Category Archives: Independent

“Stuber” Movie Review

I’ve had a handful of memorable rideshare experiences, but I would probably die from a heart attack if half of everything in this movie happened to me. But I wouldn’t hesitate in the least to give my driver a massive tip for the memorability of it all. This action-comedy premiered as a rough cut at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival. The final complete version was later released in theaters by Disney under their new 20th Century Fox banner on July 12th, 2019. Made for the budget of around $16 million, it has grossed over $31.1 million at the box office and should be able to gross back more than its entire budget by the end of its theatrical run. In spite of this, the film has received mixed reviews from critics but general audiences have given it higher ratings. Directed by Michael Dowse, the script was originally written on spec by newcomer Tripper Clancy. Fox purchased the script in 2016 for around six figures and Game Night filmmaking duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein became attached as producers. Both of the male leads signed on to the project before a director was even announced, apparently enthused by the opportunity to work together. Because of the recent Disney-Fox merger, this is the first R-rated feature to be released by Disney since The Fifth Estate in 2013. Dave Bautista stars as Vic Manning, a grizzled, tough-as-nails LAPD detective hot on the trail of a ruthless drug lord named Tedjo who killed his partner. But because he recently underwent LAZIK surgery, he is unable to drive himself anywhere, so he gets set up with the app Uber. His driver is Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani, a wimpy store clerk who’s unable to confront anything or anyone. Vic strong-arms Stu into driving him all around L.A. as they track down any leads that connect to Tedjo. Even though they aren’t in the directing chair, I loved what Francis Daley and Goldstein brought to Game Night. It was a genuinely funny and thrilling film that revived my faith in the studio comedy and I wanted to see what the duo had in store next. A small-scale odd-couple comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista honestly sounded like a match made in heaven. Even if this movie didn’t turn out to be great, I still feel the need to support it in theaters for the genre’s survival. I guess part of me was also worried if it was gonna be watered down after its rough-cut screening at South By Southwest. And while Stuber is certainly not without its flaws, it’s definitely a fun and laugh-out-loud ride for the summer. Like it or not, the mid-budget studio movie is slowly dying and that’s a real damn shame because it still has a lot to offer. Just look at The Nice Guys for proof, one of my personal favorite movies from 2016 but its lackluster box office performance more or less killed hopes for a sequel. With Stuber, the filmmakers take the classic mismatched duo approach and use it as a platform to explore toxic masculinity in 2019. It shows a balanced portrait of how Stu is too insecure and unconfident to stand up for himself while Vic has backward ideas of what it means to be “a real man.” It’s in moments like these where the humor and heart shine best, but the film often slides into old-school action movie cliches. Granted, many of them were self-referential and exciting but it just doesn’t really hold up to what the main duo are exploring internally. After watching this movie, I firmly support Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista being on-screen together for the rest of time. The two could not be more mismatched, which only makes their interactions all the more hilarious; their differences and weaknesses bounce off of each other perfectly. You get to see glimpses of their undesirable personal lives, such as Vic’s neglecting his own daughter for police work and Stu working retail under a boss who’s constantly bullying him. Seeing them trying to handle crime scenes or suspects in drastically different manners makes them the perfect odd couple. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t quite measure up to the two, although they do a decent job. There’s Natalie Morales as Vic’s estranged daughter trying to become an artist, Betty Gilpin as Stu’s best friend and one-sided love interest, Mira Sorvino as Vic’s hardline police captain, Jimmy Tatro as Stu’s profane and mean-spirited retail boss, and Karen Gillan as Vic’s white-eyed partner early in the film. Easily the biggest crime this movie commits is that it totally wastes Iko Uwais as the druglord Tedjo. As a huge fan of his work in The Raid: Redemption and a handful of other films, his skills as both an actor and a martial artist are seriously underutilized. The problem isn’t that he’s playing the main villain, but he has few lines of dialogue and only a couple of scenes that showcase his fighting prowess. And on the technical side of things, Stuber shows a certain understated nature and distinction among the comedy genre. The cinematography by Bobby Shore creates a slightly gritty aesthetic to the story, which works in contrast to the bright daylight of L.A. Although a decent chunk of the movie is told in Stu’s car, whenever they get out and about, the camera always follows them. It often switches between using handheld sequences and more steady angles, depending on the scene. It uses unique lighting to highlight the absurdity of various scenes, such as a shootout inside a veterinarian center. Jonathan Schwartz’s editing job manages to keep tension and comedic timing mostly consistent throughout the film. During the aforementioned vet shootout, there are numerous cuts as well as certain shots that are put in slow-motion for comedic effect. It could work harder to make the pacing better, as some scenes either feel too lightfooted or drag on too long. But given that the movie already runs at 93 minutes, I suppose they’ll have to do. Joseph Trapanese provides the instrumental film score, which is surprisingly memorable for the genre. Much like Game Night, much of the soundtrack is made up of synthesizers and electronic drums, although many of the tracks are warmer in tone here. Often times, they are used to highlight the melancholy truth behind Vic and Stu’s personal lives, mixing with guitars and violins. Other times, it’s more tense and exciting, particularly during moments where the investigation starts to pick up more or the characters get into a scuffle. It also uses the song “Come Sail Away” by Styx in an amusing and funny way. After Stu gets ridiculed by Vic early on for being too soft in his music choices, it comes back late in the film for a final chase sequence. And the way it’s incorporated into the scene makes the editing seem almost synchronized to it, which juxtaposes the darkly comic way the scene is proceeding. Stuber is an uneven but fun modern spin on the buddy action movie. While the script does leave a lot to be desired, it’s ultimately the chemistry between Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani that makes this a breath of fresh air in the summer movie season. They, alone, make it worth watching for all of their bickering and misadventures. I genuinely wish there was much more interest from studios to make more understated fare like this to take a break from all the massive tentpoles that come out regularly. Because even though this film could’ve been a lot better, I definitely feel like it should be supported by the broader movie-going audience.

Image result for stuber movie poster

Advertisements

“Booksmart” Movie Review

On the one hand, I’m glad I’ve ended up where I am now because of my decisions in high school. On the other hand, this movie has made me think about what could have been if I had just let loose a little more. This coming-of-age comedy premiered at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, to extremely ecstatic responses. It was later released in theaters (And on Netflix in France) by Annapurna Pictures on May 24th, 2019, conveniently near the end of the academic year for many people around the world. Although it has managed to gross nearly 4 times its $6 million budget, many industry publications said it had performed below expectations. The targeted demographics reportedly showed up in droves but it reportedly didn’t quite breakthrough into the mainstream. This film marks the feature directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, who had previously cut her teeth with a short film and two music videos. The original script, dating back to 2009 and written by 4 different women, has gone through many different variations and alterations, being brought to its final version by Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman. While the production mostly stuck to the script, actors were encouraged to change any line of dialogue that they thought was inauthentic. In addition, the two main stars spent about 10 weeks as roommates in an L.A. apartment to build actual report with one another. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein star as Amy Antsler and Molly Davidson, best friends and the top two students of their senior class. On the last day of school, they revel in the fact that they’re headed off to Ivy League universities in the fall. But they soon realize that all of the classmates who partied hard and did stupid pranks, whom they have constantly reprimanded, have also gotten into good colleges. Desperate to prove that they’re not just a pair of goody-too-shoes, they set off on a quest to cram 4 years of partying and fun into one increasingly ludicrous night. I just barely missed the premiere for this film in my hometown, but I had heard nothing but excellent things all the way up to its release. As a fan of Olivia Wilde’s work, I was excited to see what she could do with her first feature behind the camera. Especially when so many people were calling it the female version of Superbad, which I’m a personal fan of. Ever since the first trailer dropped, I’ve been anxiously waiting for the opportunity to see it in theaters. I was really optimistic that a female perspective could provide a fresh spin on the genre like Lady Bird in 2017. That optimism has paid off because Booksmart is easily one of the funniest and most intelligent movies I’ve seen in a while. Having now seen it, I feel like comparing this film to a female version of Superbad is a bit reductive. Whereas as that movie was more about a group of immature boys trying to lose their virginity before the end of high school, this film is concerned about feeling like the characters missed out on so much. I personally relate to the protagonists because they realize that all of their judgements and sole commitment to academic success made them push away many of their peers. Booksmart‘s biggest strength is that it gives this thoughtful insight while still managing to be hilarious at every turn. There’s a brilliant balance between the real and the absurd, and various scenes use this perfectly, such as a drug trip-turned stop-motion sequence that made me suffocate with laughter. Scenes like that and many more are what make me excited for Wilde and Silberman’s recently announced cinematic team-up happening soon. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have been deserving of lead roles for a long while, and this movie finally gives them the chance. As Amy and Molly, they are perfectly in sync with each other for every line of dialogue and action taken, their differences being just as important as their similarities. It’s clear that they both have big hopes for the future but because they are so far apart they’re scared of fully committing to these dreams- or letting each other know the full scope of it. They are joined together by a whole fleet of great actors, both fully grown and in high school like them. On the adult side, Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams are memorable as the main duo’s perverted principal and friendly teacher, respectively. Both have great timing and have completely different but equally funny interactions with Amy and Molly, showing different foils and levels of comfortable they feel around them. And while their classmates are portrayed by an array of talented young actors including Diana Silvers, Noah Gavin, and Molly Gordon, it’s surprisingly Billie Lourd who steals the show. The late Carrie Fisher’s daughter hasn’t really impressed me in the past, but here, as the mysterious rich kid Gigi, she’s perfection. She constantly pops up nearly everywhere the girls go, which creates some truly side-splitting moments. It’s also clear that she’s on drugs for most of her appearance, which only makes her performance so much more elevated and hilarious. Aside from the acting ensemble, Booksmart‘s distinct technical aspects show Wilde’s amazing talent behind the camera. Jason McCormick’s cinematography is extremely smart and calculated, using various shots to highlight little quirks in the character. Whether it’s capturing high school achievements in a bedroom or a slow-motion car ride, many characters are painted with just a couple shots. It also uses precise camera movements to focus on whatever’s meant to be the source of a scene’s humor or drama. The editing by Jamie Gross and Brent White is equally meticulous, knowing exactly when to cut to a different shot and when to linger. There’s one particularly impactful long-take near the end of the film where it hovers between the two protagonists during an intense argument. In contrast, some scenes are comedically amplified by constantly intercutting between different places. The most obvious example is the aforementioned stop-motion sequence, which quietly and beautifully transitions between shots. But, undoubtedly, the crown jewel of the entire film is a pool scene in the third act. Set to Perfume Genius’ “Slip Away,” it shows Amy trying to branch out to impress her love interest. Shot almost entirely underwater, the lighting and clever editing shows her navigating uncharted territory. This is punctuated by the cathartic anthem of Perfume Genius, as all of Amy’s pre-existing worries and fears suddenly slip away. It will likely go down as one of the most memorable scenes of the year. A promising feature debut, Booksmart is a splendid combination of sharp writing and believable performances. I’m genuinely interested to see whatever Olivia Wilde has planned for the future behind the camera, as she couldn’t have picked better material for her first outing. Give it some time, and I’m convinced this will become as much of a modern genre classic like Lady Bird and Eighth Grade. And please, pretty please, make Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein co-leads for many more movies in the years to come.

Image result for booksmart movie poster

“Late Night” Movie Review

Okay, I’m not saying I’m anywhere near qualified enough to write jokes or monologues for a talk show host. BUT, if Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers ever offered me the opportunity to do so… I probably wouldn’t say no. This romantic-comedy premiered out of competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews. It was later picked up by Amazon Studios for a record of $13 million, the largest single purchase for U.S.-only distribution for any film at the festival. It has managed to gross over 4 times its $4 million budget at the box office so far, and can likely increase that thanks to strong word of mouth. In fact, I would dare say that this film has the potential to become one of Amazon’s most profitable movies, especially considering the fact they spent a large sum of money on advertisements alone. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, the screenplay by one of the lead actresses appeared on the 2016 Black List, comprising the best-unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The soon-to-be-defunct label Fox 2000 originally picked it up with Bridesmaids and A Simple Favor helmer Paul Feig onboard to direct it. Scheduling conflicts forced Feig to drop out and Ganatra, a veteran of various T.V. episodes like The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, stepped in. Emma Thompson stars as Katherine Newbury, host of her very own long-running late-night talk show and the first woman to ever have one. In the midst of declining ratings and accusations of a lack of diversity behind the scenes, she is told that this year will be her last by network executives. Desperate to save the show, she sets out to hire a woman onto her all-male, all-white writing staff and eventually comes into contact with Molly Patel, played by Mindy Kaling. Although Molly works in a chemical plant, it becomes clear that she and Katherine need each other more than they might be willing to admit. The weird thing about a movie like this is that, had it been made in the early to mid-2000’s, it would have been released by a major studio and made an absolute killing in its opening weekend alone. And nowadays, it practically has to premiere at Sundance or SXSW just to get any mainstream attention. That’s not to say that the rom-com genre is out of style but simply illustrating how much the industry has shifted in over a decade. The prospect of seeing Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling on-screen together was extremely exciting for me. I’ve been a fan of Kaling and her writing since The Office and Thompson is obviously a highly respected actress; seeing the two of them in a rom-com seemed almost too good to be true. And it turns out to be a match made in heaven because Late Night is so sweet and funny, it could have only been made with these two. Watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think of the 2010 comedy Morning Glory with Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford. The story of a young woman trying to break it into a television show run by and starring predominantly older men is very similar. But here, Late Night updates that thread for a more modern, biting look at misogyny in the entertainment industry. Throughout the film, we see the two main women and their obvious talents constantly doubted and tossed aside, even though they’re clearly intelligent. Yes, there are some parts that feel a bit like rom-com wish fulfillment, but that’s thankfully not the point of the film. I’ve been waiting for some time for a film that showcases Mindy Kaling’s talents behind and in front of the camera, and this movie is the perfect opportunity for that. She’s so hilarious and thoughtful as Molly and the fact that she wrote the screenplay makes all of her dialogue sound incredibly natural. She’s eager to prove herself in the workplace, telling a male colleague, “Just because I was lucky enough to get this job doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to lose it.” And Dame Emma Thompson is absolutely incredible in her scene-stealing turn as Katherine Newbury, who is deeply insecure about her own talents and the advice of others. I’m not used to seeing her in such an overtly comedic role and she totally relishes it, giving off fantastic comedic timing and chemistry with Kaling. Her reluctance to admit the failures of her show feel extremely real, and I’m fully supporting any talking of an Oscar nomination for her come next January. Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, and Paul Walter Hauser are also memorable as some of the members of the show’s writing staff. Their inherent obliviousness to the weight Molly’s opportunity provides some big laughs, and it’s quite clear that their own ideas are stale. Amy Ryan, John Lithgow, Ike Barinholtz, Denis O’Hare, and an unexpected cameo from Seth Meyers round out the rest of the supporting cast. Most of them have a moment or two to deliver some funny lines and help develop the story more. And while it may not be the most stylistically distinct comedy of the year, the technical aspects of Late Night still deserve a mention. The cinematography by Matthew Clark is sometimes inspired but mostly just fine, opting for more static placements in the corner of a room than fancy movement. It can get pretty clever with its depiction of a claustrophobic work environment by making the camera get close to the characters and show their cluttered workspace. This goes well with the editing job by Eleanor Infante, who always knows how to cut and pause for certain jokes. There are a handful of times when the camera cuts from one thing to another to highlight the irony of a certain situation. Other times, it remains focused on a person’s face or actions to drag out the silliness of whatever they’re saying or thinking. One of the best examples is when it cuts to Molly’s impromptu comedy at a chemical planet when being interviewed for the job. With palpable chemistry and relevant social commentary in between the gut-busting laughs, Late Night combines two unapologetically funny leads for a hilarious if predictable romp. Nisha Ganatra and Mindy Kaling both show so much promise for careers behind the camera because of the deep care for their characters. And of course, Emma Thompson gives the rare comedy performance that’s indeed Oscar-worthy and plays Katherine like the part was written specifically for her. I could see this becoming a modern classic in the rom-com genre, if everyone is willing to give it a chance either in theaters now or later on Amazon Prime.

Image result for late night movie poster

“Pulp Fiction” Movie Review

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

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” Movie Review

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

“Long Shot” Movie Review

In all seriousness, if Charlize Theron were running for the presidency, I would go out and vote for her, no questions asked. This politically charged romantic dramedy premiered at the 2019 South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It was then released in theaters worldwide by Lionsgate on May 3rd, 2019, riding a wave of incredibly positive buzz and word-of-mouth from the festival. It has thus far grossed roughly $44.5 million at the box office against a middling budget of $30 million. Not bad for a mid-budget studio rom-com coming out the week after the biggest movie event of the year. Directed by Jonathan Levine, the film had originally been pegged for an early February release, before extremely encouraging test screenings convinced the studio to move it into a summer tentpole position. The script was originally penned by Dan Sterling under the original title Flarsky, before being overhauled and rewritten by Liz Hannah. Hannah, who broke onto the scene in 2017 with Steven Spielberg’s The Post, had her first Hollywood job working for the main actress’ production company, who was only initially onboard as a producer. Seth Rogen stars as Fred Flarsky, a vulgar and left-leaning journalist from New York City. He quits his newspaper in a rage after it gets bought up by a massive news conglomerate whom he despises, only to run into and reassociate with his former babysitter Charlotte Field, played by Charlize Theron. Field, currently serving as the U.S. Secretary of State, is gearing up to campaign for the office of the President of the United States after learning that the incumbent President is not running for reelection. Impressed by Flarsky’s writing, she hires him as a speechwriter to help add flare and personality- only to grow closer to each other along the way. Now, I was a big fan of Levine’s 2011 underrated rom-com 50/50, starring Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It totally subverted my expectations and turned out to be a really charming and genuinely touching buddy movie, which was apparently semi-autobiographical for its star. In fact, Rogen’s movies of late have a consistent streak of surprising me with their quality and empathy, such as last year’s hilarious and progressive Blockers. Which is why, despite the absurdity of the premise, I had good hopes for the actor and director’s third collaboration together. Especially with an incredible co-lead like Charlize Theron, who has slowly proven herself to be quite a funny woman. And I can safely say that Long Shot met my expectations and is an extremely likable if somewhat uneven rom-com. I think what I love most about it is that despite some of the obvious parallels to our current world, it doesn’t really have any interest in making a serious commentary on it. For the most part, it steers clear of the nastiness in politics and modern journalism because both Flarsky and Charlotte are the main focus. Levine does acknowledge the inherent absurdity behind the premise to hilarious results, but that doesn’t mean he skimps out on the pressures Charlotte faces as a woman running for office. There are definitely some pacing issues throughout Long Shot, and in particular, one scene that has an awkwardly placed commentary on centrism. When compared with the rest of the film, it just felt kind of out of place and like a forced attempt to make a real commentary. But for the most part, the movie is able to skirt around this and stay focused on the fantasy-like romance at the center. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve grown more impressed with Seth Rogen as his career’s gone on. As Fred Flarsky, he’s just as vulgar and raunchy as he’s ever been, but there’s a certain tenderness to his character I wasn’t expecting. His fierce commitment to his views and moral compass put him into some tricky situations. Opposite him, Charlize Theron is genuinely hilarious and compelling as Charlotte Field. While she maintains an idealistic worldview, she constantly has to deal with misogyny both on the homefront and abroad. Her timing is absolutely impeccable and proves that she deserves more comedicroles in the future.  The chemistry the two share together is refreshing and believable, making this otherwise extremely unlikely couple easy to root for. Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. also shouldn’t be overlooked as Fred’s loud-mouthed best friend Lance. He has enough flair and personality to step out of the typical archetype to provide some genuinely funny lines with killer delivery. The two of them are flanked by a cast full of capable actors in key supporting roles. There’s Bob Odenkirk as a T.V. actor-turned bumbling President of the United States, Andy Serkis in full makeup as a Rupert Murdoch-esque media mogul with his own agenda, Alexander Skarsgård as the overtly flirtatious Prime Minister of Canada, Ravi Patel and June Diane Raphael as Field’s key campaign staffers, and amusing cameos from Boyz II Men and Lil Yachty as themselves. Nearly all of them have at least one moment of hilarity or insight during the 2-hour and 5-minute runtime. And although the technical aspects of Long Shot aren’t particularly impressive, they are still worth mentioning. Shot by Jean-Marc Vallée’s regular cinematographer Yves Bélanger, the film is shot in his typical handheld, cinéma vérité style, which makes it feel more fly-on-the-wall than your usual rom-com. Especially good-looking is a night-time party sequence in Paris when Charlotte finally decides to let loose a little and have some fun. It also seems to highlight the colors of Flarsky’s clothes, specifically his unusual jacket. Meanwhile, the colors of Charlotte’s personal world, by comparison, and staff are mostly beige and drab. The film is edited together by Melissa Bretherton and Evan Henke, who are able to cut together and structure the film from scene to scene competently. There’s a montage about halfway through the picture of Charlotte and her team making their way across the world as she runs on a controversial platform. It can also be affecting whenever the film cuts from her lavish meetings with world leaders and wealthy influencers to Fred’s quiet space with some other workers. Using a classic formula and giving an appropriately modern update, Long Shot is a hilarious yet predictable romp that somehow finds romance in politics. Although it’s far from perfect or even the best romantic-comedy of the year, Jonathan Levine still deserves credit for being able to find something fresh. This is by far the most entertaining thing to take place within the sphere of American politics this year- which is, admittedly, a very low bar to clear.

“Boogie Nights” Movie Review

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