Category Archives: Epic

“Boogie Nights” Movie Review

If the porn industry was anything like what this movie depicted, I can’t even imagine how much more chaotic Hollywood proper must have been at the time. This ensemble drama initially premiered at the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival, where it tied with L.A. Confidential for the Metro Media Award. It was later released in two theaters by New Line Cinema on October 10th, 1997, and gradually expanded in the ensuing weeks. It managed to gross around $43.1 million against a $15 million budget, with nearly half of that coming from foreign markets. It also received some of the best reviews from that year and earned several awards and nominations, including three Academy Award nominations. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film was inspired by a mockumentary short he made in high school called The Dirk Diggler Story. Several of the director’s first choices for roles had to turn it down for various reasons, and blindly cast for others. He also frequently butted heads with producer Michael De Luca during post-production, specifically over the epic runtime and original desire for an NC-17 rating. And according to most parties, the director got into nasty clashes with one of its stars throughout filming, and they were caught in the middle. Set in Los Angeles in 1977, Mark Wahlberg stars as Eddie Adams, a young high school dropout working as a nightclub dishwasher. one night, he meets legendary pornographic filmmaker Jack Horner, played by Burt Reynolds, and successfully auditions for one of his new projects. Over the next few years, we witness his meteoric rise as a star in the industry, as well as the lives of other production crew members during the so-called “Golden Age” of Porn. Paul Thomas Anderson is obviously a beloved auteur of cinema, with many films on his resume that cinephiles everywhere dissect each day. Whether it’s a sprawling epic like Magnolia or a lofty drama like Phantom Thread, his unique style is always present. There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love remain my favorites of his, but I can still appreciate how cinephiles may adore his other works more. For whatever reason, his first three films have managed to consistently avoid my grasp for quite some time. His sophomore effort, in particular, constantly came and left Netflix or Amazon Prime before I could decide to watch it. Well, I finally sat down and watched it last year, and have seen it again in the context of my New Year’s Cinematic Resolution. And I gotta say, Boogie Nights may just be the director’s most accessible film to date- which, admittedly, isn’t saying very much. But let’s make something abundantly clear right now: This film is not really just about porn. While there is considerable nudity, sex, and ungodly amounts of cocaine on-screen, PTA couldn’t be less interested in this sort of exploitation. He seems far more intent on exploring both the art form of something like this industry, the effects fame has on the characters, and their sexuality. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, Anderson doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on fat, developing each individual character and seamlessly weaving them into the overall narrative. And as the film starts diving into the 1980s, it manages to move into some seriously dark territory with surprising ease. Think if Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese did a collaboration together, and that’s about what Boogie Nights looks like. Prior to this film, Mark Wahlberg was the frontman for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, but his role as Eddie/Dirk rightly established him as a bankable star. This might be my favorite performance of his, as he convincingly gives off the impression of a pathetic man desperate to find something big to latch onto. Julianne Moore is also noteworthy as Amber Waves, one of Dirk’s most frequent porn co-stars. While she is beautiful, behind all the makeup is a woman with so much of her personal life in shambles. The film also features a very impressive and sprawling ensemble cast, most of whom integrate into the narrative well. These include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Luiz Guzman, Thomas Jane, Philip Baker Hall, and John C. Reilly. However, none of them quite live up to the late great Burt Reynolds’ supporting performance as Jack Horner. Although he and Anderson consistently clashed on set, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. Despite the exploitative nature of the industry he works in, he takes his craft very seriously and does his best to treat his cast and crew as equals. In fact, at one point he refuses to start shooting on video tape by proclaiming, “I’m a filmmaker. And that’s why I will NEVER make a film on tape.” Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Boogie Nights show that Anderson has no problem flaunting his influences while still trying to make it his own. This was the second of numerous collaborations the director had with cinematographer Robert Elswit and it was a great step forward for both of their careers. The camera is almost always roving around each scene, trying to capture as much action as possible. It makes use of a number of big zooms and whip pans to draw attention from one part of the ensemble to the next. The most impressive bout was a 3 minute-long shot following a character inside a chaotic New Year’s Eve party. It should also be noted that the editing by Dylan Tichenor, who also collaborated with Anderson on later projects, is very riveting and just as fast as the cinematography. It often blends new shots in with movements like the aforementioned whip pan, among others. There are a handful of montages that fuse together different parts of the narrative, such as Dirk Diggler’s meteoric rise to porn stardom. It also cuts between different scenes to help build tension, especially one sequence in the third act when petty much all of the characters are in a rut. There is a brief musical score here provided by Michael Penn, whose career afterward has been hit or miss. There’s really only one big memorable track, a four-and-a-half minute piece that has all the whimsy of a circus show and melancholy of a tragedy. With its contrasting strings and whistles, that arguably sums up the movie’s tone pretty effectively. The actual soundtrack itself is composed of various disco and rock songs from the 1970s, curated mostly by the director himself. They’re all extremely appropriate in finding the carefree feel and the excess of the era. Boogie Nights is a uniquely entertaining and frank look at the world of exploitation. Despite its somewhat touchy subject matter, I still profess that this is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most accessible films to date. This can also serve as a good template for how to make an ensemble picture right, a feat which seems really hard to pull off.

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“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Movie Review

Not going to lie, after watching this movie, I’m genuinely considering changing my name to Biggus Dickus just for laughs. This historical comedy film was originally released in U.S. theaters on August 17th, 1979, followed by a U.K release 3 months later. While it grossed over 5 times its $4 million budget and became one of the year’s highest grossing films, its religious themes courted massive controversy in major countries and was banned for years in places like Ireland and Norway. It also led to a highly anticipated and publicized T.V. interview between two of the stars, conservative radio host Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood the Bishop of Southwark. Despite all of this, it generally received positive reviews from most publications, and has been retroactively named one of the funniest films ever made. Directed by Terry Jones, this marks the third feature-length effort of the Monty Python comedy group, after The Holy Grail. Days before production was originally supposed to begin, the studio EMI Films backed out due to being scared by the controversial script. Eventually former Beatles member George Harrison created his own production company, HandMade Films, and funded the project in its entirety. Set in Roman-occupied Judea during biblical times, Graham Chapman stars as Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man born on the same day and vicinity as Jesus Christ. Through a series of ridiculous circumstances, including getting involved with Pontius Pilate, he becomes mistaken for a prophet by the locals. Without much choice at all and little clue for how to advance, he takes on the persona of a reluctant Messiah for wary travelers and a radical anti-Roman political organization. I’ve been a really huge fan of the Monty Python troupe for quite some time now. To this day, 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail still remains my favorite comedy film of all time, and one I quote on a daily basis. I also think that their sketch comedy show, The Flying Circus, is a template for all sketchy comedy today, even if some of their humor hasn’t aged all that well. But for some reason, I had not yet seen their follow-up feature or their later effort, the sketch film The Meaning of Life. And since it was finally made available on Netflix the past few months, I figured this would be as good a time as any to review it and include it as part of my New Year’s resolution. In the end, I ultimately prefer Holy Grail to this film, but I still recognize that Monty Python’s Life of Brian is just as hilarious and witty as I would expect from these comedians. I will say that I think this film is ultimately more focused and brainier than I normally find the troupe to be. Holy Grail was a lot broader with different areas or themes to explore such as politics, death, and what actually qualifies as bravery, but more often than not felt like a series of sewn-together sketches that were too high-budgeted for the show. Life of Brian on the other hand, tries to take on a more coherent look at religious attitudes from different groups (Rather than organized religion itself) as well as the hypocrisy of left-wing organizations in Europe during the 1970’s. That being said, there is still some humor that just doesn’t hold up very well by today’s standards. The very first scene in the entire film involves brief but wholly unnecessary blackface for one of the actors. Not only that, but there are a handful of somewhat transphobic gags throughout the film, some definitely more noticeable than others. But if you’re able to get past that, (And again, most of it is pretty brief) the second half of this movie is pure gold. The 6 members of the Monty Python troupe all return here, each playing various characters from scene to scene. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and Eric Idle all inhabit each character they play with surprising ease and versatility. Chapman is mostly resigned to playing Brian, and he’s a far cry from his role as King Arthur. Easily confused and hopelessly romantic, he wants nothing to do with any of his followers and brilliantly stumbles from one place to the next. Pailn and Cleese also regularly impress with the amount they do. For Cleese, his turn as the leader of a fractious anti-Roman group who talks more than he acts has incredible deadpan delivery and timing in every written line. Palin also deserves attention for his turn as the Roman politician Pontius Pilate, whose unexpected speech impediment and higher-pitched voice makes for one truly side-splitting scene when he berates a group of centurions. Meanwhile, with a higher budget than they’ve previously worked with, the technical aspects of Monty Python’s Life of Brian manage to impress regularly. The second feature-length film shot by Peter Biziou, there are many grand, sweeping shots meant to imitate biblical epics of previous decades. The frequent use of zooms and pans also help to reveal ridiculous little details in numerous scenes, such as various anachronisms. Everything is well-lit so that the reactions of various actors to certain situations can be captured- and more often than not, they’re resisting the urge to burst out laughing. It matches up well with the editing by Julian Doyle, who would go on to collaborate extensively with Terry Gilliam. For most of the scenes, there are few cuts, drawing out the irony and sarcasm of their absolutely savage lines. This is particularly great considering a number of scenes were cut at nearly the last minute. And like much of the troupe’s work, there are a couple of animated sequences edited in here and there, allowing even more absurd humor to come in. In his first (And most notable) film credit, Geoffrey Burgon composes and conducts the instrumental film score. Many of the tracks consist of sweeping strings and brass, befitting of a Charlton Heston epic from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But as usual, the soundtrack’s biggest draw are a handful of silly songs written and performed by the core 6 comedians themselves. This includes a fantastic opening song that parodies James Bond songs with glorious vocals and orchestration. The most popular one, though, is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” performed by Eric Idle at the end. It’s simple in composition and rather uplifting in tone; no wonder it’s the most requested funeral song in Britain. Like most of the troupe’s work, this might just be too silly for some viewers out there to enjoy. I know a handful of people who don’t like Holy Grail or The Flying Circus at all because they’re so weird and unusual. I do think they’ll have a better chance of getting into this film because it is ultimately more focused. As long as they can move passed some of the outdated gags. Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a scathingly funny satire of biblical proportions. Although Holy Grail is still my favorite that they’ve created, there’s little denying the Monty Python’s accomplishment here. And despite its controversy, it proves to be supremely hilarious and insightful into religious attitudes. Any film that can manage to get banned from Ireland AND Norway is automatically worth turning heads.

“Throne of Blood” Movie Review

Aaanndd, we’re back with my New Year’s Resolution, ladies and gentlemen. Same rules from last year apply here, (Check out my Letterboxd account if you want more details) and I decided to start with something really daring. This black-and-white samurai drama was originally released in Japan on January 15th, 1957, and was a major commercial success for Toho Studios. It didn’t arrive in the United States until November of 1961, where it enjoyed similar acclaim to the filmmaker’s other works. It later found even more success when, in 2014, the Criterion Collection added it to their library and made a brand new restoration on home video. Co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, the film is a very loose adaptation of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, one of several the Japanese auteur made in his lifetime. He waited a few years to go forward with it until after Orson Welles made his own cinematic interpretation of The Bard’s story, and was only initially attached as a producer. There was something of a hurdle when the crew attempted to build the castle set on the slope of Mount Fuji and had to enlist troops at a nearby Marine Corps base to help build it from the ground up. Set in feudal Japan, the film follows a samurai warrior and commander named Taketoki Washizu, played by Toshirō Mifune. He and his close friend Miki Yoshiteru, played by Akira Kobo, encounter a spirit in a thick forest who prophesizes their respective futures and rewards. When the first part comes true, Washizu’s scheming wife Lady Asaji, played by Isuzu Yamada, urges him to murder their liege lord and take his place. The two subsequently become gradually insane and drunk with power as the consequences for their actions begin unraveling. Confession time: This is the first feature-length Akira Kurosawa film that I’ve both watched and finished all the way through! As a devoted cinephile, I understand that saying this is a downright travesty; to some, it might even be treasonous. But for whatever reason, for the longest time, I was unable to get my hands on any of his films, especially his supposed masterpiece Seven Samurai. But I was finally able to get the Criterion DVD for this particular film over the holiday season, and thought it would make a great addition to my 2019 New Year’s resolution. I have read that Throne of Blood is not as impressive as the director’s other works. But in my opinion, this is one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s work that I have seen in cinematic form yet. Like Kenneth Branagh, Kurosawa has a deep understanding of the story that many other directors seem to miss. By taking the barebones story of a traitorous and power-hungry noble and applying it to the world of Medieval Japan, Macbeth no longer becomes beholden to the barrier of language. What makes Throne of Blood so fascinating to watch is that it ultimately doesn’t need the extravagant poetry and monologues that Shakespeare puts in his works to get to the point or themes of the story. We still have staples such as the sorcerer, Lady Macbeth, et. al., but the new setting makes it feel so unique and memorable. In one of just 16 feature films films they worked on together, Toshirō Mifune is incredible as Washizu. It’s so easy to see why the director constantly wanted to work with him, as he full commits to playing a man slowly losing his grip on reality. This performance is especially impressive during his scenes in the last act of the movie, when his sanity just completely collapses. Opposite him is Isuzu Yamada as his wife Asaji, who’s arguably even more ruthless and cunning than he is. Her small and seemingly quiet demeanor are a perfect cover for a cutthroat and callous woman who simply wants as much power in the land as possible, no matter who suffers. Also, Akira Kobo does great work as Washizu’s former friend turned-enemy Miki, who apparently is inspired by Banquo. While he initially does have decent intentions, as soon as its clear he’s a threat to his old comrade, all bets are off. As far as technical aspects go, Throne of Blood sees Kurosawa taking full command of his voice and surroundings once more. It sees him working with many of his regular collaborators, including Asakazu Nakai for the cinematography. There are many static wide shots and sweeping landscapes used in the film, which creates an incredible use of negative space. Kurosawa also edited the film himself, provide a healthy amount of variety for shots in scenes. For example, a sudden zoom-in or a character in a room will suddenly be intercut with close-ups and the like. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Yoshirô Muraki’s incredible production and costume design. It’s so amazing that the Castle of Spider’s Web was made from scratch as it looks so authentic and real. Not to mention that numerous extras were used to film large battle scenes and, of course, the fog. It adds such a brilliant atmosphere to the film as a whole, and frequently is used to throw audiences off from reality. Masaru Satô composed and conducted the instrumental film score, and it’s highly dynamic and unconventional. Rather than give a straightforward melody to serve as the backbone for the whole soundtrack, Satô uses sparse tracks in an attempt to capture what’s going on inside Washizu’s headspace. With the possible exception of the opening title track, nearly every single piece is cacophonous and chaotic. There’s a consistent percussive sound beating around violently, as well as high notes from wooden flutes to create something truly baffling but memorable. I think if for nothing else, this film would be a great introduction into classic Japanese cinema for more mainstream audiences. Yes, it’s black-and-white and subtitled, (With two different versions on the Criterion DVD) something that can turn some people off. But it’s surprisingly accessible in its narrative and style. Not to mention, it has one of the most jaw-dropping final scenes I’ve watched in quite some time. Throne of Blood is an extremely thematic and riveting tale of power and tragedy. Not only does it so expertly adapt one of Shakespeare’s mot revered plays while retaining its spirit, but it’s arguably the perfect launching pint for my exploration of Akira Kurosawa. I’m mighty hungry to see his other adaptations of The Bard, and the rest of his filmography in general.

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“Mary Queen of Scots” Movie Review

I mean, I guess. There were a ton of other routes they could have taken with this story, but this one seemed like it was already on autopilot. This historical drama initially premiered as the closing night selection for the 2018 AFI Fest in mid-November of 2018. It was then released in U.S. theaters by Focus Features on December 7th, 2018, and has struggled to gross much more than $7.2 million at the box office against a budget of $25 million. It has also received mixed critical reviews along with numerous critiques for its apparent historical inaccuracies. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Josie Rourke, a highly prolific stage director with an extensive background in British theatre. Written by Beau Willimon, creator and longtime showrunner of the Netflix drama House of Cards, the film is loosely based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. It had originally been in production with Scarlett Johannson attached to star as far back as 2007 but soon languished in development hell. It then achingly started gearing up for commencement once more over the last, very slow 6 years. Set in Scotland circa 1569, Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular Mary Stuart, a young woman claiming to have legitimacy not only to the Scottish throne but to the whole of the United Kingdom. She challenges her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England, played by Margot Robbie, a virgin who cannot have any children or heirs. However, their mutual steadfast refusal to marry politically or heed word from their male-dominated councils puts them into a tricky position for their respective peoples, who begin to see both Queens as unfit to rule. This is a film that feels like something right out of Miramax’s awards season playbook from the late 1990s. Take from that what you will, but to me, large budget costume dramas like these haven’t had a major hit in a long time. I can’t really say that I’m a fan of House of Cards, but I do love the two main actresses and will seek out whatever they’re in. And this is a sect of history that I’m really not that familiar with, so I was curious to see what this sort of conflict would look like for these people. Unfortunately, Mary Queen of Scots succumbs to many of the same problems historical movies have always had. When it comes down to it, this is ultimately a case of a great burgeoning director fighting against a weak screenplay. Based on the few episodes I’ve seen from House of Cards, I can tell that Beau Willimon is definitely interested in politics and their machinations. But, also like that Netflix show, it seems like he doesn’t have a clear understanding of how politics works, no matter what era. To him, it’s just a bunch of cruel and selfish people destroying anyone in their way in their quest to the top of the throne room; the lack of any further nuance or insight makes this angle and the characters one-dimensional and uninteresting. This stands in contrast to Josie Rourke’s direction, which highlights an excellent knack for staging. She does her best working with the material she’s given, and it makes me interested in what she does for the future. But there are some things in it that she simply doesn’t seem equipped to overcome, as there are a number of instances that stretch both its historical accuracy and believability. For what it’s worth, though, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie do good work in their respective roles. Although it feels cliché and unbelievable to position Mary as an underdog, Ronan is uncompromising and fierce as the Scottish Queen. Robbie also manages to be strong-willed and determined, despite her sad circumstances with no hope of reprieve. Interestingly, there’s only one scene in the entire film where they share the screen together, but their chemistry in that one moment was dynamite and empathetic. In comparison to these two, most of the other actors fall short. Gemma Chan and Guy Pearce look a tad uncomfortable in their roles as two of Elizabeth’s advisors, while Jack Lowden and James McArdle portray Mary’s second husband and traitorous brother, respectively. They all remain confined to their archetypal roles, and in a few instances change their attitudes or traits in such a fast and unbelievable manner. The only other player here who leaves something of an impression is former Doctor Who David Tennant as John Knox, a thick-bearded Protestant cleric. Proclaiming that a woman sitting on the throne is an affront to God’s will, he is frequently seen delivering fiery sermons to the Scottish people in an effort to turn them against their Queen. He acts and speaks like a 16th Century version of Fred Phelps, which in some instances pulled me out of the movie, and in others kept me engaged. The technical aspects of Mary Queen of Scots, are very inconsistent, being great in parts but never as a whole. Ridley Scott’s frequent cinematographer John Mathieson captures both kingdoms in gloomy, washed out colors primarily. While the beautiful Scottish countryside is used for great background, both it and the almost-solely castle-set England feel a little too monochromatic. Thankfully, the controlled and focused movements and angles capture good lighting throughout the councils’ various quarrels. Chris Dickens edits the film in an intriguing way, albeit one that’s occasionally choppy or unbalanced. During verbal arguments, it frequently intercuts with other scenes to add more momentum to whatever is going on on-screen. The film runs at 2 hours and 5 minutes, but it often feels like it was originally a 3 hour-long epic cut down for commercial purposes. The best aspects of the film are undoubtedly Alexandra Byrnes’ elegant costumes, Jenny Shircore’s wide-ranging makeup and hairstyling, and James Merifield’s excellent production design. Without these 3 elements, late Medieval Great Britain would have felt far more staid and lifeless. The highly prolific and talented composer Max Richter provides the instrumental film score. In some ways, it feels similar to much of his regular work, and in other instances, it doesn’t. With his traditional backing of string instruments, there are a handful of melancholy tracks for some of the characters and their fates. There are also some rather rousing and exciting tracks using booming percussion instruments and occasionally something like subtle flutes and oboes. I can’t say that I’d necessarily pick it up on Apple Music, but it definitely fit for the context of the film. Neither remarkably awful nor astoundingly great, Mary Queen of Scots is a deeply conflicted portrait of two strong women wrestling with royalty and privilege. Again, Josie Rourke shows some considerable talent behind the camera and the two leading ladies are quite appealing in their roles. The bummer is that the supporting cast and script surrounding them just don’t really ever measure up to them.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

“Outlaw King” Movie Review

I have some bad news for anyone who wants to watch this movie because they heard Chris Pine shows his full-frontal genitalia; it’s a very quick shot, practically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Most people will stay for the movie itself. This epic historical action drama premiered as the opening night feature for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. After a mixed-to negative reception from critics and industry insiders, two weeks later the director announced he was shaving nearly 23 minutes off the picture. It was then released in a condensed format in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 9th, 2018, finished on a budget of $120 million. Directed and co-written by David Mackenzie, who also helmed the 2016 neo-Western Hell of High Water, the film was a passion project of his that took over five years to develop. Initially undertaken with extensive research and a couple of playwrights by his side, the completed screenplay was credited to as many as five different writers. He was apparently dismayed by the reaction at TIFF, but felt relieved when the distributor gave him a chance to fix his errors. Set in Scotland in 1304, Chris Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, a well-regarded man with a legitimate claim to his country’s throne. Following the near-crushing defeat of their Rebellion a few years prior led by William Wallace, the remaining Scottish nobility reluctantly swear fealty to King Edward I of England, played by Stephen Dillane, in order to keep their lands intact. Civil unrest and terrible circumstances force Robert to be crowned King of Scotland, triggering an all-out guerilla war against the much larger English army. I absolutely adored Mackenzie’s previous directorial effort, Hell or High Water, released back in 2016. Although I haven’t yet seen any of his other works, that one was such a smart, understated, and beautifully simple character piece with incredible performances out its three main leads. Hearing the director was developing a Medieval epic with one of those leads returning (Pine) for Netflix was enticing, especially after hearing about its emphasis on historical accuracy. Because while I really love Braveheart, it’s really hard for me to overlook the laughable inaccuracies shown throughout. And honestly, even after all of the critical hullabaloo that this film has been through, I found Outlaw King to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging film. Now, I’m not saying that it’s an amazing movie by any means. While I’ve heard that the cut on Netflix is a major improvement over its TIFF screening, the pacing felt a bit uneven. Even though its runtime now only clocks in right at 2 hours and 1 minute, it feels like it drags in some of the more dramatic moments, as it’s clearly meant to be more of an action-oriented film. Plus, it still feels as though most of the supporting characters from either side of the conflict weren’t fleshed out enough to bring the stakes up higher. Chris Pine does a surprisingly good job as Robert the Bruce, a proud man left with an intensely unhappy country to tend to. His Scottish accent was a bit dodgy at first, but it seemed like he got more into it as it went along. Despite the brutal violence he and his followers commit, he still shows a tenderness towards his people and his family. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane plays King Edward I, and he seems quite comfortable in the role. Channeling bits of Stannis Baratheon, he does a great job internalizing his frustration with trying to control Scotland consistently and is unafraid to kill hundreds to get to Robert. Despite this, he’s not completely heartless and would much rather negotiate peace, telling Robert early on, “You had the courage to stand up to me, and the wisdom to step down.” And while other actors do great such as Aaron Johnson as the unpredictable Black Douglas, Billy Howle as the deranged Prince of Wales, Tony Curran as a feisty loyalist to Robert, and more, the only one who really leaves an impression is Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, the Bruce’s English wife. Her journey from meek observer to staunch supporting of Scottish independence is a tad jarring at first, but she never loses sight of her strength and compassion. She does her best making decisions based on SHE wants- not her powerful parents, not her outlaw husband, no one. I’m genuinely eager to see her in more films, and her slate this upcoming year will hopefully satisfy that palette. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Outlaw King make it pretty clear where that massive budget went to. Shot by Barry Ackroyd, a regular Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass collaborator, he surprisingly restrains his documentarian, cinéma vérité style in favor of something more controlled. The film opens with a stunning, 8 minute-long take that follows the Scottish nobility at their surrender to King Edward I with amazing fluidity. Even during the impressively staged action scenes, the camera remains steady and focused on its subjects. There are also, of course, obligatory swooping shots, which reveal the gorgeous landscape of Scotland. It goes nicely with the editing by Jake Roberts, who cuts each scene together without losing sight of what’s important. It doesn’t particularly feel choppy, despite the near-last-minute trimming of the film, and allows the audience to see the action, especially the glorious, muddy final battle, in full form. Bringing home the historical accuracy is the fantastic sets and the costume designs by Jane Petrie. With rough chainmail, dirty armor patches, and nary a kilt or drop of blue face paint in sight, it feels incredibly lived-in and realistic. The musical score is composed by Tony Doogan and Lucie Treacher, and it’s more or less what I expected to hear. There are a number of tracks filled with sorrowful strings and ghostly hymnal choirs, almost prophesizing the death toll this war will take on Scotland. While it’s great to listen to, it’s not very memorable. There is an original song called “Land O the Leal” by Grey Dogs that plays over the end credits. Featuring the fair voice of Kathryn Joseph, it’s a melancholy piano ballad lamenting on the bloodied homeland of Robert the Bruce. It’s a nice song, but hardly one worth listening to more than a few times. Well-meaning but often misguided in its vision, Outlaw King is a flawed epic celebrating both spectacle and a truly noble man. Maybe I’m a bit fickle and old, but I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t entertained throughout this movie. David Mackenzie gets to show off his Scottish pride with great commitment while Chris Pine plays a classical Medieval hero and Florence Pugh emerges as a talent to watch. Hopefully, it will find a new appreciation and audience, in spite of what happened behind the scenes.

 

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

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