Category Archives: Favorite

“Uncut Gems” Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top Ten Favorite T.V. Episodes of the Decade

**This list will contain mild spoilers for the shows and episodes herein.**

We live in an era of Peak T.V. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because there’s enormous variety in shows and entertainment at our fingertips nowadays. But also a curse, because there’s so much television content out there right now that it’s hard to find enough truly great shows to chow down on. And I confess not being able to watch many of the critical favorites myself, (Succession and Killing Eve have sadly eluded me) but I still saw some amazing shows this decade.

This list consists of my absolute favorite episodes from shows that either debuted or achieved peak popularity/quality in the 2010s. And before we get started, there are some honorable mentions that just barely missed the cut still worth recognition.

Honorable Mentions:

“The Trolley Problem” from The Good Place, “The Box” from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Company” from Peaky Blinders, “Sic Mundus Creatus Est” from Dark, “Leslie and Ron” from Parks and Recreation, “Good For the Soul” from The Boys, “The Candidate” from Lost, “Take Me Back to Hell” from Lucifer, “Nationals” from Glee, “Modern Warfare” from Community.

Time to recognize some of the best that television had to offer this past decade.

#10: “YHWH”, Person of Interest (May 5th, 2015)

“I will not suffer. If I do not survive… thank you, for creating me.” You wouldn’t expect a text-only exchange between a human and a superintelligent A.I. to be so emotional. But with the help of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine,” the season 4 finale for Jonathan Nolan’s overlooked sci-fi crime series does just that. By season 3, it was clear that Person of Interest had become much more than your standard procedural drama. And here, the conflict between the Machine and Samaritan is brought to such a bloody and beautiful head that it almost dwarfs the conflicts from earlier seasons. The full extent to which Samaritan is willing to manipulate humanity is finally unveiled as the so-called “Correction” takes place in its final moments. It expertly sets the stage for the final season while also providing amazing thrills, action, and drama.

#9: “The Ricklantis Mixup”, Rick and Morty (Sept. 10th, 2017)

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, Rick and Morty has one of the worst fanbases for any show I can think of, and yes, it’s still a great show all the same. While most of the episodes are really great and worth watching multiple times, it’s the season 3 outing “The Ricklantis Mixup” (Or “tales From the Citadel”) that I find myself coming back to the most. Following a bait-and-switch cold open, we spend the entire time exploring a specific sect of this universe that had previously not been seen in-depth. As expected, the animation and sound design are on point as this is an episode where Justin Roiland largely just talks to himself. The intertwining stories work greatly to hold a mirror up to the current sociopolitical troubles of America while still doling out its unique humor, capped off by one hell of a reveal for an ending. And despite what some fans may tell you, you definitely don’t need an extremely high I.Q. to appreciate it.

#8: “San Junipero”, Black Mirror (Oct. 21st, 2016)

I’m not as big of a fan of Black Mirror as a lot of others are. It’s a really interesting anthology show with some creative ideas, but more often than not it feels like Charlie Brooker sacrifices meaningful commentary or emotion for shock value gut punches. San Junipero, one of the first episodes under its new Netflix home, offers a huge breath of fresh air by being surprisingly optimistic in tone. A simple yet emotionally powerful love story set against yet another piece of technology likely to happen, it pivots the bleak pitfalls of previous episodes by letting the characters breathe for once. Thrown in a gorgeous color palette and two excellent lead performances from Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and you’ve got yourself easily one of the most accessible episodes in the whole series.

#7: “Margate Sands”, Boardwalk Empire (Dec. 2nd, 2012)

I always felt like this show was a little underrated. It came right in the slot of time after The Sopranos ended but right before Game of Thrones really put HBO on the map. In any case, Boardwalk Empire is a great gangster show with some really amazing episodes, and this season 3 finale might just be the biggest highlight. Multiple threads are brought to a conclusion in a fulfilling way and “Margate Sands” turns tragic as we watch Nucky Thompson’s humanity fade away even further than before. We even get to see Richard Harrow as a one-man army like we’ve never seen before in one of the best shootouts in television history. If this episode had actually served as the series finale, it would have been an ultra-satisfying high note to go out on.

#6: “Here’s Not Here”, The Walking Dead (Nov. 1st, 2015)

The Walking Dead has had many ups and downs over its ten-season run, but it has still produced some truly great episodes. I could just as easily talk about the pilot, Negan bashing his way into the show in “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” or how “Bounty” reinvigorated the show after so many years. But it’s this small season 6 episode that shows Morgan’s journey that takes the cake. The closest the show has come to a “bottle episode,” it’s a great reminder of how deeply humanistic the show can be. I’ve always felt like Lennie James was underrated as Morgan and “Here’s Not Here” proves why, as we get to see him reckoning with pacifism and peace in world where violence is necessary for survival. It also features John Carroll Lynch as one of the greatest one-off characters in recent memory. If more people strove to think like Eastman, I’m convinced that the world would be a somewhat better place.

#5: “Chapter 1”, Legion (Feb. 8th, 2017)

This is the kind of series premiere that is so wild and so amazing that the rest of the show afterward never quite lives up to it. Regardless, the pilot for Legion is probably the greatest episode for a comic book show ever crafted, and this decade saw a lot of amazing shows in that genre. Noah Hawley sets up the tone and visual style with such incredible skill, really putting us into the wild and unpredictable mind of David Hall. And on top of that, and Dan Stevens’ excellent performance, it never really feels like a superhero show until the very end. That long take escape sequence deserves to go down as one of the most memorable shots in recent T.V. memory.

#4: “eps.1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v”, Mr. Robot (Aug. 12th, 2015)

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Given that this show is almost reliant on big twists and reveals every now and then, it can be hard to determine where the moment everything TRULY changed came about. For me, it’s simple: the 8th episode of the first season for Sam Esmail’s series Mr. Robot. In addition to introducing B.D. Wong’s fascinating character White Rose and the long-talked-about Dark Army, more of the show’s mysterious elements are explained in a shocking yet satisfying way. The full implications of Elliot’s unreliability as a narrator and the truth behind the show’s titular character are brought to light in stunning fashion. It was clear from this episode onward that this series would be more than just a typical psychological thriller.

#3: “Possession”, Penny Dreadful (June 22nd, 2014)

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Why was Eva Green completely ignored by the Emmys and Golden Globes for her work in Penny Dreadful? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times over because hers is one of the best performances of any actor I’ve seen this decade. Penny Dreadful, my personal favorite horror show of all time, has many episodes where her brilliance is shown but nowhere near as devastating or convincing than in “Possession.” As its title suggests, the crew has to help exorcise Vanessa over 4 nights when Lucifer tries to take her over. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking as all of the characters, including Vanessa herself, contemplate whether or not to simply put her out of her misery. It’s a relatively simple episode, but one that provides immense insight into its characters and proves why John Logan is one of my favorite screenwriters working today.

#2: “The Winds of Winter”, Game of Thrones (June 26th, 2016)

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Regardless of your thoughts on the controversial final season, it’s hard to deny the overall quality of Game of Thrones. There have been many unforgettable episodes through its run, with “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Rains of Castamere” also being incredible. But there’s something particularly special about the season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter.” It feels like the epic payoff to several seasons worth of buildup for many characters, especially Cersei and Arya. Numerous storylines are tied up in neat little bows while still leaving room for what’s to come, especially since winter has officially arrived. Ramin Djawadi also provides some of his best work ever with the opening track “Light of the Seven.” And that’s not even mentioning how it finally confirmed a fan theory that had long been held since the first book was published over 23 years ago. If only George R. R. Martin could finishing writing the damn series.

#1: “Ozymandias”, Breaking Bad (Sept. 15th, 2013)

The shootout with the Salamanca Twins. The ending of “Crawl Space.” Gus poisoning the Cartel. The train heist. Pick any episode you like from the last three seasons and it could have landed at this spot just as easily. But pretty much every fan of the show, myself included, will tell you that Breaking Bad reached the highest peak of television with its third-to-last episode, “Ozymandias.” With incredible direction from Rian Johnson and career-best performances from the whole cast, there isn’t a dull moment to be had as we watch everyone come to terms with the consequences of their actions. Its title perfectly represents the theme of Walter White’s empire, which he’s built over five seasons, crumbling before his eyes in a matter of minutes. You can even pinpoint the exact moment when Heisenberg dies forever and he realizes that it’s all over, making it so crushing yet rewarding to watch. In short, “Ozymandias” is just about as close to perfect as an hour of television can and likely ever will get.

And that’s that. Do you agree or disagree with this list? What was your favorite episode of T.V. from the 2010s? I’d love to see a comment or two on your opinions, and if you enjoy what you read here, don’t forget to Like this post and Follow my Blog.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” Movie Review

Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas has some unique family traditions they try to bring back every year. And if yours are anything like the shenanigans in this film, then you’re truly living a big life. This slapstick Christmas comedy was originally released in theater by Warner Bros. on December 1st, 1989. After coming in second its opening weekend, it went on to gross over $71.4 million at the worldwide box office. Against a budget of roughly $25 million, this made it the highest-grossing film in the Vacation franchise for about 25 years. Although it received mixed reviews during its initial run, it is now considered a modern Christmas classi among many film fans, this one included. Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, the screenplay by John Hughes was originally written as a short story called “Christmas ’59” published in the National Lampoon magazine. He only agreed to do it for the studio because of the quality of the story and left the series for good afterwards. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone director Chris Columbus was originally set at the helm before leaving after clashing with its main star consistently. Columbus and Hughes would later try and work together again on the future holiday classic Home Alone. Chevy Chase stars as Clark Griswold, the energetic and enthusiastic patriarch of the oddball Griswold family. As the winter season progresses, he sets out to try and give his family the best Christmas of all time by any means necessary. As more members of his extended family arrive, more and more absurd problems arise as Clark attempts to save old traditions. Just like It’s a Wonderful Life, I wanted to go ahead and close out my New Year’s Resolution with a pair of Christmas films that are considered classics. Sure, there’s a whole lot of cheese in places like Hallmark and Lifetime, but there are plenty of films that take the genre in great ways. And it’s nice to have a traditional rewatch every season, whether it’s a real decades-old classic or a recent gem. I decided to go ahead and look back on a film that’s renowned but not usually discussed in the pantheon along others like Miracle on 34th Street. My feelings on National Lampoon as a whole are kind of mixed, but their Vacation franchise provides some big laughs every now and then. And after all these years, Christmas Vacation still proves to be the best of them and a genuinely fun holiday regular. If you’re hoping for a strong narrative in your yuletide films, you’ll be disappointed because the plot and setup here are extremely simplistic. But that ultimately works to its advantage because it allows breathing room both for the hilarious jokes and the more heartwarming moments. It’s primary theme of trying to find what it means for a truly great Christmas season is really resonant and universal for audiences, no matter how dysfunctional your family may be. The one issue that keeps Christmas Vacation from being a complete classic for me is an unnecessary fantasy pool scene. It comes at around the beginning of the third act and just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film before or after. But if you can ignore that one scene, (I’ve begun just fast-forwarding through it on each rewatch) the rest of the film is pretty fun across multiple demographics. Although most people associate him with Community and his days on Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase was really at the top of his game here. As Clark Griswold, he’s extremely energetic and enthusiastic about bringing all of his family’s traditions into the fold this year. He tries to bottle up his frustration with failures and work but finally lets it all out in one of the best and funniest tirades in cinematic history. By his side, Beverly D’Angelo is amazing and endlessly funny as his confused and deadpan wife Ellen. She plays it more like the straight-laced partner who acts completely rational compared to her husband’s wild behavior. Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galicki play the Griswolds’ daughter and son, respectively, which continues the gag of their children always changing actors. They’re both earnest in their desire to make Christmas great but are constantly unsure about their father’s unorthodox methods to get to it. In a way, they act more as an audience surrogate as we witness the bizarre and absurd take hold in their household in gradual fashion. John Randolph, Randy Quaid, Diane Ladd, William Hickey, and Mae Questel round out the memorable members of the Griswold family while Sam McMurray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, and Brian Doyle-Murray play some of their various acquaintances. With the exception of Quaid and Louis-Dreyfus, not many of the supporting cast really stand out or leave a huge impression. None of them really have big character arcs but they provide some decent laughs and contribute to the overall package. And from a technical point-of-view, Christmas Vacation has just enough flare to distinguish itself from other comedies of the decade. Thomas E. Ackerman’s cinematography here is, by and large, straightforward and pretentious. There aren’t really any clever movements, aside from a dramatic push-in on Clark when the house lights finally come on. It mostly places the camera in one or two different static positions during a scene and finds a way to make the humor more visually satisfying and timed well. The main colors associated with the holiday- blue, red, white, and green -are often seen throughout in many different ways and the frame captures them pretty decently. It’s really the editing, which is a joint effort from Jerry Greenberg and Michael A. Stevenson, that brings out the personality. The film often cuts between something really obscene with something more warmhearted for the holiday season, creating a very funny dichotomy. Each scene is nicely cut together to a tea and knows what to focus on for the specific moment. It also makes a wise decision of when to include a pause or when to cut away to the punchline. The aforementioned tirade is mostly shown in a long take of Clark in his living room and he kicks the furniture around him and gathers his breath. The fact that the camera doesn’t cut away during this moment makes it very hard not to break out in laughter as he pours out his true feelings for the first time. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a jolly good time with some really timeless jokes and heart. Excluding that unnecessary pool scene, Jeremiah S. Chechik and John Hughes have crafted a really nice classic in the already crowded pantheon of Christmas movies. Your mileage for the film as a whole may vary, but it’s Chevy Chase’s inimitably hilarious turn as Clark Griswold that makes it worth rewatching time and again. A fantastic way to close out the 1980’s, this comedy is sure to bring plenty of yuletide joy and laughter to the family.

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“Parasite” Movie Review

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

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“It’s a Wonderful Life” Movie Review

If you’re not in the mood for the sappy schmaltz of Hallmark movies or the action-heavy bravado of Die Hard, you can always look to the “Golden Age” for holiday favorites. This holiday romantic fantasy drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by RKO Pictures on December 20th, 1946. Despite being able to recoup its $3.18 million production budget, the film failed to break even due to stiff competition, and it wasn’t close. Many experts and historians attributed this as the start of the once-popular director’s decline in his favor with the major studios. Nowadays, it is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, the film was originally inspired by the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. The studio initially set it up as a starring vehicle for Cary Grant with Dalton Trumbo writing the screenplay before all of their ideas were scrapped. Capra came in and did extensive (And apparently strenuous) work on the new script with Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich and auditioned several actors for all bu the main role. A few months after the release of the film, there was a memo sent out to the public by the FBI accusing the film of having Communist sympathies. Set in the fictional small town of Bedford Falls, Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, a young man working as a building and loan banker. As the film goes along, we witness all the things in his life leading up to a series of particularly miserable decisions and bad luck. On Christmas Eve 1945, he becomes so depressed from his situation that he contemplates suicide, only to be saved by his guardian angel Clarence Odbody, played by Henry Travers. In an effort to show him how different life would be, Clarence takes George to a version of the world where he was never born and the consequences therein. I’ve made it clear in the past that Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and I firmly stand by that. However, I also recognize that sometimes it’s nice to find something a little older and more family-friendly to watch over the holiday break. And although it could from household to household, more often than not, it comes down to this film and White Christmas. I had personally not seen this film for the better part of a decade, even though I distinctly remember loving it the first time. I finally got the chance to watch it again in the past few weeks, hoping that my older eyes would see it in a new light. And it’s with a brightened heart and a lifted spirit that I say It’s a Wonderful Life is still fabulous and even improves on repeat viewings. The central premise is a question we’ve all asked ourselves before; would the world be much different without me? This film paints Bedford Falls as a genuinely kind town and in the scenario without George Bailey around, it becomes a much darker and colder place called “Pottersville.” It does a fantastic job at showing how much the protagonist has made the lives of those around him better, even if he himself can’t realize it. Interestingly, something you may notice is that It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t really get to Clarence or the alternate world until over an hour into the film. The whole movie leading up to that moment is spent with the voices in Heaven recounting George’s whole life story from childhood to present day. It not only helps further establish context for him and his loved ones but also creates a big emotional payoff for the iconic and heartwarming ending. Jimmy Stewart has built his whole career playing the likable American everyman, and I’m convinced that this might be his best work outside of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. As George Bailey, he’s immensely compassionate and is able think on his feet rather quickly when financial situations come up. Although he’s clearly happy to help his fellow neighbors, seeing him sacrificing his dreams of leaving Bedford Falls time and again shows his growing frustration of wanting to live a bigger life but never getting to. In direct contrast to him, Lionel Barrymore is extremely memorable as Mr. Henry F. Potter, the richest man in town. Although he doesn’t move much outside of his wheelchair, he’s successfully able to make both Bedford Falls citizens and audience members despise him as he only cares about buying and owning everything. He prides himself on manipulating various businesspeople on deals and loans for his own gain and only seems to get angrier and greedier as the film goes along. Henry Travers also delights as the guardian angel in training Clarence Odbody, one of the best side characters in cinema. Despite his cheerful and optimistic attitude, he’s determined to show George why his life truly matters and isn’t afraid to show the darkness. It’s almost like a learning experience for both him and us as we learn everything about this town and its people right alongside Clarence and the value of human decency. The supporting cast includes Donna Reed as George’s loving and quick-witted wife, Thomas Mitchell as his caring but dim-witted uncle Billy, Todd Karns as his innocent yet honest younger brother, H.B. Warner as a well-meaning but oft-drunk druggist, and Frank Albertson as George’s wealth but absent old friend. Each one plays an important part in the story of the main character and it’s clear they all are impacted by him. Even if George himself can’t see it, their lives are much better with him around and radiate a genuine warmth and neighborly presence in each scene. And from a technical point of view, It’s a Wonderful Life showcases Capra’s real brilliance behind the camera. Because of the difficulty of production, three cinematographers were credited: Joseph Biroc, Victor Milner, and Joseph Walker. Despite this, the black-and-white cinematography is still timelessly great, filled with long takes for dialogue-heavy scenes between all of the characters. There are a surprising amount of close-up shots used, either used to capture an actor’s internalized emotions or highlight important information on a document. Although a colorized version does exist, the black-and-white original makes the frame feel much more natural and the smooth movements make it seem almost like a fairytale. The editing job by William Hornbeck is equally excellent, being able to showcase everything with great precision and timing. As previously stated, there are several long takes throughout the film. But there are also numerous scenes where it cuts back and forth between different points of view to provide variety and tension, especially during arguments. A handful of times, the frame will freeze so that Clarence and his superiors in Heaven can fill in some blanks on lost time. It’s a brilliant way to keep the audience engaged without trying to hold their hand the whole way through. Dimitri Tiomkin, who previously worked on the director’s prior films, provides the instrumental film score for what would be their last effort together. It has all the sweeping greatness of many old-school Hollywood films, with a full orchestra and more. The main suite is a grand theme that mixes multiple different sounds and instruments together in a great manner. The mixture of strings and brass help create an emotional environment as George moves from one thing in his life to another. It also utilizes both subtle and overt choral moments that highlight the ethereal nature of the story. And best of all, it also knows when to let their be no music whatsoever, making it land much more effectively. A true cinematic classic if ever there was one, It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful and humanistic tribute to all the small moments in our lives. Arguably Frank Capra’s masterpiece, the film shows us how much of an impact we all have on the people immediately around us, even if we don’t fully realize it. Jimmy Stewart has quite possibly never been better than here and George Bailey is undoubtedly one of the best heroes in movie history. There is perhaps nothing more true to the “Christmas spirit” than for us to appreciate the time and space we share with our loved ones, and this film shows that wonderfully.

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“Knives Out” Movie Review

Every time I see an author in a film or show, I almost always want their fictional work to be real so I can read it. Even if their in-universe bibliography is extensive, I just want to get my hands on it, however possible. This darkly comedic murder-mystery premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to a rapturous response. After closing out Fantastic Fest, it was released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate on November 27th, 2019. Having already made over $167.5 million against a $40 million, it should have no problem becoming a box office hit over the holidays. depending on how strong word of mouth ends up being, it could end up becoming one of the year’s most profitable films. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the filmmaker had wanted to make a murder mystery for a while. He had originally planned on making it his fourth feature after finishing Looper but made Star Wars: The Last Jedi instead. It’s said to have been inspired by numerous Agatha Christie novels and films like Clue and Gosford Park. The film came together very quickly, with the cast and crew being announced within a month of its initial announcement. Daniel Craig stars as Detective Benoit Blanc, a well-renowned Southern private investigator. On the night of his 85th birthday, wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer, dies of apparent suicide. Suspecting foul play, Blanc is brought in to help question Harlan’s deeply dysfunctional family, including his South American caretaker Marta Cabrera, played by Ana de Armas. It soon becomes clear that everyone in the family is lying and all of them seem to have reasonable motives. I love a good murder mystery story every now and then and there aren’t enough movies these days in the genre. I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson’s work for a while, from his perfectly directed episodes of Breaking Bad to the original sci-fi flick Looper and The Last Jedi, which I maintain is a genuinely great movie. Hearing news that he would be tackling a Christie-esque whodunnit set in the modern era made me practically giddy with excitement. As each player in the massively impressive ensemble signed on for the project, my excitement for it only grew exponentially. And hearing that it would be releasing over the long Thanksgiving weekend made me think it was going to become a real populist hit. And that’s just the case because Knives Out is an absolute delight of a film that is sure to become a huge crowd pleaser. From it’s very first scene, it’s perfectly clear that this is a film that understands its own genre and seeks to upend it in exciting ways. By focusing on a highly rich crime novelist, it’s able to examine greed, privilege, and entitlement in a way that bites hard. It’s evident that the majority of Harlan’s family members only care about getting in the will and how much they get, regardless if they actually deserve or earned it. But rather than being bitter and pessimistic, Knives Out also benefits from a darkly hilarious screenplay. Watching the various members of the Thrombrey clan obviously lie about the night of his death, plus how they all savagely treat each other provides some great laughs. And the dim-witted local authorities musing over missing clues, including a particularly convoluted metaphor about donut holes from the main protagonist, seal the deal for this original package of a movie. Daniel Craig takes a break from his tenure as James Bond for Detective Benoit Blanc, the eccentric private eye with a penchant for wordplay and cigars. With a thick Southern accent and loads of swagger, he quickly shakes off any imitations of Hercule Poirot as he gets right down to the case. Although we don’t get to know much about him personally, Craig’s subtle mannerisms and delivery of lines like “I suspect foul play, and I have eliminated no suspects” add so much to him. After a series of small supporting roles, Ana de Armas gets the breakout she really deserves with her performance here. As Marta Cabrera, she’s so pure-hearted and clearly has no interest in material wealth like the rest of the Thrombrey clan, who patronize her about her nationality. During the second act, she becomes the unexpected hero of the story as things shake up and she’s forced to confront things she’d rather have no business dealing with. Her facial cues and silence tell a lot about her character and just knowing she’ll be a big star is already exciting to me. Chris Evans also manages to surprise as Ransom Thrombrey-Drysdale, Harlan’s spoiled and narcissistic grandson. A total departure from his years-long MCU tenure, he goes to a lot of effort making his character a selfish bastard who never has any interest in being likable to those around him. Things take a turn, however, when he unexpectedly makes a change about halfway through where he admits to feeling vain and empty from the material life he’s lived. And Rian Johnson has managed to put together one of the best ensembles this side of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The family members consist of Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, and Christopher Plummer, while Lakeith Stanfield, Frank Oz, and Edi Patterson fill out smaller but equally important roles. Each player clearly looks like they’re having a blast as everyone clearly knows something the rest don’t, and their interplay with one another is aces. Meanwhile, from a filmmaking perspective, Knives Out sees Rian Johnson working in tip-top formation. Steve Yedlin, the director’s regular cinematographer, captures the picture in exquisite detail and precision. The opening scene features multiple shots of the Thrombrey mansion, clearly establishing the layout of the home and the legacy of the victim. There are some pretty creative shots that play with the visual composition of the characters and creates a great amount of negative space. We also get to see some amazing movements and techniques such as a dramatic dolly during an epiphany or a slow tilt for a revelation. This matches up quite well with the editing job by Bob Duscay, which keeps the pacing up despite a runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes. In the first 20-30 minutes, we get a brisk montage of the police interviewing every member of the family as they give their of the story. Watching it cut back and forth between each of them is a great way to get insight into their characters and find new details that the others may be hiding. It also cuts to an occasional flashback to the night of Harlan’s death and shows it from multiple perspectives, adding to the mystery. The director’s cousin Nathan Johnson provides the instrumental film score here, and their fourth collaboration is absolutely brilliant. It has a certain jangly sound and rhythm to it as it utilizes plucked strings and percussion to build the suspense and intrigue. A handful of tracks also use a full symphonic orchestra in a sort of homage to old-school whodunnits Hollywood used to be obsessed with. The implementation of woodwinds and double reed instruments also creates a feeling of modernity to the story. There’s a certain underlying dread and melancholy to the tracks that by turns can be both tragic and ironic. The film ends with the song “Sweet Virginia” by the Rolling Stones, which perfectly fits the mood of the final moments. The lyrics and instrumentation surmises the themes and ideas of the film as a whole, and leaves on one of the best final shots in the last couple of years. Loaded with charm and personality and riding off of a killer script, Knives Out is an enormously satisfying crowd-pleaser with a fantastically committed ensemble. By prodding at the conventions of its dusty genre, Rian Johnson is able to craft a loving and pointed murder mystery with tons of social bite. The whole cast of veterans and stars give it their all and Ana de Armas is finally given a proper chance to shine in the spotlight. In an age where IPs are rampant in the market, this is one film that I wouldn’t mind becoming a new franchise. Even if it’s less shocking than it is clever, it practically begs to be seen with a big crowd and rewatched for a long time to come.

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“The Irishman” Movie Review

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

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