Category Archives: Crime

“Uncut Gems” Movie Review

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to have a panic attack that lasted for 2 hours and 15 minutes? I present you with the cinematic equivalent.

This street-level crime dramedy premiered at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival to rave reviews and reactions. Following a successful screening at TIFF the following week, it was given a limited release in theaters by A24 on December 13th, 2019, and was expanded on Christmas Day. After a strong showing in specialty theaters early on, it has gone on to gross over $43.6 million at the worldwide box office thus far. This makes it the directing duo’s highest-grossing film to date, and it has one of the best per-venue averages of the year and the biggest single-day intake that the indie studio’s ever had.

Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the film had been in development for the better part of a decade with co-screenwriter Ronald Bronstein. It’s been said to be partly inspired by the experiences of their father Albert during his time working in Manhattan. The long-gestating project apparently got enough attention for Martin Scorsese and Emma Tillinger Koskoff to jump on-board as executive producers. Although they always intended a major basketball star to play a big role, the constant schedule changing made them go through Amar’e Stoudemare, Joel Embiid, and supposedly Kobe Bryant before finally coming to an agreement with the National Basketball Association.

Set in spring of 2012, Adam Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a Jewish-American jeweler in New York City’s Diamond District. As he swims in gambling debts, he takes on NBA star Kevin Garnett as a client, playing a fictionalized version of himself, and shows him a rare black opal from Ethiopia. Garnett becomes so enamored of it that Howard loans it to him, who immediately tries to place bets on both it and the upcoming Boston Celtics games to pay back the loan sharks.

I was a big fan of the Safdie Brothers and the work they did on their previous film, 2017’s Good Time. It was a very gritty, unflinchingly harsh story about New York criminals that wasn’t afraid to go in some very disturbing directions. It also was the film that finally convinced me that Robert Pattinson was a truly great actor worthy of recognition.

Hearing that they would be working with Adam Sandler on their next project made it sound extremely enticing. He’s always been an underrated actor who can really come alive when operating under the direction of some true auteurs, especially now that he’s gotten some major awards season buzz for it. And I can now confirm that not only does Sandler give an incredible performance here but the whole rest of the film is invigorating as well.

Much like their previous NYC-set film Good Time, this is not a film meant for the faint of heart at all. It’s a chaotic ride as we witness numerous reprehensible individuals fall down the rabbit hole of greed and money and the extreme lengths they go to get what they want. Part of what makes it so nerve-racking and harsh is that in nearly every scene, all of the actors are yelling over each other to try and get their points across and it can feel exhausting at times.

That being said, Uncut Gems does manage to offset some of that exhaustion by also sprinkling in some pitch black humor throughout. It mostly comes from perfectly timed or delivered (And colorfully profane) dialogue as well as the utter absurdity of various situations in the film. But thankfully, that absurdity never fully takes over the overall narrative in the film, and it becomes a deeply rattling theatrical experience that will stick with you for a long time.

And the rumors are indeed true: Adam Sandler has literally never been better than he is in this film, and its not close. As Howard Ratner, he gives life and personality to a man who’s essentially a scumbag with few, if any, redeeming qualities. It’s incredibly stressful as we watch him constantly make rash decisions that only contribute to his self-destruction, but his deceptive charm makes it still compelling.

Also, newcomer Julia Fox makes a huge impression as Julia, Howard’s materialistic employee and mistress. She’s extremely petty and heavily relishes in the expensive life that Howard gives her, ranging from a high-rise apartment to gorgeous jewelry. She also recognizes the trouble that he constantly gets himself into throughout the film and gets frustrated with his choices.

Kevin Garnett can now be added to the list of retired athletes who gives a surprisingly great performance. He’s able to find a darker side of his personality and uses it to a great advantage, always looking to win the next game no matter what it takes. He makes almost no attempt to hide his disgust for Howard’s methods and develops a uniquely personal connection with the opal; it makes me hope this isn’t his only film.

The supporting cast is rounded out by a capable troupe of character actors, many based in New York City. Idina Menzel as Howard’s fed-up wife, Judd Hirsch as his wealthy and religious father-in-law, Eric Bogosian as the brother-in-law mobster he owes the most money to, Lakeith Stanfield as one of his disgruntled assistants who grows an admiration for Garnett, and Mike Francesca as a local bookie and restaurant owner. All of them are unhinged and brilliantly directed in their individual roles; and that’s not even mentioning the various non-actors that appear as themselves.

And from a technical point-of-view, Uncut Gems shows the Safdie brothers further developing their cinematic style. Shot by Darius Khondji, the cinematography is presented via a grainy 35mm format that fits the gritty, grimy look of Manhattan they seem to thrive in. The camera is mostly done in a handheld, cinéma vérité not unlike their previous efforts that makes us feel like a fly on the wall. It also creates a unique color palette that helps to create an atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Bronstein and Benny Safdie also prove to be capable editors as they cut together a true banger with each scene. Considering how much the actors scream and yell over each other, there’s an impressive continuity between each shot. It also does a great back and forth between different locations for various scenes to establish a tension.

Daniel Lopatin, A.K.A. Oneohtrix Point Never, continues his collaboration with the Safdie to provide the instrumental film score. Just like his work in Good Time, it’s an absolute banger that leans heavily on electronic synthesizers and percussion. Several tracks are more ambient in nature to build the atmosphere of New York City as something almost otherworldly. Other times, the tracks are more bombastic and visceral to match the energy with which Howard is trying to hustle. The opening credits feature a psychadelic coloscopy that establishes the tone for the rest of the soundtrack.

Holding absolutely nothing back and never letting up from the first scene to the last, Uncut Gems is a relentless and brilliantly performed examination of truly depraved characters. Benny and Josh Safdie have crafted yet another exquisite portrait of a New York CIty so far removed from the glamorous view often seen in movies and aren’t afraid to explore how dark their characters can get. It also benefits from being anchored by a career-best performance from Adam Sandler that shows once and for all that he is a great actor when given the right material to work with.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

Welcome to the new year! Welcome to the new DECADE! As the last one passes on by, the next one comes in with an embarrassment of promising cinematic riches. Some of the films on this list have been on my radar for quite a while, others have only recently come to my attention. In any case, these are the 10 feature films that I’m most excited for coming out in the year 2020. I’d like to start off, however, by labeling some honorable mentions for other films that look pretty promising.

Honorable Mentions:

Artemis Fowl, The Way Back, West Side Story, The Prom, Free Guy, Saint Maud, Halloween Kills, The Eternals, Birds of Prey, Onward, Next Goal Wins, The Rhythm Section, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Witches, Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow

Now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

#10: “Soul” (Opens June 19th)

After a couple of long in-development sequels to beloved classics of theirs, Pixar is finally making the return to original filmmaking in 2020. Onward also looks interesting, but it’s Pete Docter’s newest film that has my attention the most. Early impressions seem to give off the feeling that this is yet another creative and heartfelt creation from the animation studio. The animation looks unsurprisingly vibrant and the integration of jazz music into the narrative has me giddy for whatever kind of personality it has in store- especially because Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are handling the score. And given the recent shakeup in leadership at Disney’s animation branch, if Soul ends up being Docter’s swansong, it looks like a big way to go out.

#9: “The Gentlemen” (Opens January 24th)

Many filmmakers are able to sustain their careers by stretching out into different genres. Guy Ritchie isn’t really one of those directors, as his personal style never quite fit into a live-action Disney musical or a fantasy epic. However, his next movie The Gentlemen feels like a return to form for him, similar to Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. With an all-star cast at his disposal, all of whom seem to be having the time of their lives, it looks like Ritchie has found his comfort zone again. Let’s hope it’ll be genuinely fun and not just two hours of him trying desperately to relive his glory days.

#8: “Mank” (TBA 2020)

David Fincher finally making another feature film is enough reason for me to become excited about the project. But hearing that it was written by his late father Jack makes it sound much more personal for him, even with the near-mythical subject matter. It promises to be a movie about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who fought with Orson Welles to attain a writing credit on the film Citizen Kane. Seeing talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Dance among the cast members makes it seem like this could be a major awards contender for Netflix next fall. Fingers crossed Mank won’t get buried in their catalogue.

#7: “Last Night in Soho” (Opens September 25th)

After the success of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright could have done anything he wanted for is project. Rather than choosing something obvious or right up his alley, he’s doing a non-comedic horror movie with Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie. The first image above teases something genuinely creepy and stylistic that he’s created alongside rising co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. We still don’t know exactly the story might entail, but it sounds like it will be his rendition of psychological thrillers from the 1970’s. That alone is enough for me to be at least intrigued for whatever Wright and company have cooked up for next fall.

#6: “Cherry” (TBA 2020)

It’s always an exciting prospect when established blockbuster filmmakers move away to something smaller and more personal. Cherry sounds like such a prospect, as it finds the Russo Brothers reuniting with Tom Holland on a true-story drama that’s, unfortunately, only increased in its relevance. The tale of Nico Walker, a PTSD-ridden soldier who becomes addicted to opioids, is one that begs to be told. I’m eager to see how all parties involved can get a film made that doesn’t have to be defined by the constraints of a traditional Hollywood blockbuster like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it technically doesn’t have a 2020 release date or distribution deal set just yet, I really hope the major studios will at least try to give it some attention when the time comes.

#5: “The Invisible Man” (Opens February 28th)

I’m still recovering from the spectacularly failed promise of the “Dark Universe” 3 years ago. It pretty much convinced me that none of the classic Universal Monsters could be properly adapted to the modern age. However, it looks like Leigh Whannell and Blumhouse have managed to find a new and relevant angle on The Invisible Man. It looks like it will be taking a MeToo approach, using the titular character as a way of relating society’s absurd reluctance to listen to women’s stories of abuse even though they can’t really see it. Add in Elizabeth Moss as the lead, and this looks like it could become a real word-of-mouth hit in February.

#4: “No Time to Die” (Opens April 8th)

The James Bond franchise has, by and large, been hit or miss for me over the years. Skyfall still remains my favorite one, and Daniel Craig’s version of the character has been remarkable, but there have been a number of stinkers every now and then. However, his 5th and supposedly last outing as 007 looks intriguing as hell. After a troubled early production history, No Time to Die looks like it’s on the right track based on what we’ve seen thus far. Cary Joji Fukunaga making the transition to big blockbuster filmmaking is incredibly interesting, especially when you consider how gorgeous the film looks visually. And of course, Rami Malek as the main villain sounds really exciting, and I can’t wait to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing come to light after a hyper-successful rise with Fleabag and Killing Eve.

#3: “In the Heights” (Opens June 26th)

Of the high-profile Broadway adaptations coming to theaters this year- the others being Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Spielberg’s spin on West Side Story -it’s In the Heights I’m the most pumped for. I’ll admit to having only become a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the past few years because of Hamilton, but his first musical is still a joy to listen to. The first trailer showcased exactly what I was hoping to see from the film, and seeing Anthony Ramos in a huge leading role, not to mention the whole ensemble surrounding him, makes me so pumped.

#2: “Tenet” (Opens July 17th)

Christopher Nolan might be one of the last filmmakers who’s able to let a major studio allow him to make a completely original blockbuster on a massive budget. And after finally getting an Oscar nod for Dunkirk, I knew that whatever he did next would be unique. And seeing him recruit John David Washington and Robert Pattinson for a huge action epic, alongside a wildly exciting crew, makes it sound amazing. As for what Tenet’s plot seems to be? Even after watching the glorious first trailer, I probably still won’t know what the film is actually about until I see in theaters. And I absolutely love that.

#1: “Dune” (Opens December 18th)

Denis Villeneuve was, unquestionably, the breakout director of the last decade. Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best films of all time, Prisoners is an underrated masterpiece, and Arrival is a modern sci-fi classic. So it’s only fitting that his newest project is an adaptation of one of the biggest and most influential science-fiction novels ever written. It feels almost like the type of film that he’s been building his whole career towards, especially with all of the support involved. He also has an enormously talented ensemble at his disposal, from Timothée Chalamet to Jason Momoa to Stellan Skarsgård bound to bring their all to the table. In short, Dune is shaping up to be a true sci-fi epic that could hopefully define cinema of the coming decade.

Do you agree with my picks? What movie are you most excited to see come out in 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below. And for more awesome content like this, be sure to leave a like and Follow my Blog. Happy New Year, everyone!

“Parasite” Movie Review

Every now and then, I watch a movie that can be absolutely hilarious in one scene and then make you question why you’re laughing in the next. If that’s the kind thing that floats your boat, then you’re going to have a grand time here. This dark comedy-drama premiered in the Offical Competition section at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. It went on to win the prestigious Palme d’Or, making it the first Korean film to do so and the first one with a unanimous vote in 6 years. Although it was released in South Korea and other international territories in late May, Neon gave it a theatrical release in North America beginning October 18th, 2019. Made for the budget of roughly $11 million, it has thus far grossed over $127.4 million at the worldwide box office. This makes it one of the country’s highest-grossing features and it has the best-ever per-venue average for a foreign-language film. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, the idea for the film had been in his head for some time. He has repeatedly stated that he and co-writer Han Ji-won were inspired by several of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, incorporating some of his most common motifs. The house in the film was built completely from scratch by the production designers and was specifically designed to cast light in a certain way. Song Kang-ho stars as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a low-income Korean family struggling to make ends meet. When all of them are on the verge of losing their jobs, the son Ki-woo, played by Choi Woo-shik, is bestowed a golden opportunity. Posing as a university student, he is hired as a tutor for the daughter of the wealthy Park family while his friend is studying abroad. As time goes along, each Kim family member slowly becomes ingratiated with the Parks, to the point where they barely recognize the life they’re living anymore. While I’ve admittedly yet to watch all of his films, I really like Bong Joon-ho’s filmography and personal style. He’s always able to blend the very absurd with the realistic in films like The Host and Okja, both of which are among the most underrated films of the century. Plus, his English-language debut Snowpiercer was actually one of the very first films I ever wrote a review for. Prior to actually seeing it, I had been advised by many sources to avoid all trailers and reviews for the film, only watching the trailer once during a screening for another film. Although I usually like learning about whatever film I’m about to watch, here, I decided it would probably be best to go in as cold as possible. And that decision has paid off in spades because Parasite isn’t only Bong Joon-ho’s best film to date, but it’s also now become one of my favorite foreign-language pictures of all time. Like many of the director’s other films, this movie is really about the intersection between class differences, capitalism, and circumstance in our modern world. Rather than giving an easy solution to income inequality, the film shows the nuance in a situation like this and throws unexpected curveballs now and again. The dichotomy in how the rich and the poor react to things so mundane as the rainfall is fascinating and a wonderful way to highlight the difference in their socioeconomic standings. And like I said at the beginning, Parasite is able to generate some laughs from uniquely hilarious moments. The first half of the movie plays out more like a dark comedy and just when the tone seems set in stone, it transforms into something much more sinister. The transition between moods is so seamless and one of the many reasons why this film works so well. Another reason why is Song Kang-ho, who, in his 4th collaboration with the director, gives an incredible lead performance. As Kim Ki-taek, he always has the best interest of his family at heart even if it comes at the expense of others. He’s very thoughtful and quiet, making any sudden outbursts he has feel completely surprising and intimidating. His two children, meanwhile, are both played by Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam, who demonstrate immense range with their roles. Woo-shik acts kind of as the innocent, wide-eyed man who wants his family to benefit without harming the Parks. So-dam, meanwhile, is more a calculating mastermind who cares about her loved ones but is cynical about the rest of the world. Both of them bounce their ideas of deception off one another even if they disagree about how to go about it. Cho Yeo-jeong also definitely shouldn’t be overlooked as Yeon-gyo, the mother of the wealthy Park family. Although she means well and tries to treat those around her with kindness, it’s clear she is quite dim-witted and oblivious to the con being played. Her aloof attitude provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, and a welcome levity to the story. The rest of the supporting cast, while relatively small, bring a great sense of memorability to the film. This includes Lee Sun-kyun as the stern and stoic patriarch of the Park family, Lee Jung-eun as their loyal yet eccentric housekeeper, Chang Hyae-jin as the assertive mother of the Kims, and Park Seo-joon as a friend of the Kim son who sets them up in the first place. Each player works masterfully under the director’s guidance and finds a uniquely dramatic and comedic angle in every scene. And from a pure filmmaking perspective, Parasite finds Joon-ho working at the absolute peak of his powers. Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography is exquisitely detailed and mapped out in such a beautiful way in every scene. The camera movement and positioning are perfectly placed as they find the right amount of negative space for the action. It uses the lighting and production design to its advantage by always blocking the actors with precision. There’s a healthy amount of static wides throughout which equally help to create a sense of unnerving dread and deadpan humor. Yang Jin-mo’s editing job also does wonders for the structure and pacing of the film as it moves from one scene to another. No shot is ever too long or too short for its effect to take hold on audiences. The opening sequence perfectly sets up the characters and their environment, brilliantly showcasing their relevant surroundings. There are also a handful of mini-montages sprinkled throughout that showcase the gradual infiltration between the families. It really demonstrates how methodical and careful the Kims are with their plans. Jeong Jae-il provides the instrumental film score here, and although the Academy apparently disagrees, it’s one of the best of the year. The film opens with a solemn piano piece that immediately sets the mood and it only gets better from there. The soundtrack utilizes numerous different instruments to realize the attitude and position of the characters throughout. This includes plucked strings for more mischievous moments and a high-octave chorus to illustrate the more luxurious life of the Parks. The end credits also feature an original song called “Soju One Glass” written by Jae-il and sung by Choi Woo-shik. Although it starts off with a really mellow guitar melody, it soon shifts into something deceptively enticing. In that, it might just be the perfect tune to end the film on. With an excellent ensemble, tight direction, and one of the most biting screenplays in recent memory, Parasite is an utter masterclass on all filmmaking fronts with immense social consciousness. By tackling its subject matter head on but refusing to give easy answers, Bong Joon-ho has crafted not only of the year’s best films but also proven that he’s an artist that demands to be taken seriously. Its stunning and scathing critique of the effects of capitalism is absolutely incredible but also never forgets the specific cultural context. This also acts as a fantastic example of how to use the setting to help tell your story, and is honestly inspiring to me in this and many other ways.

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“The Irishman” Movie Review

Let me just start this review by saying that this whole “Marvel isn’t cinema” debate is completely futile and overblown. People can love whatever they love or hate what they hate as long as they have legitimate reasons for it and as long as they don’t bemoan others for not feeling the same way. Now, let’s gladly and respectfully move onto this film. This epic crime drama premiered as the opening night selection for the 2019 New York Film Festival. Although the major chains refused to screen it, it received a limited theatrical release starting on November 1st, 2019, in which it reportedly made around $5 million against a production budget of $159 million. It was later dropped on the streaming service Netflix on November 27th to high anticipation from cinephiles. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film, based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, has been in development since at least 2007. The three main stars were always in mind for their respective parts, but it didn’t gain much traction until Steven Zaillian signed on as the screenwriter 8 years later. Originally set up at the director’s regular distributor Paramount Pictures, the film was subsequently dropped due to its climbing budget. When other studios proved to be hesitant, Netflix scooped it up for around $105 million and essentially blank-checked the entire project upfront. Allegedly based on a true story, (More on that later) Robert De Niro stars as Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran and teamster or truck driver. After performing some crimes on the side to provide for his family, he becomes acquainted with and employed by Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci, the head boss for the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. When the banks won’t give the Mafia loans to build casinos and hotels, they seek out help from Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union. As Frank rises through the ranks and serves as muscle over the decades, he becomes torn between his loyalty to Jimmy and Russell as their relationship becomes severely tested. Martin Scorsese, for me, is one of the few directors whose name being attached is reason enough for excitement. I had heard talk of this particular film for years, and not many movies make it out of development hell. So hearing news that it was finally being made with the promised cast was almost like a dream come true for me and others. Hearing that it would be released on Netflix saddened me a little as I wouldn’t be able to see it in a theater. Nevertheless, I eagerly awaited the director’s return to the gangster genre after so many years. And I must say, The Irishman just about lives up to the tremendous hype and is a stellar addition both to the director’s canon and the streaming service’s output. If you sit down and watch this hoping to see another version of Goodfellas or Casino, you’ll be surprised by how slow and contemplative it is. It makes sense why it took so long to make because it’s more a film about older men wrestling with the violence and pain their line of work has brought to others. It’s nice to have someone who follows orders without question, but what happens when that person suddenly is confronted with its consequences? What if it’s too late for reconciliation? It should definitely be noted, however, that the real-life Frank Sheeran, who died shortly after the book was published, was likely full of it. Numerous experts and writers have discredited several of the film’s claims about history, particularly in relation to its approach with the infamous disappearance of Hoffa. But if you watch it more as a piece of historical fiction rather than a true-story drama, it’s very powerful and even surprisingly funny in parts. After a string of hit-or-miss roles, Robert De Niro delivers a powerhouse performance in his 9th collaboration with Scorsese. As Frank Sheeran, he has no problem dealing out violent crimes on behalf of his superiors and remains passionate about union efforts throughout the country. He’s a real man’s man, never allowing people to see his true emotions, and watching him internalize them all is very devastating as he comes to terms with his actions. In his first movie with the director, Al Pacino is almost just as amazing as Jimmy Hoffa, a brazen and foul-mouthed leader of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Although he doesn’t fully appear until about an hour into the film, he creates a lasting impact with a dichotomous obsession with gaining more power and standing by his union members. It’s almost a Shakespearean tragedy because he’s a man who refuses to compromise his views or ambitions, even when threatened by multiple different parties. Joe Pesci arguably does the best job of the bunch as Russell Bufalino, the calm and calculating head of the Philadelphia crime syndicate. A far cry from his earlier, volatile roles, he has a certain wisdom and weathered experience that makes him a menacing figure in the criminal underworld. Pesci reportedly turned down the role 50 times before saying yes, and if this is truly his last film performance, he does it with such grace and thoughtfulness. The expansive supporting cast is an ensemble worthy of the director’s reputation. This includes Bobby Cannavale as a brutal enforcer for Russell and his organization, Ray Romano as his pragmatic attorney cousin, Jesse Plemons as Jimmy’s loyal foster son, Stephen Graham as one of Hoffa’s biggest union rivals, Harvey Keitel as an elderly Don acquainted with the main trio, Sebastian Maniscalco as the unpredictable hitman “Crazy Joe” Gallo, and Jack Huston as the relentless attorney general who tries to take down Hoffa and the mob. There’s also been much discussion on Peggy Sheeran, Frank’s daughter played by Anna Paquin and Lucy Gallina, respectively. She has very few lines of dialogue, with Paquin only speaking about 7 words total as an adult in the film. While some have criticized it for this, I would argue that it works really well because her silence says much more than anything she could put into a sentence. And just looking at the technical aspects, The Irishman shows that Scorsese’s still got it at the ripe old age of 77. Shot by his recent muse, Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematography is impressive as it moves from decade to decade. Many of Scorsese’s classic camera techniques are found throughout the film, including his penchant for swooping push-ins and careful tracking shots. This makes it feel like one of his older films in the best way, as we get to see every detail of each scene captured tremendously. There are also a couple of scenes told from the POV of a static wide shot, which makes sudden acts of violence both anticlimactic and shocking at the same time. As expected, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing job is simply immaculate. Despite its mammoth runtime of 3 hours and 29 minutes, it moves along at an even clip thanks to her understanding of pacing. The film often cuts back and forth between different timelines to help create a context for the themes. Huge swaths of the film are just scenes of the characters sitting down and talking, and Schoonmaker cuts them in a way that makes it interesting to watch. This includes two pivotal phone calls between Frank and Hoffa early on and towards the end of the film as it moves between their two environments. And now we get to the much-discussed visual effect of digitally de-aging the central trio of actors. This was one of the primary reasons for it taking so long to develop and one aspect of the film I was somewhat worried about. However, unlike other recent examples of the technology, the work done here by Industrial Lights & Magic is pretty convincing. Although it takes a few minutes to get adjusted, and there is one shot in the first hour that remains a little jarring, you quickly fall into it as the actors really sell their behavior throughout the decades. In fact, it became a little hard for me to figure out what their “true age” looked like after a while. With a well-balanced tone that’s equal parts energy and melancholy, The Irishman is a fantastic and somber meditation on the cost of loyalty and a great swansong for its genre. Although not quite his best, Martin Scorsese still shows impressive maturity and wisdom in a passion project that feels like the natural culmination of his career’s work. De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci are all wonderful in some of their best work as we see them work towards their own self-enrichment until it’s far too late to realize the damage left behind. I don’t know if we’ll ever get another film like this again, but if this is the end of the road on gangster films for most of the people involved, it was a hell of a ride. Or to quote Russell Bufalino, “It’s what it is.”

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“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” Movie Review

This is the first “Original Film” by Netflix that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in an actual movie theater. I’m not quite sure yet if I’m “excited” to see it happen more with their forthcoming projects but a film like this definitely deserves the theatrical experience. This neo-western crime drama was released on the streaming service Netflix on October 11th, 2019. It also had a concurrent theatrical run in limited venues for one weekend only, presumably to qualify for awards season. Although it reportedly only made about $40,000, some sources have indicated that it likely would have recuperated its $6 million budget if it had a wide theatrical release. It’s also on track to air once again on AMC, the show’s original T.V. network, sometime next year. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the idea for the film had been in his mind for many years and didn’t share with anyone for a long time. It initially was thought of as a simple 10-minute short film and later evolved and grew into a two-hour feature project. Around the time that the 10th anniversary for Breaking Bad rolled around, he approached the former star about the concept, who immediately took to the idea. The project was put together and filmed in almost complete secrecy, with rumors about its existence only really popping up near the end of production. Picking up a few moments after the series finale “Felina,” Aaron Paul returns as Jesse Pinkman, a former meth cook turned fugitive. Having recently escaped from his neo-Nazi captors, he struggles to find a place to hunker down in and evade both the law and other interest parties. With a newfound drive for freedom, he sets out to take care of some unfinished business while also trying to escape his violent past once and for all. Let’s get one thing straight here: Breaking Bad is one of the greatest T.V. shows of all time, full stop. From beginning to end, it’s an absolutely incredible character study with a delicate balance of realism and emotional involvement. Better Call Saul was a worthy prequel/spin-off for this universe, but it just can’t get to heights of Vince Gilligan’s original masterpiece. Like many fans, I was always curious to know what happened to Jesse Pinkman after he blasts through that gate in “Felina.” I was a little worried that I wouldn’t want to see what would happen because that sort of slight ambiguity seemed perfect at the time. And while we could debate about it being essential or not, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie definitely proves to be a worthy continuation of this world and its characters. This movie acts more like an extended epilogue to the series rather than a real sequel to it. Whereas “Felina” acted as the conclusion to Walter White’s story, this film focuses almost entirely on Jesse’s last attempt at gaining real freedom. This forces him to reckon with his past, the people he has done wrong to, and whether he can rectify everything he wants to before it’s too late. And while it’s undoubtedly an exciting movie to watch , El Camino only really appeals to established fans of the show. Unless you’ve seen all five seasons of Breaking Bad from beginning to end, you’ll most likely lack the emotional connection to the characters and story, especially as it makes numerous callbacks to various episodes. But unlike a lot of other cinematic continuations of beloved T.V. shows, what might be considered “fan service” here also works in service to Jesse’s journey. I do hope, however, that newcomers can still enjoy it as a tense neo-western thriller on its own terms. Aaron Paul hasn’t missed a single beat since the end of “Felina,” as the character of Jesse Pinkman is still wholly his own. With a new added sense of maturity and world-weariness, his quietly brilliant turn is equal parts riveting and tragic. He has seen so much over the course of the story that at this point, he’s essentially desensitized to all of  it. We also see him in flashbacks with various characters, which really helps illustrate how far both the character himself and Paul’s performance as him has come. Charles Baker and Matt Jones return as Jesse’s best friends, Skinny Pete and Badger Mayhew, respectively. Although they’re not very bright and are quite oblivious to the full scale of his struggle, they’re also extremely loyal to him and won’t hesitate to help him in a tricky spot. These two are arguably the only real friends that Jesses had throughout the whole series, and seeing them give him support without batting an eye was heartwarming. In flashback form, Jesse Plemons reprises his role as Todd Alquist, Jesse’s captor and forceful boss. He’s as despicable and creepy as ever, which contrasts greatly with his polite and patient demeanor shown while keeping Jesse hostage. Watching what he makes Jesse do in these flashbacks is abominable, and makes his fate in the T.V. show all the more satisfying. Other supporting characters include Larry Hankin as an elderly junkyard owner always willing to help criminals, Tess Harper and Michael Bofshever as Jesse’s concerned parents begging for his surrender, Scott McArthur as a criminal welder Pinkman comes across on his journey, and Robert Forster as a vacuum salesman who specializes in making people disappear. Each one somehow plays a part in Jesse’s torment, salvation, or fugitive status and leaves an impression to be sure. Forster is particularly notable in his last film role before his death, which was sadly the same day as its release. Although he only has a couple scenes, there’s a wisdom and grace to his character’s understanding of the criminal underworld. And it’s clear that even though his calm and collected, he knows exactly what’s going on and how to deal with it. From a filmmaking perspective, El Camino highlights Vince Gilligan developing a distinct cinematic voice. Marshall Adams’ cinematography is as focused and tight as it was in Better Call Saul, with an added cinematic tinge. The steely color palette is perfect for the gritty and seedy nature of the environment Jesse must overcome to survive. There are numerous clever movements with the camera, such as when it rotates 360 degrees to show his confused and desperate mindset. This matches the editing job by Skip Macdonald, who cuts together scenes with a nice balance of grace and force. Several scenes feature long takes to give the actors room to breathe in their performances. Often times, it will feature a hard cut from the present day to a flashback or vice versa, and it works to grab the audience’s attention. Other instances are more subtle, possibly to show how much this particular event or exchange influences his decisions now. Dave Porter returns from the show to provide the instrumental film score, and his partnership Gilligan was sorely missed. Like the show, much of the soundtrack consists of dark electronic sounds and percussion. It’s very psychological and accurately represents the frantic pace with which Jesse’s escape represents. A couple of tracks even escalate like a tightening string on a guitar, waiting for something to snap. But as it goes along, it starts calming down a little, providing room for more contemplative tracks. The film also includes the song “Static On The Radio” by Jim White, which plays over the end credits. While at first it seems unusual, as it plays out it suddenly fits the tone and mood of the ending. Like Breaking Bad, it’s a relatively obscure song that fits perfectly in the story and demands to be heard more afterwards. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is an excellent coda to an already perfect story. While it’s not necessarily essential to the experience, Vince Gilligan managed to craft an ending that still honors the show’s timeless legacy. Aaron Paul shows that he’s still got it as Jesse Pinkman in his (Supposedly) final outing with the character, and it was nice to see Robert Forster one last time. Even if he moves away from the Breaking Bad universe, I’m excited to see whatever Vince Gilligan makes next.

Breaking Bad Movie El Camino Poster

“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.