Category Archives: Historical

“Ford v Ferrari” Movie Review

There’s a certain, unmistakable adrenaline rush I get from watching movies with really fast vehicles at the center. I always feel the need to go on a short run or something after it’s over just to wear it off. Walking out of this film, I felt that need more than usual. This biographical drama initially premiered at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival, before making an even bigger splash at TIFF the following week. It was then released in theaters worldwide by 20th Century Fox on November 15th, 2019, having previously been scheduled for June. Made for the budget of $97.6 million, it has thus far managed  to gross over $146.6 million the box office. It is likely to turn a decent profit by the end of its theatrical run and is currently the studio’s big awards season player. Directed by James Mangold, a film centered on the true-story subject had been in the works from the studio for quite some time. The earliest known version had Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt set to star with a script written by Jason Keller. That iteration fell apart after brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were brought on for rewrites and Joseph Kosinski signed on to direct, and wasn’t revived until 2018. Numerous kit cars were used and painted over during the racing scenes, to avoid any potential controversy from the companies involved in the film. Set in the early 1960s, Matt Damon stars as Carroll Shelby, a renowned car mechanic and former race driver reited due to a heart condition. After a potential buyout of Ferrari goes south, Ford Motor Company, led by Tracy Lett’s Henry Ford II, approaches Shelby about creating a race car to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans international race. Knowing they’ll need as much expertise as possible, Shelby enlists the help of hot-tempered English racer Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale, to begin work on the Ford GT40. As the race approaches, Carroll and Ken must stave off overshadowing suits from Ford and their own demons to build a car that not only has speed but durability. When I first heard about this film, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I loved Mangold’s work on Logan and 3:10 to Yuma and the talent involved was aces, but I’ve never really been into race cars. As a child, beyond the occasional Hot Wheels toy, I had not found much interest in the sport or profession. But when the first trailer dropped last summer, it immediately grabbed my attention as something old-fashioned yet new. The extreme buzz coming off of the festival circuit only added to my newfound anticipation for the film. And I’m happy to report that Ford v Ferrari is just as exciting, fun, and engaging as the marketing made it out to be. The best part about the film is that, despite the title, Ford Motor Company is not portrayed here as the heroes or even the protagonists. They’re a corporation that wants to stamp out the competition and constantly meddle with Shelby and Miles’ plan, even if they’ve never fixed a car in their lives. Instead, the focus of Ford v Ferrari is on the two protagonists trying to channel their immense passion for something into a commercially viable product. This approach could be applied to many different areas- studio executives interfering with filmmakers’ visions, tech geniuses watered down by shareholders -and makes it a far more interesting film to watch. The specificity of the racing world adds so much character and personality to the story, from the lingo used by mechanics to the observations of how it turns into “a body floating through space and time.” Its approach may feel old school, but it’s done with such precision and skill that you can’t help but fall in love with it by the final lap. Matt Damon proves he’s still got the goods as an actor with a steely determination and delightful Texas accent. As Carroll Shelby, he shows a real knack for how to build cars and always tries to explain why he needs what he needs to his corporate overseers. He’s always precise in his method but constantly thinks on his feet in case the worst comes to pass. Opposite him for much of the movie, Christian Bale is brilliant as the hot-headed yet confident racecar driver Ken Miles. A perfectionist if ever there was one, he has no trouble telling his colleagues if the design is terrible and frequently irritates others around him. It’s also one of the few roles I’ve seen where he uses his natural speaking voice, which adds a nice amount of character to him. Josh Lucas is also notable as Leo Beebe, the Ford executive who constantly interferes with the protagonists in their task. Its quite clear that he’s more interested in following tradition and keeping up with the company’s quota, unwilling to raise the GT40’s budget when necessary. The supporting cast is rounded out by Tracey Letts as the shrewd but determined Henry Ford II, Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe as Ken Miles’ supportive wife and son, Jon Bernthal as the more optimistic VP of Ford, Ray McKinnon as Shelby’s second-in-command on the team, and Remo Girone as the proud and elderly  rival Enzo Ferrari. Each one has something to contribute and further enriches the world of cars and racing. While many of them fall into the classic archetypes of the genre, they give extra shades and dimensions to make them feel fresh. And just looking at technical aspects, Mangold and company put so much effort and class into Ford v Ferrari. The cinematography by Phedon Papamichael is in such control of the frame and subject that it’s hard to lose attention. It captures the colors of all of the cars with exquisite beauty and always manages to light it very well whether it’s in the daytime or nighttime. Clever and well-placed angles create a lot of unique negative space for the characters as we move through their process of building the GT40. The camera alternates between gliding tracks as we follow the vehicles up close and long shots to signify their real speed. It goes hand-in-hand with the joint editing job by Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, which keeps the pacing going along. Even with a runtime of 2 hours and 32 minutes, it goes by at an even clip, as we watch Carroll and Ken constantly work through different cars to get it just right. During the race sequences… oh Lord. They’re edited together so well that’s hard not to become invested in what’s happening. The way it constantly cuts between the drivers in action and the engineering team at the sidelines helps create the main tension. It also helps that the sound design is pitch perfect and captures every engine rev, every crash, and every gear shift imaginable. It really helps put viewers inside the car itself when the going gets tough. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders collaborate together on the instrumental film score, and deliver something worthy of the fast-paced drama. The majority of the tracks rely on electric guitar riffs, basses, and light percussion to create a sense of urgency in the race and building process. Subtle at first, as the film goes along, the score becomes more and more powerful as the Le Mans edges closer. A couple of tracks a little calmer and opt to use synthesized organs and slower guitar melodies to emphasize the pure, encapsulating experience of driving on an empty road. It’s a really dynamic soundtrack, and one I’ll definitely come back to. Proving that old-school stories can still be told with expertise, Ford v Ferrari tells a riveting true story of creativity with enormous flare and respect. Rather than trying to upend the genre, James Mangold utilizes the tools at his disposal to deliver the best the genre can possibly offer and then some. Matt Damon and Christian Bale shine in their dual lead performances and give an accessibility to a story that, on paper, sounds flat and boring. But thanks to them and the dedicated team behind the scenes, this film feels like both a blast from the past and completely modern in its technique. Mark my words, it’ll turn into one of those movies that will be impossible to not watch all the way through if it ever comes up on streaming or cable.

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Movie Review

I’m not even lying when I tell you guys that The Pale Lady and The Jangly Man made me piss myself out of fear. And before anyone judges, I’m almost positive that everyone else in the theater had the exact same reaction as me. This youth-centered supernatural horror film was released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate and CBS Films on August 9th, 2019. It has fare very well at the international box office, grossing over $93.5 million against a budget of roughly $23 million. Although it never attained the tope spot and didn’t even finish first its opening weekend, it still managed to attain relative success. It’s believed that much of its intake was due to decent word-of-mouth and nostalgia for the source material. Directed by André Øvredal, the film is based on the horror short story collection of the same name by Alvin Schwartz. The adaptation had long been a passion project of Guillermo del Toro, who also served as producer and story co-writer on the final product. Although there were virtually no connections between any of the stories in the original collection, the film ties all of them into the same narrative without using an anthological format. Set in 1968, the film follows a group of teenage outcast friends in a small rural Pennsylvania town. Led by amateur horror author Stella Nicholls, played by Zoe Colletti, on Halloween night the gang discovers an old book in a supposedly haunted mansion. They soon realize that the book writes horrific short stories about people that they know, which then come to life almost immediately. With their peers getting picked off one by one and the adults not willing to believe them, the group race to figure out the origins of the book and how to stop it. I can’t say I ever read Alvin Schwarz’s anthology books growing up or had too much familiarity with them. I only really became interested in this adaptation when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was instrumental in production. Not to mention, it’s always exciting to see a film of the genre focus more heavily on practical effects and makeup over CGI nonsense. The marketing campaign really played this one up as a sort of Goosebumps for teenagers, which I have some fond memories of. It’s PG-13 rating was encouraging that it was going to have a wider appeal but still have something in store for older viewers. And while Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark definitely has some stumbles in the road, it’s still worth a look. On the whole, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with wanting to make a horror film that’s geared for a younger audience. It’s a fun and overall harmless way to get them into the genre without having to necessarily traumatize their childhood. And as an added bonus, parents will also likely get a kick out of it with its atmosphere and generally toned down scares. This also happens to be Scary Stories‘ biggest flaw in that it often relegates itself to numerous horror clichés. Screenwriters Dan and Kevin Hageman seem interested in exploring the lore behind the book at the center of the plot, but also include far more jump-scares than is probably necessary. But again, that’s kind of par for the course in getting new viewers into the genre, and mostly redeems that with some pretty unsettling imagery throughout. In a genre notorious for bad child performances, the troupe of young lead actors here proves to hold their own quite well. They’re led by newcomer Zoe Colletti, who shows that she’s a capable lead in a genre film even at her young age. Like many of del Toro’s other films, there’s an enormous amount of empathy for her status as an outsider, as she’s dealing with an internal trauma that’s never been resolved or even addressed before now. Michael Garza also puts in some decent work as Ramón Morales, the second-in-command for the main group of friends. Although he’s new to town and harbors some mystery, he immediately becomes worth caring about as he puts his full foot forward to protect his newfound friends. Austin Abrams is also worth noting as Tommy Milner, the high school jock and frequent bully to the main group. His performance and attitude are reminiscent of bullies in several Stephen King stories, and while he may go a little too far in some scenes, it’s perfect for getting audiences to despise him. Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, and Natalie Ganzhorn round out the primary group of child friends while Dean Norris, Lorraine Toussaint, and Gill Bellows play some of the adults practically oblivious to the horrors their children are facing. Each one contributes something to the package, even if some of their characters are stuck in typical horror film archetypes. From a technical point of view, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tries to distinguish itself from other films in the genre. Returning from their collaboration on The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the cinematography by Roman Osin has a sleek color palette throughout. The steady movements and angles make subtle callbacks to old-school Amblin features without dipping completely in nostalgia. Although much of the film takes place at night, it’s never too dark to tell what’s going on and keeps some of its best scares in the shadows. It makes excellent use of primary colors, particularly red, which at one point fills the screen as a character is faced with a terrifying monster. The editing job by Patrick Larsgaard, meanwhile, can be a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s mostly able to move between different shots and scenes fairly well, every now and then it feels like its waiting for the next jumpscare. There’s surprisingly a lot of room in some shots for the young actors to breathe and the camera usually cuts away to something vital to the plot. It works best when the stories themselves are being rad aloud while juxtaposing their actual coming to life. The biggest asset this film has going for it by far is its surprisingly heavy reliance on practical effects and makeup over CGI. This lends well to adding a sort of physicality and believability to the monsters the main children have to face. It also helps that the designs for these creatures, from Harold the scarecrow to the Jangly Man, are absolutely unsettling. It’s too rare in horror movies today, and it’s nice to see them in play here. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a fine and diverting entry-level horror film for burgeoning genre fans. Although it certainly leaves much to be desired, André Øvredal still manages to carve out the rare scary flick that can appeal to old and young audiences alike with surprising finesse. Ultimately, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s distinctive touch that makes this film work as well as it does.

“The Lighthouse” Movie Review

After watching this movie, I am never going to look at seagulls the same way ever again. Every time I see one on the beach or somewhere else, this film will be running in my head. Take from that what you will. This psychological horror film premiered under the Director’s Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Prize. Following more screenings at the Toronto, Austin, and Atlantic Film Festivals, it was released in select theaters by A24 on October 18th, 2019. Made for the budget of less than $4 million, it has gone on to gross over $9.3 million at the box office. As it continues to expand, it will most likely get bigger returns, despite middling positions at the weekend box office. Directed by Robert Eggers, the screenplay was co-written in collaboration with the filmmaker’s brother Max. Immense research was conducted in order to get the film as historically authentic as possible, including dialect, anatomical structures of certain creatures, and tools for the profession. Because of the extreme specificity of the script, the crew had to build a 70-foot tall lighthouse in Nova Scotia, and its surrounding structures, from scratch. It was also apparently such a grueling shoot for the star that he didn’t talk to anyone on set and repeatedly refrained from punching the director in the face. Set sometime in the late 19th century, Robert Pattinson stars as Ephraim Winslow, a quiet and heavy-drinking timberman. He is sailed to and landed on a remote island to help man a lighthouse for a period of four weeks. There, he falls under the apprenticeship of former sailor and current lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, who assigns Winslow a series of demanding tasks to keep the tower running. But as a massive storm rolls in, the duo begin to face their worst nightmares and question just how long they’ve been stuck on this rock. Although I failed to catch it in theaters, I was really impressed with Robert Egger’s feature debut The Witch. (Or The VVitch, whichever way you choose) There was so much specificity and originality to the whole movie that it sometimes felt like a real account of a New England story. The fact that it supplemented traditional jumpscares for pure dread and unsettling imagery also made it one of the more memorable horror films of the decade. When I heard that he was tackling another historical setting, particularly with the way it was gonna be presented, I couldn’t help but get excited. The trailers and early reviews gave me an idea of what kind of bizarre vision to expect from it, but I still wasn’t nearly prepared for it. The Lighthouse isn’t only a major step forward for Eggers, it’s also the best film I’ve seen this year and quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. If someone told me that this was a film from the 1940s or 1950s that was recently rediscovered out of a box and put into theaters, I wouldn’t question it. There’s so much class and so much power in every single frame that feels so original and new yet feels carried with the weight of a classical picture. Whether it’s the period accurate dialogue between the two protagonists or just the pure craft on-screen, there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t completely immersed in the setting and action. Much like his first outing, though, not everyone who sees The Lighthouse is going to feel the same way as I do; not even close. It’s much more psychological and abstract than one would anticipate and some of the imagery might just be too Goddamn weird for a lot of people to process. But if you sit patiently with it and keep an open mind, (And maybe read up a tad on sea and Greek mythology) it’s destined to stay with you long after the credits roll. I’ve been impressed with Robert Pattinson’s roles as of late, and this may just be his finest one I’ve seen yet. As Ephraim Winslow, he’s constantly drunk and out of tune, never quite aware of everything that’s happening around him or what implications they may have. He’s constantly stumbling over his own words and rarely makes any form of eye contact with Wake for the first half of the film, making it clear he wants nothing to do with the man or his career. As the film goes along and we learn more about his background, it’s riveting to watch him finally release all of the deeply repressed anxieties and rage he’d been holding since first arriving on the island. Opposite him for the entire runtime, Willem Dafoe is equally brilliant and memorable as Thomas Wake, a man with a presence and tone heavily reminiscent of Captain Ahab. Unlike Winslow, he relishes his stories of adventures out on the sea and always tries to share everything about him to his new keeper. There are a number of scenes where he goes on long, unbroken soliloquies about Neptune’s power and the sinister pull of the ocean, his voice perfectly reflecting a man with decades of experience. “I’m damn well wedded to this here light,” he says as he explains his unusual connection to the position. It’s really only these two actors for the entire 110 minute-long runtime and they couldn’t have been better picked. Their chemistry is dynamite, constantly evolving as the storm gets worse and worse outside. Even just purely looking at the technical aspects, The Lighthouse showcases Eggers as a master of the craft. Shot by Jarin Blaschke, the cinematography has a unique way of inviting viewers into its uncomfortable world. It was shot on black-and-white 35mm film and presented in the 1×1.19 “Academy” ratio, which helps to create a sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty with the environment. The camera is often very steady, choosing to either do static wideshots or close-ups that constantly track the movement of the characters. The stark visuals, combined with the harsh lighting and shadows, calls back to Germanic Expressionism, and there are even some shots that feel like a silent film. This matches perfectly with the editing job by Louise Ford, who manages to make a perfect sense of pacing. It’s never quite clear how much time passes between each scene, adding a Lovecraftian feeling of dread and doom. It also uses some smash cuts to heighten some of the dark comedy elements, such as moving from Winslow and Wake binge drinking to them shouting a sea shanty. Mark Koven does his second collaboration with Eggers to provide the instrumental film score, and it’s appropriately unsettling. It primarily consists of strings and low brass that flow in and out of tune with each track, which expertly matches the tone of the cinematography. In a way, it represents the headspace of the protagonists as they gradually lose their minds, especially as some deeply intensify. Some tracks even cut off abruptly to symbolize the mystery of it all, making it sound like literal Hell. The film also ends with a recording of the song “Doodle Let Me Go” by A. L. Lloyd playing over the credits. Considering all of the imagery and themes shown in the film prior, it seems like a perfect coda to the whole ordeal. The fact that it comes immediately after the frame is a harsh bookend to the story and maybe even will inspire viewers to sing along after leaving. With a wholly impeccable visual style, authentic costumes and sets, and a complete absence of fear for absurdity, The Lighthouse is a deeply immersive and bizarre psychological experience on the silver screen. With this film, Robert Eggers has only shown further proof why he’s one of the most exciting and unique voices in modern cinema. Anchored by incredible dual performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, it’s a truly captivating and unpredictable ride that puts us right into the setting without fault. Whether he actually goes through with his proposed Nosferatu remake or does another mind-bending period piece, I’m one hundred percent here for whatever Eggers makes. There is indeed an enchantment in the light, and it’s absolutely maddening and beautiful.

“Citizen Kane” Movie Review

Oh yeah, we’re going there now. As part of my New Year’s resolution, I’ve finally decided to takcle what is widely considered to be the best film ever made. This historical drama premiered at the Palace Theatre on May 1st, 1941, before being released in other theaters on September 5th of that year. Although it did well in larger city venues, because of outside industry pressure, numerous theaters and rural areas refused to screen it. As a result, it failed to recoup its $839,727 budget during its theatrical run and faded from public mindset despite good critical reviews. However, it was brought back to attention after it was praised by such people as Roger Ebert and André Bazin and ultimately got a re-evaluation in America starting in 1956. Since then, it has been held up as one of the greatest films of all time and has influenced countless filmmakers in the generations afterward. Directed by Orson Welles, the film was his first time working on a feature film after an extensive history with Broadway and the infamous radio show War of the Worlds. While he was only 25 at the time, RKO Pictures signed him to an unprecedented deal which gave him immense freedom, including final cut and using his own cast and crew. The screenplay is largely attributed to co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, but the true extent of Welles’ contribution to it has been fiercely disputed by many, including critic Pauline Kael. Although the true source has been debated, it’s universally believed that publisher William Randolph Hearst served as the inspiration for the title character, who consequentially did everything in his power to destroy or discredit the film. By now, you probably know the general story: Welles stars as Charles Foster Kane, a notorious newspaper business tycoon who has amassed one of the biggest fortunes in the world. At the very beginning of the film, he dies alone in his Xanadu mansion of old age, only uttering the cryptic word “Rosebud.” Soon after, newsreel journalist Jerry Thompson, played by William Alland, sets off on an investigation to figure out the word’s real meaning. As he interviews various people from Kane’s life and reads confidential files, we the audience get to see in flashbacks of the mogul’s rise to power and, ultimately, his loss of innocence. Last fall, Netflix’s finished cut of The Other Side of the Wind was the very first feature film by Orson Welles I had ever fully watched. His other works had always been on my radar, (Touch of Evil is still very high on my watchlist) but somehow his world-famous debut had always eluded me. Until now, that is. Whenever I sit down to watch a highly revered movie, I have a bit of reservation about its praise. And in this case, this is considered to be the best film ever, so I tried to distance myself from all of the hype to ensure I could watch it on my own terms. And I can personally attest that Citizen Kane is indeed worthy of all that acclaim that’s built up over the last 78 years. Before you immediately decide to write this film off as “overrated,” please just consider how it was made and how its reputation was built. It was plagued with production problems, dealt with a media mogul who went to extreme (And allegedly illegal) lengths to bury it before it even premiered, had Hollywood veterans skeptical of such a young man taking on an ambitious project, and still managed to completely change the game of cinema. Not just in terms of technical innovations but also how the storytelling challenged typical structure and plotting. By constantly moving back and forth in time, Citizen Kane becomes a tragedy as we witness a man completely indifferent to wealth become defined by it. The fact that it’s original title was The American is no accident, as the film seeks to indict the cost of power and fame at a time when unbridled capitalism was arguably at its peak. But no amount of witty quips or bad art he purchases can bring him any real sense of happiness or fulfillment. In his multihyphenate debut for a feature film, Orson Welles is nothing short of incredible as Charles Foster Kane. Although he starts out with a genuine desire to hold up freedom of the press, he gradually becomes more power hungry and surrounded by money he has no idea what to do with. When chided by his former mentor for his brand of newspaper journalism, he simply replies, “I have no idea how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher, I just try whatever I can think of.” He’s able to believably portray Kane’s downward spiral from early adulthood into an old man in his twilight years. Ruth Warrick and Dorothy Comingore are equally great as Kane’s first and second wife, respectively. It’s clear that Kane sees them both more as an object of his affection, and like everything else in his life, he seeks to control their actions. This comes into conflict with both of them, and their failed marriages with him add layers to his decline in humanity and empathy. William Alland is also great as Jerry Thompson, the newsreel reporter trying to find more truth on “Rosebud”‘s meaning. Although his face is never fully shown to the audience, his soft voice and constant movement about the frame make him an intriguing and memorable character. It’s clear that he’s deeply fascinated by the life og the mogul and how it affected those around him. Welles brings his Mercury Theatre troupe to the silver screen in various supporting roles and bit parts. These include Joseph Cotten as Kane’s longtime friend and business partner, Ray Collins as his shrewd political rival, Paul Stewart as Kane’s ambivalent butler, Agnes Moorehead as Kane’s well-meaning but financially strained mother, George Coulouris as and Everett Sloane as a kindly employee at The Inquirer. Although none had any prior cinematic experience, their professionalism and commitment is so apparent in every scene. And from a purely technical perspective, Citizen Kane has so many innovations that deserve their own whole essays. Greg Tolland’s cinematography is steady and controlled, capturing everything it needs to in the frame. Easily the biggest breakthrough is the deep focus technique, where everything in the foreground is as visible as what’s in the background. It allows many small things to be captured in gorgeous ways. The movement and placement of the camera is also key, as we get to see many great long takes and a scene where the crew literally cut a whole in the floor to get a shot. This perfectly matches up with Robert Wise’s editing job, which found new and interesting ways to move between scenes. Whether it was a slow dissolve over new audio or vice versa, each moment carried seamlessly into the next one. Not only that, it used whip pans and subtle cuts to advance the timeline, especially during a scene depicting Kane’s crumbling first marriage. And the collapsible set created to pan from a neon sign down through a rainy window into a restaurant is one of the best transitions in any film. Frequent Alfred Hitchcock muse Bernard Hermann composed and conducted the instrumental film score. It’s a unique and wide-ranging one, mirroring the life of its titular protagonist. Some tracks utilize low brass and strings to emphasize the melancholy of his greedy decline in humanity. Others, particularly during scenes of his younger years, are more exuberant and exciting with big percussion and winds. It perfectly reflects his initial optimism for The Inquirer down to his lonely final years and culminates in a big final piece. The orchestral swell as the last shots reveal the truth of everything hits its impact very well. There are only a handful of films in history that can comfortably say they had a major impact on the film industry. And it’s perfectly understandable if some viewers are hesitant to watch it because it’s put so high up on the proverbial pedestal. But that shouldn’t deter you because it’s actually much more entertaining and engaging that some people believe; within the first 10 minutes, you’ll be hooked until the very end. Citizen Kane is an extremely important cinematic landmark that’s worthy of its loft reputation. At the age of 25, Orson Welles completely disrupted the idea of how movies were and should be made. Its influence can be seen nearly everywhere after being released, just to give you an idea of its impact. It has inspired generations of aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles over the decades, including yours truly. Not bad for a film that was nearly destroyed by the very man who inspired the protagonist.

“Cinema Paradiso” Movie Review

No joke, I genuinely believe that this movie is compulsory viewing for anyone who claims to be a cinephile or aspiring filmmaker. Or at the very least, it can act as a great segue into understanding why it’s so important to many of us. This Italian romantic dramedy was released in theaters by Miramax on November 17th, 1988, before also screening at the Cannes Film Festival the following year. It managed to gross over $12.3 million at the U.S. box office alone, and become a huge hit in other territories. Garnering huge critical acclaim the world over, it went on to won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, among other accolades. Numerous filmmakers, such as Roberto Benigni and Gabriele Salvatores, have publicly credited the film with reviving the Italian film industry. Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, the film largely draws on his own childhood experiences. This goes as far as having most of the film shot in his rural Sicilian hometown, with many flashback sequences resembling an idealized version of his memories. Originally running 155 minutes long, after its poor commercial reception in Italy, the producers cut it down by over half an hour for better profits. One of the main actors spoke all his lines in his native French language, having another actor dub over his lines afterwards in Italian. Jacques Perrin stars as Salvatore Di Vita, an acclaimed Italian filmmaker living in Rome in the 1980’s. One night, he receives a phone call informing him that his mentor film projectionist Alfredo, played by Phillippe Noiret, has died. He returns to his hometown in Sicily for the funeral and becomes confronted with various memories and faces from his past. From there, we get to see flashbacks recounting his childhood self, played by Salvatore Cascio, as he begins a passionate love for film in post-World War II Italy. When people talk about films made by movie fans for movie fans, this is most definitely the one that springs to mind. Tornatore’s passionate love for the medium is clear in every frame of the film, with subtle or overt references to other works. Hell, I can personally attest that it has inspired me in several ways, and can definitely appeal to people new to foreign cinema. Even so, I wasn’t entirely sure if some, if any, of that initial magic would remain on this rewatch. Perhaps it might have been a case of a highly acclaimed or beloved picture that I liked mainly because of its enormous hype. Thankfully, Cinema Paradiso actually proves the opposite, turning out to be an improvement on repeat viewings. This film is really like a childhood blanket: warm, comforting, and filled with so many memories that it’s hard to let go. The director doesn’t just make a loving homage to cinema as a whole, but frames it as a way to project his relationships and family from childhood into adulthood. The escapism and power of the reel is an amazing foil to Salvatore’s hometown, which was in ruins following World War II and heavily censored by the people in charge at the time. At times, Cinema Paradiso does get in danger of letting nostalgia cloud the rest of what the film tries to say about maturity and letting go. It’s almost always at its best whenever Salvatore is clearly going through an emotional struggle to reconcile his dreams with his reality. But overall, it’s able to keep the course and get to one of the most beautiful final scenes in history. Salvatore Di Vita is played here in three separate stages of his life by Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, and Jacque Perrin, respectively. All three of them shine in different ways and bring new shades to the character as the timeline bounces back and forth. From an idealistic young child to a teenager with a head full of dreams to a famous yet jaded filmmaker, we get to see him evolve with cinema as his only true companion along the way. By his side as a child and teenager is Phillippe Noiret as Alfredo, one of the greatest mentors in the history of film. Initially reluctant to take Salvatore on as his protégé, his deep passion for movies and hidden compassion brings many great adventures between the two. More often than not, he is quoting a famous or obscure line from films, and frequently uses the medium to teach Salvatore lessons about life. These two central characters are flanked by a group of smaller but equally capable actors. Chief among them is Agnese Nano as Salvatore’s first (And really) only true love, Antonella Attili as his mother struggling to adjust to post-war life as a war widow, and Leopoldo Trieste as the strict priest who tries to censor the movie theater from what it can show. Each one plays an integral part in the lives of either Salvatore or Alfredo, and come in and out of play throughout the timeline. And from a technical standpoint, Cinema Paradiso plays lovingly with filmmaking conventions across the board. The cinematography by Blasco Giurato captures the filmmaker’s childhood hometown in Sicily with great authenticity and wonder. The swift push-ins and long-shots make it almost seem like something ripped right out of an old fable. The frame always stays fixated on the main subject and moves around when necessary. This plays into the idea that the film is told almost exclusively from the point-of-view of Salvatore. It is practically enhanced by the editing job by Mario Morra, who was nominated for a BAFTA for his work here. Scenes transition from one to another using classic film techniques such as the cross dissolve or slow fade out. It also cuts between different shots quite effectively with a nice variety sprinkled throughout. It also moves in and out of various establishments in the time between the different timelines, showing how much they’ve changed, if at all. The instrumental film score was composed and conducted by industry legend Ennio Morricone. It might just be his most underrated score to date, nearly on par in quality with his other, more famous work. It mostly uses strings, piano, and an oboe, and that simplicity helps cut straight to the emotion evident in the film. Several tracks blend into the same “Love Theme,” which perfectly represents the heart of the film. All of these elements culminate in one of the most memorable endings and montages in film history. Nicknamed the kissing montage, it’s a fantastic sequence as all of the themes and ideas of the film suddenly come rushing forward at once. It may be one of those moments that transcends the barrier of language and translation, as anyone watching it will understand its emotional impact. Cinema Paradiso is a heartwarming and inviting tribute to memory and the movie. Giuseppe Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical take on the story makes it feel all the more personal and intimate, as we really get to know this town and its characters. Stacked with a great cast and one of the best endings in film history, watching this film may as well be an informal version of film school. And I’m more than content with that observation.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Movie Review

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

“Rocketman” Movie Review

Any movie where the lead actor or actress is actually singing their part is already doing something right in my book. This musical biographical drama premiered out of competition at the 71st Cannes Film Festival to quite a rapturous response from those who attended. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on May 31st, 2019, to high anticipation. Made for the relatively small budget of $40 million, it has thus far grossed over $183.3 million at the box office. It’s R-rating should be no trouble for the film to turn a sizable profit in the long run- or to spur potential awards season consideration as well. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the central figure and his real-life husband and producer David Furnish had been trying to make a feature film out of his life since at least 2001. For the longest time, Tom Hardy was set for the lead role with Focus Features distributing, but clashes over its vision and rating made it languish for years in development hell. Unlike most films in the genre, the director and real-life protagonist insisted on making the film more of a fantasy musical than a straightforward cradle-to-grave biopic. This is also the first film from a major Hollywood studio to explicitly showcase a gay male sex scene, which has caused controversy in countries like Russia and Samoa. Beginning in 1950s England, Taron Egerton stars as Reginald Dwight, an unconfident yet talented piano player. Wanting to break out of his cold familial upbringing, he crosses paths with lyricist Bernie Taupin, played Jamie Bell, who’s looking for a musician to bring his songs to life. Although most other reviewers have done so, I’m not really interested in comparing this movie to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Although Dexter Fletcher was involved in both productions, (And apparently Rami Malek as Freddie almost had a cameo in this movie) they’re completely different in terms of style and personality. And for that reason, I’ve decided to just judge this film on its own terms. I actually didn’t really start loving Elton John and his music until high school and felt like an utter fool. I’ve come to love him both as an artist and a human being, and so I was curious to see how they would tell his story in a manner like this. And it works out near-flawlessly for Rocketman because it perfectly shows what Elton was going through during those years. What’s fascinating is how the structure of a fantasy musical allows the film to be as wild as it is while still being faithful to its central subject. Fletcher isn’t concerned so much with getting every minute detail of his personal life right as he is with capturing the spirit and tone of what he was going through at the time. One has to respect Elton John for allowing the filmmakers and lead actor such an amount of freedom to tell his story to such a wide audience the way they did. Then again, Rocketman‘s unorthodox approach to the genre might not float as well with everyone who sees it. Not to mention, the film really does earn its R-rating because it doesn’t shy away from the drugs, booze, or debauchery of Elton’s rock-and-roll lifestyle. But I definitely respect that Fletcher tried a very different method of telling the singer-songwriter’s life and career. Taron Egerton has been on the rise the last few years, and his performance here is absolutely the best I’ve seen from him so far. His transformation into Elton John is stunning, capturing all of the charisma, energy, and deep insecurities about his own talent. The fact that he also uses his own singing voice and does his own dances adds to the authenticity and may even score him a Best Actor nod in the coming months. Jamie Bell is also pretty remarkable as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s longtime musical partner and lyricist. Although he isn’t given a very deep characterization, the genuine care he shows to Elton is a welcome relief to all of the excess in his life. Richard Madden comes hot off of his excellent turn in the Netflix show Bodyguard as John Reid, the singer’s manager and brief lover. Portraying him with more layers and nuance than Bohemian Rhapsody‘s portrayal, he shows him off like a savvy and pragmatic businessman who puts the well-being of the singer second or even third. The supporting cast is rounded out by a number of impressive performers, some of whom standout more than others. These include Tate Donovan as a nightclub owner who gives Elton one of his first public performances, Bryce Dallas Howard as his unaffectionate mother, Stephen Graham and Charlie Rowe as music producers hesitant to publish the singer’s songs, Sharon D. Clarke as an empathetic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor, and Kit Connor as a young Elton John. Connor easily leaves the best impression of the bunch, as many of the supporting characters aren’t fully developed or interesting. And when it comes to the technical aspects, Rocketman is as dazzling and exciting as the central real-life figure. Cinematographer George Richmond, who’s worked 4 times with Fletcher in the past, uses an incredibly fluid and steady camera throughout the film. There are a number of long tracking shots, often through different time periods or in a fantastical sequence. It moves fast, but not too much for things to be incomprehensible for audiences. Various colors feel heightened in various sequences, such as blue and silver, adding to the dreamlike quality of the film. Chris Dickens’ editing job is also worth mentioning, as it blends different scenes together with near-effortless success. One particularly impressive bit is when the singer engages in a big orgy and multiple images layer on top of one another. It also blends the more fantastical elements in with reality rather seamlessly, and although it can be easy to spot which is which, it adds to the picture. This method is often used to create unique transitions from scene to scene, such as Elton falling into his pool with the intent to drown straight to a bedazzling concert. While there is an instrumental score composed by Matthew Margeson, it’s mostly forgettable. Instead, the film uses various songs by Elton and Taupin for various moments during his life, with the characters often breaking out into full-blown song and dance. Some sequences are highly choreographed or conceptual, others are more isolated and emotional. All of them are slightly different renditions of the singer’s catalogue, all of which use Taron Egerton’s singing voice. And the best part is that they are all appropriately chosen for the moment in the film and perfectly fit. My personal favorite is for “Crocodile Rock,” which adds a heavenly choir and a truly memorable sequence relatively early on. A close second would be the very last song “I’m Still Standing,” a great way to cap off a really unpredictable story. Rocketman has buckets of personality and catchy music anchored by an amazing central performance. By putting music and fantasy into a blender, Dexter Fletcher is able to add something new to a genre that’s becoming increasingly staid. Taron Egerton is definitely Oscar-worthy as Elton John and it’s gonna be a long, long time before another music biopic with this much energy touches down.