Category Archives: Crime

“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.

“John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum” Movie Review

All of those kills and chases and mayhem-inducing stunts- all of it for a damn puppy. But hey, you certainly won’t find me complaining here. This action-thriller film was released in theaters by Summit Entertainment worldwide on May 17th, 2019. Made for the budget of $75 million, the film managed to earn back the entire theatrical run of its predecessor within the first 10 days of release alone. It has managed to gross over $318.3 million at the worldwide box office, easily making it the highest-earning installment in the series so far. This comes alongside a number of excellent responses from both audiences and critics alike. In addition, another sequel, supposedly the final one in the series, has already been set for release in May 2021. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski, the screenplay was written by franchise regular Derek Kolstad along with help from Chris Collins, Mark Adams, and Shay Hatten. According to several members of the production, there were so many sequences of the film that were quite hard to film in extended takes like they wanted. The subtitle takes its name from a famous Latin military saying in 4th-century Rome: Si vis pacem, para bellum, which roughly translate to, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Picking up less than one hour after the end of Chapter 2, Keanu Reeves reprises his role as the titular assassin who’s wanted by pretty much everyone. With a $14 million open contract on his head, he is cutoff from all support in the underworld, including the Continental Hotel. Using the resources at his disposal, John has to find a way to kick, slice, and shoot his way out of New York City in an attempt to clear his name. The first two films in the John Wick series were far more entertaining and engaging that I had anticipated from them. From first glance, it just looks like Reeves trying really hard to cling onto his glory days as an action hero. But they turned out to be very fun and violent, with some really awesome and creative worldbuilding to boot. I was extremely curious to see how they would be able to continue that momentum into the third installment, if at all. Would they be able to keep up with the breakneck speed of Wick’s kills and still reveal more about the world surrounding him? The short answer is yes: I daresay that John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum is my favorite of the series yet. As with the previous two installments, easily the best aspect of this film isn’t the big choreographed action scenes or the excellent filmmaking techniques used to capture them. No, what has continued to make this franchise separate from others in the market is its consistently fascinating worldbuilding, with a whole organized world of assassins to sink you teeth into. The more we learn about different aspects of these sort of societies, the more we get an idea of who John Wick was or is. Parabellum gives us even more hints about his past, including being part of a Russian crime syndicate fronted as an intense ballet company. It helps to make what should otherwise be a very boring and uninteresting protagonist into a mysterious and dangerous force. All the guns and bullets in the world can’t stop this man from dolling out violent revenge on the people who killed his puppy. Keanu Reeves is a better actor than most people give him credit for, and I still maintain that this is one of his best roles. Even in a year full of memorable roles, (Including a hilariously self-deprecating cameo in the rom-com Always Be My Maybe) he’ll still be remembered as the assassin who could lodge an axe into a person’s head from afar. It becomes quite clear that while he’s receiving all of this attention from other members of the underworld, he just wants to be left alone and internalizes a lot of his own suffering. Ian McShane and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon, respectively, the manager and concierge of the Continental Hotel. They both deliver their lines with Shakespearean authority, aware of both the danger John poses to their establishment and how ruthless the High Table can be. Halle Berry leaves a big impression as Sofia, a German Shephard-owning assassin and one of Wick’s few remaining friends. Although she’s externally angry towards John for bringing trouble to her, it’s also clear that she has a hidden respect for him from a favor years prior. I really hope to see more of her character in the future, especially with her efficiency in the field of battle. Other players include Asia Kate Dillion as a cold and calculating Adjudicator for the High Table, Mark Dacascos as the arrogant leader of a group of ninjas after Wick, Laurence Fishbourne as a loud-mouthed underground crime lord, Anjelica Huston as the head of a Russian syndicate that John once belonged to, and Saïd Taghmaoui as the one man who might be able to help John out of his bind. Asia Kate Dillon may be my favorite among them, an antagonist who is more concerned with hard results than personal vendetta. Like Berry, I hope to see their role expanded upon in the next one because every time they appeared in a scene, it felt like it had far more weight. And as with the previous installments, Parabellum‘s technical prowess helps distinguish it from other films in the genre. Shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dan Lausten, the cinematography creates an immersive and slick world to look at. The contrast between light and harsh shadows allows for stark images on the screen, which helps increase the tension. While a number of action scenes do take place during the nighttime, it’s always easy to tell what’s going on. Nearly all of the big set pieces are captured in long-shots, allowing all of the beautiful choreography to be seen in all its glory. Meanwhile, the editing by Evan Schiff matches up to the camera work exquisitely. There are enough cuts in action scenes to keep things interesting without making things hard to follow. And the more dramatic or expository moments are cut together in a way that the audience wants to follow whatever the characters are saying. It also moves between scenes of John’s personal quest, and the people of the underworld he’s interacted with throughout the film being admonished by the Adjudicator. Finding a delicate balance between the gritty and the slick, John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum is a highly entertaining and wonderfully staged ballet of action and death. It’s quite clear that Chad Stahelski has grown comfortable and confident with this franchise and has found his groove very nicely. If he wants to spend the rest of his career making extensively choreographed action movies like this, then I will be perfectly content. Bottom line: this is the year of Keanu Reeves and I’m absolutely here for it.

“Inglourious Basterds” Movie Review

There might not be any action in modern world history more fundamentally American than killing or humiliating Nazis. If only our own current leadership could realize this. This unconventional war movie initially competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Although it didn’t win the big prize, one of the breakout stars won the Best Actor award, as well as a BAFTA and Academy Award later on in awards season. It was released in theaters by The Weinstein Company on August 21st, 2009, having been released the previous day in Germany. It managed to earn over $321.5 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of $70 million, making it the director’s highest-grossing movie at that point. It was also a critical smash, taking home numerous accolades that included 8 Academy Award nominations. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the auteur had spent just over a decade writing the screenplay, at one point producing three completed scripts. It was so big that he briefly flirted with the idea of making it into a miniseries, ultimately trimming it down after finishing his Kill Bill duology. The director’s longtime distributor, The Weinstein Company, heavily accelerated production in hopes of making it to Cannes on time, and was the last collaboration between Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender. The title is a deliberate misspelling of director Enzo G. Castellari’s 1978 film Inglorious Bastards, who also makes a cameo as an S.S. officer. Set during World War II, the story follows a young Jewish French woman named Shoshanna Dreyfus, played by Mélanie Laurent, who seeks revenge against the Nazi regime for the murder of her family. At the same time, a group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Aldo “The Apache” Raine, played by Brad Pitt, slowly carve a path of resistance behind enemy lines. Both parties are under the suspicion of S.S. Colonel Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, a notorious officer with the given nickname “The Jew Hunter.” All of their paths eventually culminate in a film premiere for a Paris theater where many important Germans are attending. At the risk of bias, I’ll admit to having a bit of a personal connection to this movie because it was the first Tarantino film I ever watched. I was fairly young when I first saw it, and had heard that, at least compared to the director’s other films, it was pretty tame. And now, with the lone exception of 2007’s Death Proof, I’ve watched all of his films at least once. Most filmmakers at some point in their career feel like they have a World War II film inside that they want to make. And how would Quentin Tarantino, the same man who made people laugh when a young man was accidentally shot in the face, manage to tackle one of the most extensively covered periods in cinema history? The answer is Inglourious Basterds, a glorious and immensely satisfying film with tons of rewatch factors. Let’s just start by completely throwing out any discussions about historical accuracy because this movie clearly isn’t interested in holding to that. Instead, like most of his oeuvre, this film acts as an extensive homage to classic and foreign cinema and an examination of violence. While not as gratuitous as some of his other films, such as Django Unchained, it still uses shock factor to highlight the regular death toll in a war. This being a Tarantino joint, it’s also, of course, an homage to the medium of film in unexpected ways. As much of the story revolves around a Paris movie theater, we get to see how celluloid is developed and put into a projector for screenings. For aspiring filmmakers and devoted cinephiles such as myself, this is a wonderful thing to watch and makes me excited to see it further explored in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Brad Pitt has worked with a number of great directors to great results, and his turn as Aldo Raine is easily one of his most memorable roles. With a thick Tennessee accent and an affinity for large knives, he has a swaggering personality and forceful nature that makes him a natural leader. When rousing up his troops, he enthusiastically tells them, “Nazis ain’t got no humanity. They’re the foot soldiers of a Jew-hating, mass murdering maniac and they need to destroyed.” A newcomer to the States at the time, Mélanie Laurent also proves a leading lady to be reckoned with as Shoshanna. One of the strongest women Tarantino has created, it is very clear that she will stop at nothing to take revenge on the Nazis for what they did to her family, and internalizes much of her trauma and anger. August Diehl, Daniel Brühl, Alexander Fehling, Sylvester Groth, Léa Seydoux, and Denis Ménochet shine as locals under the French regime while B.J. Novak, Mike Myers, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, and Diane Kruger do well as Allied members. But of course, the true standout of the movie is Christoph Waltz in his show-stopping performance as Colonel Hans Landa. The director has frequently called Landa the greatest character he’s ever written, and Waltz plays into it beautifully with tons of charm and bravado covering his truly terrifying nature. In nearly every scene he’s in, he remains in total control of the situation, gleefully manipulating his subjects while never revealing all his cards. To me, there’s no villain more intimidating than that, which is why he is one of the most memorable of the last decade. And from a technical perspective, Inglourious Basterds shows Tarantino further developing his craft and voice. With his regular cinematographer Robert Richardson, the camera is precise and deliberate as always. Many of the character interactions are captured in gorgeous medium shots and the camera often remains in one place during a scene, zooming in or panning when necessary. Numerous colors pop out in the frame, including red for blood and the Nazi flag, and black for the uniforms. There are some pretty evocative shots that reference Western and war films of the past, such a John Ford-esque shot of an open doorway. This was the last film by the director to be edited by longtime collaborator Sally Menke, who died not long after its release. With her skill, every scene is perfectly cut together and the transition between segments or “chapters” of the story feels organic. One standout Mexican standoff in a basement is expertly made, because a LOT happens in a short amount of time and we’re still able to follow the chaos. As with most of his films, there is no original score for the film. Instead, the director uses various pre-existing tracks to help create the mood. Although he wanted Ennio Morricone to compose the soundtrack, he did end up using 8 tracks of his from other films. This helps to establish the tone of a Spaghetti Western in Nazi-occupied France. There’s also an excellent montage later in the film featuring the song “Cat People” by David Bowie, which works splendidly. Inglourious Basterds is a cleverly written and fantastically performed slice of alternative history. I can confidently say that this is Quentin Tarantino’s second-best film, and definitely one of his most rewatchable ones. As always, he breaks the traditional rules for filmmaking, and it’s all the better for it; a World War II film where a beefy 70% of the dialogue is spoken in French and German. Very few other American filmmakers would attempt something like that, and that’s what I love most about him.

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“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” Movie Review

If I had to make a choice, I would definitely want to live the rest of my life as a Bulbasaur. They’re cute, plump, can survive for days without eating, and absorb energy from the Sun. Of all the Pokémon, (At least the ones that I’m most familiar with) they seem the most docile and carefree, which make them ideal. This urban fantasy mystery film was released in theaters around the world on May 10th, 2019, a full week after it’s premiere in Japan. Made for the budget of $150 million, it made just over $20 million on its opening day alone, the highest ever for a live-action video game adaptation. Over the course of its theatrical run it has thus far grossed over $429.4 million at the box office, snatching the top spot in its opening weekend. It also managed to get pretty good reviews and is the highest rated video game adaptation ever according to numerous sources- which is already a pretty low bar to clear. Directed by Rob Letterman, the film began development immediately after the release of the 2016 game of the same name. The filmmakers primarily desired to tell a Pokémon story that wasn’t focused on franchise star Ash Ketchum, and spent nearly a year designing all the creatures to be as accurate as possible. While Toho was always in charge of distribution in Japan, Universal Pictures initially held the worldwide rights before eventually giving reigns over to Warner Bros., making it their first theatrical involvement with the series since 2000. It’s also the first film the franchise to receive an MPAA rating higher than G. Justice Smith star as Tim Goodman, an insurance salesman and former trainer. When his veteran detective father Harry apparently dies, he goes to Ryme City to collect his things, a metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side-by-side and bans underground fights. One night, he comes across an amnesiac deerstalker-wearing Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, who speaks. Tim is the only one who can understand him and since this Pikachu was with Harry as his partner, they decide to reopen the case and find out what really happened. No lie, when I first heard that Ryan Reynolds would be headlining this film, I legitimately thought they were joking. The Merc With a Mouth voicing one of the most iconic characters in pop culture for a family-friendly video game movie? Truth be told, I really only have a casual knowledge and history with Pokémon, so my expectations were never really high. But lo and behold, the marketing for this movie seemed absolutely tonally and stylistically perfect. It seemed like such a far cry from so many other self-serious video game movies from the past that it was so refreshing to see what this one could do. Make no mistake, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is no cinematic masterpiece, but it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of many family-friendly blockbusters today. Unlike most adaptations in the medium, it seems clear that the creators here have at least put forth some effort to honor the world of Pokémon. There’s a whole lot of clever worldbuilding in the film as we see how the various creatures fit into our society, such as Squirtles working as firefighters. Some of the best bits of humor come from little inspired moments like this or references to the franchise as a whole, such as a dejected Pikachu singing the iconic theme song. What’s holding Detective Pikachu back from actually being really good is its overreliance on a cliché mystery plot- which, if I understand, is the fault of the titular game itself. The twists and turns feel so convoluted, and certain creatures only feel like they were put in the movie as plot devices. Oh well, maybe the inevitable sequel will really get all of this down next time around. Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu was a casting choice that I never knew I needed in this day and age. His voice is absolutely perfect for the role of a confused, self-made detective who constantly is torn between two worlds. Justice Smith has been deserving of better roles lately and his turn as Tim Goodman here is… just fine. Not bad at all and you can clearly see he’s having fun with the material but he’s not quite great either. The chemistry between the two of them is palpable and highly watchable and is undoubtedly the bedrock of the whole movie. Kathryn Newton puts in a supporting role as Lucy Stevens, an aspiring and plucky reporter with a psyduck partner. She puts in some decent effort, but the character feels two-dimensional and we never really know her real motives beyond simply wanting the next scoop. Bill Nighy, Rita Ora, Suki Waterhouse, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Karan Soni and Omar Chapparo round out the rest of the supporting cast in various roles. Some of them definitely fell more fleshed out than others, but for the most part are able to provide different aspects of  this unique world. And from a technical perspective, Detective Pikachu is pretty impressive and distinctive from other summer blockbusters. Cinematographer John Mathieson makes the bod decision to shoot this on traditional 35mm film as opposed to digital photography. This is surprising considering all of the CGI, but it does make the Pokémon look more believable. It also makes a lot of primary colors pop out more, such as blue and yellow, which helps develop the personality for the film. Also, Mark Sanger and James Thomas’ editing work manages to move from scene to scene in a consistent way. It manages to cut between shots in action scenes fairly often but manages to keep things clear with the conflict. And during scenes where the main duo is investigating the mystery, it melds scenes with the present with scenes from the past to create more mystery. The most impressive part is, although the mystery itself is kind of predictable, it stays committed to not giving it away. Henry Jackman, one of the industry’s most prolific yet underrated composers, is in charge of the instrumental film score. It’s a surprisingly memorable score, using multiple different instruments for appropriate tracks. This includes the use of synths and chimes to introduce us to Ryme City or even during the final showdown scene. Other times, it uses lowkey brass and strings to help undercut the mystery at the center of it all. There are even little motifs where songs from the old cartoons are worked into the score, which is probably a delight for longtime fans. In addition to appearing in the film, Rita Ora also wrote and performs an original song called “Carry On,” which plays during the end credits. The lyrics are appropriate as they speak to the main duo learning to work together as the film goes along. It has a nice upbeat pop sound to it and Ora’s voice is a beauty, but I can’t say I would pick it up on Apple Music. I know this review sounds like I’ve been too nice to this film, but the truth is I really didn’t hate it. Granted, not everyone is going to respond to it as well, and I can’t speak for longtime fans of the Pokémon franchise. There are definitely a lot of problems to be found with pacing and the story and is by no means a great movie at all. Even so, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a solidly enjoyable diversion with fun visuals and a disappointing plot. I don’t know how, but Rob Letterman took what should be a terrible concept for a movie and somehow made it watchable. The fact of the matter is, regardless of the film’s overall quality, I need more Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu in my life. Case closed.

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“Pulp Fiction” Movie Review

Alright, since Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s 9th and potentially penultimate feature, is being released later this month, I decided it would be a great opportunity to look back at a couple of my favorite films of his. I highly doubt I’m the only cinephile to come up with this idea, but it gives me an excuse to talk about some of them. This neo-noir black comedy premiered at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Palme d’Or despite protests from certain filmgoers. It was later theatrically released in the United States on October 14th, 1994, following a length festival run and huge word-of-mouth among critics. It managed to gross $213.9 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of $8 million, far more profitable than the average indie film at the time. It’s marketing campaign and awards season glory, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, went on to have a fundamentally huge impact not just on independent cinema but the film industry at large. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the story was originally conceived as a short by the director and his longtime friend Roger Avary, but it later evolved into a feature with an anthology trilogy. A couple of scenes that made it into the final product were originally intended for Tarantino’s earlier screenplay True Romance. Producer Lawrence Bender originally set it up at TriStar Pictures, who dropped the project after being horrified by its depiction of drugs and violence. The script was later brought to Miramax and the Weinstein brothers, who immediately bought the rights to it, making it the first feature film Miramax ever financed. The film follows various interwoven stories concerning criminal figures in Los Angeles over a couple of days. These include two philosophical hitmen debating retirement, a violent washed up boxer on the run from a mob boss, a Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple holding up a restaurant, and said mob boss’ wife going on a turbulent night out with one of his men. And to make things even more enticing, all of these vignettes are presented out of chronological order, so characters float in and out at various moments. I feel like I shouldn’t have to emphasize how deeply impactful this film has been on the world cinema over the last 25 years. Hell, even the poster for this film has already become a staple of college dorm rooms and cinephile apartments everywhere. Even if you only have a casual or passing interest in movies, this film will always make its way into your orbit one way or another. I was extremely curious to see how well it would hold up on this rewatch, especially after developing his craft further over the years to come. Would it seem obsolete and amateurish compared to the director’s later works? As it turns out, quite the opposite; even after making 8 feature-length movies, Pulp Fiction unquestionably remains Tarantino’s magnum opus. Under most circumstances, no film should be able to keep an audience’s attention through conversations about foot massages and a 5-dollar milkshake. But one of Tarantino’s best weapons has always been and continues to be his masterful ability to write dialogue that feels both cool and natural in his characters’ mouths. He uses these extended diatribes about trivial subjects both to help characterize the individuals on-screen and subtly hint at their interpretation of certain events in the story. Speaking of story, the decision to split the narrative up into different chunks and rearrange them all out of order is kind of an ingenious idea. I’m fairly confident that if this film were told in chronological order, it would not have become nearly as successful as it is now. But thankfully, Pulp Fiction feels like one of those old magazines with different crime stories- unexpectedly interwoven in a really graceful and organic way. Another one of the director’s specialties is getting the perfect actors for various roles and really pushing them to do their best. Two prime examples are John Travolta and Bruce Willis as Vincent Vega and Butch Coolidge, a bumbling hitman and runaway boxer, respectively. Both of these men’s careers were in a rut and yet somehow Tarantino was able to resurrect them by making these two interesting and unpredictable in nature. Another huge standout for me is Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace, wife to an intimidating local mob boss. Even as the literal face of the movie on most of the marketing material, she’s surprisingly in the movie prominently only for one segment, “Vincent Vega and Marcellus Wallace’s Wife.” Despite this, she still leaves a huge impression as a cocaine-addicted aspiring actress who just wants to have fun night out, especially during a dance sequence to “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield. But let’s be honest here, people: it’s Samuel L. Jackson in his star-making turn as Jules Winnfield that really brings the movie to a homerun. The first of several collaborations between the actor and filmmaker, he clearly relishes the role as an efficient hitman who comes into a spiritual crisis. It’s perfectly easy to see why Tarantino wrote the role specifically for Jackson, particularly when he recites a passage from Ezekiel before offing a victim: “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides y the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.” He’s had many great roles since then, but this will always be his defining role. And on a purely technical level, Pulp Fiction demonstrates Tarantino’s early prowess behind the camera. Many below-the-line team members had previously worked with the director on Reservoir Dogs, including cinematographer Andrej Sekula. His anamorphic cinematography creates a wonderful and diverse canvas with a beautiful film stock that leaves no grain. The camera almost always seems to know exactly to keep a focus on and a number of scenes are done in long takes. This is leveraged by the late Sally Menke’s fantastic editing job. Every single scene and shot is cut together to the director’s incredibly specific vision, giving us just what we need to see. It also manages to be a punchline for certain scenes featuring pitch black humor and mystery. Whether it’s the golden gleam from a McGuffin-like briefcase or the sudden cut from a guy accidentally getting shot in the face, the movie juggles a handful of tones that are beautifully interwoven. There is no original score for this film. Instead, we’re treated to a diverse and appropriate soundtrack full of songs from different eras. Starting and ending with surf rock interpretations of various songs, every selection is so obscure yet perfect for the moment. My personal favorite is Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman,” another little dance sequence for Mia Wallace. I don’t know how he does it or where he finds these songs, but the director always picks the right track for whatever scene it’s used in. And of course, with such a big, influential film like this, there came a wave of imitators in its wake. You know the types I’m talking about: fast-paced, dialogue-heavy movies with witty criminals as the central characters where violence is often used as a punchline for the humor. And yet, no matter what, none of those are ever able to measure up to what this film did because it simply did all of that right. Pulp Fiction is a cleverly written and highly rewatchable watershed moment for cinema across the board. While he’s made several other great films since this one’s release, Quentin Tarantino will always have to measure his filmography to this early masterwork. The characters and dialogue will far outlast any of the filmmakers and actors involved in this project. It’s rightfully become one of the quintessential films to watch as part of becoming a cinephile alongside Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Star Wars, and more.

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” Movie Review

This may be one of the few films I’ve ever seen that actually doesn’t live up to the description in its title. In context with the story and characters, it makes sense but there is not a single moment here which indicates that it earns it. This biographical crime thriller initially premiered out of competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Picked up for approximately $9 million, it also played at the Tribeca Film Festival later in April to similarly mixed opinions. It later received a limited theatrical release on May 3rd, 2019, and landed on the streaming service Netflix the same day. It is believed to have made close to $2 million in specialty markets, although, like all of the distributor’s theatrical releases, there’s no telling the veracity of these reports. It’s also scheduled to make a return to theaters later this fall as a way to provide more visibility for awards season. The film marks the narrative feature debut of director Joe Berlinger, who previously helmed a number of documentaries. This is his second Netflix project focused on the main subject, after the docu-series Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. There was some initial backlash when the film was first announced at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, particularly over its star’s seemingly problematic casting, and sparked further controversy with its first trailer. Beginning in 1969 Seattle, the true story is told from the perspective of Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins, a single mother and secretary. Pretty soon, she becomes romantically involved with law student Theodore “Ted” Bundy, played by Zac Efron, who soon moves in and becomes a stepfather to her daughter Molly. However, Bundy quickly becomes accused of committing a number of heinous and disgusting crimes against women, eventually culminating in the first-ever televised court trial. And while all of this happens over the course of more than a decade, Liz struggles to reconcile her love for Ted with the crimes he committed. I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t expect this movie to garner controversy when it first made waves. Like many films focused on the lives and/or exploits of serial killers, it would have to walk an incredibly fine line to really work. I was somewhat worried that it would turn into a voyeuristic or fetishized depiction of what Bundy did to all of those women. Although I haven’t watched Joe Berlinger’s Confession Tapes, I have a pretty good feeling that he’s fascinated with this man. And I was curious to see if he could find a certain wavelength or angle that would serve up a fresh and respectful treatment of the subject matter. And Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is by no means exploitative or distasteful, it’s just… not that remarkable. In fairness to the filmmakers, the story of Ted Bundy has been covered in so many different views and perspectives. The idea of looking at his decades-long crimes from the P.O.V. of his real-life girlfriend, whose book The Phantom Prince served as the source material, is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because his sickening acts of violence are only heavily implied throughout the film, which also ends with a list of his known victims. But it’s also a curse because Extremely Wicked still feels beholden to stay in Bundy’s orbit constantly. He keeps insisting that he’s an innocent man and it’s not really until the very end of the movie that he finally relents. The whole film is framed with Liz visiting him in prison one last time before his ultimate sentence and for whatever reason, that format just didn’t feel right. For whatever problems the movie has, Zac Efron is practically perfect casting as Ted Bundy. He has all of the confidence, swagger, and deceitful charm befitting of the man, able to swoon entire flocks of people with just a blink. He surprisingly maintains a level-headed composure throughout the film, internalizing his sick thoughts and deeds. And although the film is told from her perspective, I have mixed feelings about Lily Collins as his longtime girlfriend Liz. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great in the role, but her lack of agency and full characterization make her feel more like a sketch of a person than a real individual. Kaya Scodelario turns in surprisingly effective work as Carole Ann Boone, Bundy’s old friend and by far most ardent supporter. She is absolutely devoted to getting Ted acquitted by any means necessary, following him to his various trials and trying to persuade the judge or juries to let him be. Haley Joel Osment and Jim Parsons are pleasant surprises as Liz’s new boyfriend and the Florida prosecutor, respectively, while Brian Geraghty and Jeffrey Donovan excel as Bundy’s failed attorneys. John Malkovich is quite impressive as Edward Cowart, the judge presiding over Bundy’s final trial. Despite the violence and degrading, inhumane crimes described in the case, he offers a bit of empathy to the defendant. “It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity, I think, as I’ve experienced in this courtroom,” he says to a full house, deeply disappointed by what has transpired over the trial. And although it’s only his first feature, Joe Berlinger first feature, he shows some promise with the technical aspects of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The film is shot by regular comedy cinematographer Brandon Trost, and his usually dark aesthetic translates rather well here. Much of the film seems desaturated of color to strip away any color or glamour in Bundy’s crimes. Many scenes are done in long takes, with one unbroken monologue that Ted delivers when his final sentencing is announced in court being especially memorable. The editing by Josh Schaeffer, on the other hand, is rather bland and uninteresting in it execution. The aforementioned framing structure makes the story feel more constrained than it needs to be, as the rest of the film is cut together in chronological order. The film frequently cuts between filmed scenes and actual archival news footage, which works to an extent with bringing the historical context full circle. An example of the sum of its parts being better than the whole, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has a fantastic lead performance that cannot save a middling-at-best film. While not nearly as gross and exploitative as I feared it would be, Joe Berlinger just doesn’t put enough oomph or engagement to really examine its subject matter. Yes, Zac Efron is undeniably great as one of the most reprehensible humans to have ever walked the Earth, but I just wish it had focused more on the intriguing angle it had promised. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like the movie forgets that.