynamic creates a great contrast as we get to see them butt heads on various issues that are raised throughout the story. Summer Glau is as great as ever with her role as River Tam, essentially the key to the whole mystery. She has relatively few lines of dialogue but the lines she does speak are extremely insightful into the chaos of the future and her voice intonations are on point. She also makes up for the lack of substantial words with amazing body language, constantly moving in unique and unpredictable ways. Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Sean Maher, Jewel Staite, and Ron Glass all reprise their respective roles from the show while David Krumholtz and Sarah Paulson play notable new faces. Chiwetel Ejiofor is extremely memorable as The Operative, as close to a human ghost one could get without becoming a real specter. He’s the kind of antagonist who never really shows outward emotions, using his calm demeanor to disarm his opponents. He also seems to recognize that he doesn’t belong in his vision of a perfect world, which makes his mission slightly more melancholy. And from a technical perspective, Serenity has all of the show’s prowess with a few cinematic touches. Clint Eastwood’s frequent collaborator Jack Green handles the cinematography with equal parts grime and glamour. Due to the film’s relatively low budget, fancy, sweeping shots typical of the genre are instead supplemented by a lot of handheld scenes. This ultimately helps sell its gritty Western aesthetic, as we’re down in the dirt with the characters as they try to make sense of things. The worlds are varied and unique and nearly each one is given a different color palette, which creates a visual distinction between them all. This manages to compliment the editing job by Whedon’s longtime editor Lisa Lassek, who also made her feature debut here. The scenes are cut together nicely and smoothly, with a number of match cuts that are perfectly lined up. It also moves between shots in action scenes with surprising grace and effort, ensuring that the viewer knows and sees everything going on. This especially gets interesting whenever the demented Reavers are on-screen, as the camera cuts away from showing their monstrous actions but still giving you a feeling of dread. The highly prolific yet underrated David Newman provides the instrumental film score here, and it’s perfectly suited to the story. Like the show, it manages to fuse influences from Westerns, sci-fi, and even a little bit of Eastern music into a big musical melting pot. Plucked strings are the main instrumentation, which give off the feeling of an old-school sci-fi adventure with a unique touch. It’s very melodic and befitting for the vastness and life of the new solar system that our heroes explore. Other tracks utilize low strings and electronic percussion to heighten the tension or mystery of the film. No matter what, it all works, even if the show’s theme song is sorely missed. With beloved characters making a wonderful return, Serenity is a highly fulfilling follow-up that does justice to its roots while making new strides. Even if you’re not affiliated with the show in any way, Joss Whedon still crafts one hell of a genre mashup that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Even if it gets really weird and wonky in its pacing from time to time, the passion from everyone involved is as clear as daylight. And after the recent acquisition, this is one Fox property that I would be okay with seeing Disney revive. If it does actually happen, I can only hope that they do it right.

“Ready or Not” Movie Review

I can only imagine what this must be like for married or soon-to-be married couples watching it. Never too late to get a prenup, that’s all I’m saying. This darkly comedic horror-thriller originally premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival. It was then released in theaters worldwide by Fox Searchlight nearly a month later on August 21st, 2019. It has managed to out-perform expectations, grossing over $43.6 million at the box office against a modest budget of $6 million. With showings at 2,118 screens, it’s the specialty studio’s widest release to date and could well turn into their highest-grossing title. It also has enjoyed great reviews from critics and audiences alike, including love from Stephen King and R.L. Stine. Directed by Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet, this marks their second narrative feature after Devil’s Due and contributing to the anthology horror film V/H/S. After years of making DIY shorts on YouTube wit their filmmaking collective Radio Silence, they were eventually approached by producer James Vanderbilt to potentially direct the film. The screenplay was written by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, although Gillet and Betinelli-Olpin also made some contributions to the final draft. Samara Weaving stars as Grace, a young woman about to marry her fiancée Alex Le Domas, played by Mark O’Brien. On their wedding night, she learns that before officially becoming a member of Alex’s extremely wealthy yet eccentric family, she has to play a randomly selected game with them as part of tradition. The chosen game is Hide and Seek and Grace has to stay hidden until dawn while the family members try to find her. However, she quickly learns that they intend to kill her before the end of sunrise for some sort of ritual, and soon begins fighting back against the Le Domas clan. This one took a little while to win me over, but once the marketing kicked into high gear, I was onboard. Although I haven’t seen any of Radio Silence’s shorts on YouTube yet, I do think it’s cool that Fox Searchlight is backing their first mainstream feature. The trailer made it look like their own fun little low to mid-budget horror thriller in the vein of Blumhouse Productions, which I am a big fan of. I’ve always been interested in horror or thriller movies that take place in a contained setting, like a huge mansion. And I was extremely interested to see how the relatively inexperienced Betinelli-Olpin and Gillet could take something like that for 95 minutes. And these two have such a bright future ahead because Ready or Not is loads of fun even for non-horror fans. With so many self-serious and straight-up trashy horror flicks in the market, it felt refreshing to see something take a tongue-in-cheek approach to the “Final Girl” trope. The story here totally subverts that by having that archetype against the family from the beginning as the tables start turning. She doesn’t take particular joy in trying to kill her would-be murderers, but she has what it takes to try and survive the night. Between all the blood-soaked and gory thrills, (This is a very violent film, by the way) Ready or Not manages to find comedy in the absurdity of it all. Most of the family members are using weapons from a bygone era, and they frequently stumble trying to learn how to use them properly. And there’s a certain Tarantino-esque exaggerated quality to the deaths, which makes the film even more fun. I’ve liked Samara Weaving as an actress for the past couple of years and this is the perfect breakout role for her. As Grace, her initial excitement for getting married turns into genuine terror for her own life in a pretty convincing manner. Although we don’t get much backstory or subtext for her character, she’s easy to root for in this truly bizarre scenario. Mark O’Brien is equally great as her husband Alex, who’s extremely hesitant to partake in the family’s tradition. He does his best to try and get Grace away from playing Hide and Seek and then tries to help her escape the mansion. The rest of the La Domas Clan is filled out by capable character actors, all game for their eccentric parts. These include Henry Czerny as the family’s well-meaning but intensely devoted patriarch, Andie MacDowell as the more welcoming mother, Nicky Guadgni as the cold and somber Aunt Helene, Melanie Scrofano as Alex’s clumsy drug-addicted sister, and John Ralston as the family’s loyal and violent butler. But the real standout in the film has to be Adam Brody as Daniel La Domas, Alex’s alcoholic older brother. Like, Alex, he despises the family’s traditions but his continued involvement has essentially broken him as a man. His pragmatic view of this ritual almost feels unsettlingly real and believable, which made every scene with him a treat. And from a technical perspective, Ready or Not showcases Radio Silence’s top-notch DIY skills behind the camera. Shot by Brett Jutkiewicz, the cinematography has a certain gritty nighttime aesthetic to it. Most of the film takes place within the La Domas family’s enormous mansion, and we often follow the characters running through the house and its secret passage ways. Since we don’t know the full layout of the house, it becomes tense whenever the camera is following the family members or Grace. This matches up well with the editing job by Terel Gibson, which keeps the pacing flowing quite nicely. While there’s a sufficient amount of bloody violence, the number of cuts and how they’re done helps ensure they aren’t gratuitous. Often times, it will include a humorous cutaway to relieve the tension, such as a scene where Emilie’s husband is learning how to use a crossbow juxtaposed with Grace climbing out the window right near him. There is an instrumental film score here provided by the highly prolific if inconsistent Brian Tyler. Many of the tracks are more or less the same, utilizing a mixture of strings and piano to create a melancholy atmosphere. Occasionally, it’ll up the ante by throwing in some percussion and synthesizers when something exciting happens. But for the most part, like many of Tyler’s other works, it’s not very memorable. The film also ends with the song “Love Tender” by Stereo Jane playing in the background during the glorious final shot. With a guitar intro mimicking the classic song played when the bride walks down the aisle, it’s the perfect way to end the chaos. It’s quite possibly one of the most underrated uses of a song in film in recent memory. Ready or Not is a uniquely satisfying thriller with a delightfully B-movie attitude. While it’s rough around the edges, Matt Betinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet prove that they’re more than capable of handling a genre feature. I look forward to seeing whatever Radio Silence has cooked up next, and Samara Weaving is a star in the making.

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“Stuber” Movie Review

I’ve had a handful of memorable rideshare experiences, but I would probably die from a heart attack if half of everything in this movie happened to me. But I wouldn’t hesitate in the least to give my driver a massive tip for the memorability of it all. This action-comedy premiered as a rough cut at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival. The final complete version was later released in theaters by Disney under their new 20th Century Fox banner on July 12th, 2019. Made for the budget of around $16 million, it has grossed over $31.1 million at the box office and should be able to gross back more than its entire budget by the end of its theatrical run. In spite of this, the film has received mixed reviews from critics but general audiences have given it higher ratings. Directed by Michael Dowse, the script was originally written on spec by newcomer Tripper Clancy. Fox purchased the script in 2016 for around six figures and Game Night filmmaking duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein became attached as producers. Both of the male leads signed on to the project before a director was even announced, apparently enthused by the opportunity to work together. Because of the recent Disney-Fox merger, this is the first R-rated feature to be released by Disney since The Fifth Estate in 2013. Dave Bautista stars as Vic Manning, a grizzled, tough-as-nails LAPD detective hot on the trail of a ruthless drug lord named Tedjo who killed his partner. But because he recently underwent LAZIK surgery, he is unable to drive himself anywhere, so he gets set up with the app Uber. His driver is Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani, a wimpy store clerk who’s unable to confront anything or anyone. Vic strong-arms Stu into driving him all around L.A. as they track down any leads that connect to Tedjo. Even though they aren’t in the directing chair, I loved what Francis Daley and Goldstein brought to Game Night. It was a genuinely funny and thrilling film that revived my faith in the studio comedy and I wanted to see what the duo had in store next. A small-scale odd-couple comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista honestly sounded like a match made in heaven. Even if this movie didn’t turn out to be great, I still feel the need to support it in theaters for the genre’s survival. I guess part of me was also worried if it was gonna be watered down after its rough-cut screening at South By Southwest. And while Stuber is certainly not without its flaws, it’s definitely a fun and laugh-out-loud ride for the summer. Like it or not, the mid-budget studio movie is slowly dying and that’s a real damn shame because it still has a lot to offer. Just look at The Nice Guys for proof, one of my personal favorite movies from 2016 but its lackluster box office performance more or less killed hopes for a sequel. With Stuber, the filmmakers take the classic mismatched duo approach and use it as a platform to explore toxic masculinity in 2019. It shows a balanced portrait of how Stu is too insecure and unconfident to stand up for himself while Vic has backward ideas of what it means to be “a real man.” It’s in moments like these where the humor and heart shine best, but the film often slides into old-school action movie cliches. Granted, many of them were self-referential and exciting but it just doesn’t really hold up to what the main duo are exploring internally. After watching this movie, I firmly support Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista being on-screen together for the rest of time. The two could not be more mismatched, which only makes their interactions all the more hilarious; their differences and weaknesses bounce off of each other perfectly. You get to see glimpses of their undesirable personal lives, such as Vic’s neglecting his own daughter for police work and Stu working retail under a boss who’s constantly bullying him. Seeing them trying to handle crime scenes or suspects in drastically different manners makes them the perfect odd couple. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t quite measure up to the two, although they do a decent job. There’s Natalie Morales as Vic’s estranged daughter trying to become an artist, Betty Gilpin as Stu’s best friend and one-sided love interest, Mira Sorvino as Vic’s hardline police captain, Jimmy Tatro as Stu’s profane and mean-spirited retail boss, and Karen Gillan as Vic’s white-eyed partner early in the film. Easily the biggest crime this movie commits is that it totally wastes Iko Uwais as the druglord Tedjo. As a huge fan of his work in The Raid: Redemption and a handful of other films, his skills as both an actor and a martial artist are seriously underutilized. The problem isn’t that he’s playing the main villain, but he has few lines of dialogue and only a couple of scenes that showcase his fighting prowess. And on the technical side of things, Stuber shows a certain understated nature and distinction among the comedy genre. The cinematography by Bobby Shore creates a slightly gritty aesthetic to the story, which works in contrast to the bright daylight of L.A. Although a decent chunk of the movie is told in Stu’s car, whenever they get out and about, the camera always follows them. It often switches between using handheld sequences and more steady angles, depending on the scene. It uses unique lighting to highlight the absurdity of various scenes, such as a shootout inside a veterinarian center. Jonathan Schwartz’s editing job manages to keep tension and comedic timing mostly consistent throughout the film. During the aforementioned vet shootout, there are numerous cuts as well as certain shots that are put in slow-motion for comedic effect. It could work harder to make the pacing better, as some scenes either feel too lightfooted or drag on too long. But given that the movie already runs at 93 minutes, I suppose they’ll have to do. Joseph Trapanese provides the instrumental film score, which is surprisingly memorable for the genre. Much like Game Night, much of the soundtrack is made up of synthesizers and electronic drums, although many of the tracks are warmer in tone here. Often times, they are used to highlight the melancholy truth behind Vic and Stu’s personal lives, mixing with guitars and violins. Other times, it’s more tense and exciting, particularly during moments where the investigation starts to pick up more or the characters get into a scuffle. It also uses the song “Come Sail Away” by Styx in an amusing and funny way. After Stu gets ridiculed by Vic early on for being too soft in his music choices, it comes back late in the film for a final chase sequence. And the way it’s incorporated into the scene makes the editing seem almost synchronized to it, which juxtaposes the darkly comic way the scene is proceeding. Stuber is an uneven but fun modern spin on the buddy action movie. While the script does leave a lot to be desired, it’s ultimately the chemistry between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani that makes this a breath of fresh air in the summer movie season. They, alone, make it worth watching for all of their bickering and misadventures. I genuinely wish there was much more interest from studios to make more understated fare like this to take a break from all the massive tentpoles that come out regularly. Because even though this film could’ve been a lot better, I definitely feel like it should be supported by the broader movie-going audience.

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“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Movie Review

If Tarantino is indeed serious about only making 10 movies and then retiring, I’m going to be genuinely upset. He still has so much to offer the world of cinema it would be a shame to see him leave all of a sudden. This historical comedy-drama competed for the Palme d’Or at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Pulp Fiction‘s premiere. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Sony and Columbia Pictures on July 26th, 2019, having previously been set for August 9th. Following impressive drawings from Thursday night previews, it managed to garner the biggest opening weekend for the director yet. It has thus far grossed over $239.8 million at the worldwide box office and has the potential to make so much more. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker initially spent 5 years writing the story as a novel before deciding that it was better fit for the big screen. After the horrifying allegations against his longtime producer Harvey Weinstein, he severed ties with him and The Weinstein Company permanently and shopped his script around to every major studio around. Eventually, Columbia got the rights after agreeing to several of the director’s demands, including final cut rights. In addition, the late Burt Reynolds was set for a small part in the film, but died before any of his scenes were shot; it’s also the last project featuring Luke Perry before his untimely death last March. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a faded Western T.V. star and his longtime stunt double. As the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood is coming to an end, the two of them are struggling to break it big into the film industry as it evolves. On their quest to remain relevant, they run into various real-life movie stars and celebrities, including Rick’s new next-door neighbor Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. And while all of this is happening, cult leader Charles Manson and his “Family” began to gain notoriety in the city. This was easily my most anticipated movie of the year from the minute that it was announced for a number of reasons. For one, Tarantino is one of the few living filmmakers who I will watch anything that he creates. Not to mention the absolutely stacked ensemble cast he managed to put together and there is little reason for me not to get amped up for the director’s 9th feature. (Yes, Kill Bill counts as one movie) I was especially curious to see what the self-proclaimed cinephile had in his portrayal of the 1960s film industry he frequently homages in his movies. That it took place in 1969, by most accounts the year when everything changed in Hollywood for good, made it all the more fascinating, particularly when it was reported it would involved Manson Family. And it may not be perfect, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just about lives up to my lofty expectations. Nearly everything about this film feels like a genuine, violent, profane fairytale, which you wouldn’t expect from the writer-director. Through an extremely specific and detailed lense, we get to see a version of Hollywood stripped of any bitterness and cynicism, while still not idolizing the industry. This may be his most emotional and mature film yet, as we spend a lot of time with Rick, Cliff, and Sharon as they simply go about their daily lives. Many people have criticized the film for its treatment of Sharon Tate and how it addresses her real-life fate. (I won’t spoil it if you don’t know what happened) But to be honest, Once Upon a Time‘s unconventional way of showing this legend living her life in pure bliss, including watching herself in a theater screening of The Wrecking Crew, is wholly affectionate and deeply respectful. And if you are aware of the context of what went down, that’s ultimately when the fantasy of it all really stings. I’ve always wanted to see Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio collaborate on-screen together and this dream team-up couldn’t have been more perfect. The duo imbue Rick and Cliff with little quirks and traits that make them more human and their friendship more palpable. Whereas Rick is deeply insecure about his future prospects of being a movie star and spends a fair amount of screen time drinking or smoking his problems away, Cliff is always calm and collected and could break every bone in your body without losing composure. Seeing the contrast in these two’s position in Hollywood was extremely enticing and watchable, and the movie is almost always at its best when they’re together. Margot Robbie also leaves a major impression as Sharon Tate, at the time one of the biggest and most beloved movie stars in the industry. Although she has relatively few lines of dialogue and maybe a third of screen time compared to the two male leads, her name and legacy loom heavily over the narrative. It’s particularly during the second act when she shines, getting to walk through downtown L.A. on a free-spirited adventure. Alongside these three is one of the most sprawling ensemble casts I’ve ever seen for a feature. These include *DEEP BREATH* Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Nicholas Hammond, Luke Perry, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Lorenza Izzo, Rebecca Gayheart, Spencer Garret, Mikey Madison, and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee in a controversial yet highly entertaining scene. All of these actors float in and out of the story depending on the weight of the scene, leaving big impressions throughout. The big scene-stealer, though, is surprisingly the child actress Julia Butters as Trudi, whom Rick meets on a Western T.V. set. She’s only around for a couple of scenes, but she more than holds her own against DiCaprio when the two have a philosophical debate about the profession of acting. I can’t wait to see what else she does in the future. And from a purely technical perspective, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sees Tarantino gaining an even stronger grip on his voice. With regular cinematographer Robert Richardson, the city of Los Angeles is captured in glorious anamorphic 35mm. Multiple streets were converted into looking like their 1969 counterparts, which lends to a heavy dose of authenticity. There are a number of impressive longshots and static moments where the camera’s fixated on one thing. These include when the two protagonists are watching an episode of The F.B.I. where Dalton guest stars and commentating on it, while the camera remains on the T.V. screen for most of the scene. Careful zooms and slow 360-turns throughout also help reveal a character’s state of mind in certain scenarios. The director’s third movie to be edited by Fred Raskins, at first the pacing is quite deliberate and slow but soon gains momentum. One of the best things in the film is how it cuts back and forth between Rick’s luxurious house on Ceilo Drive and Cliff’s humble trailer home behind a drive-in theater. This creates a really interesting dichotomy between their status in the industry and really says a lot on how stuntmen and stuntwomen are treated. It also does something interesting in digitally editing Rick Dalton into various films and shows from the era, such as The Great Escape and Death on the Run. Although far from a brand new technique, it helps to further contextualize Rick’s success (Or lack thereof) in Hollywood. With amazing performances inhabiting fantastically written characters and a surprisingly affectionate tone, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an intricate and wonderfully told fairytale about one’s legacy and permanence. If this is truly his penultimate feature, then Quentin Tarantino is still on the right path in terms of filmmaking choices and maintaining a hot streak. Although its pacing could definitely be better, it’s hard not to admire the ambition and extreme attention to detail in its recreation of Los Angeles. And once you strip away all of the fantastic dialogue and rich acting, it’s truly melancholy looking at what could have been in real life. A happily ever after that never came to be.