Category Archives: Independent

“The Last Thing He Wanted” Movie Review

It’s hard to think of another film in recent history that burns all of its promise so quickly within a span of two hours.

This political thriller premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to an extremely tepid response. It was later released in extremely limited theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on February 21st of the same year. Despite being touted as one of the streamer’s prestige titles for the year, it arrived on the platform with little to no fanfare, likely because of its debut at Sundance. Since its release, it has received some of the worst reviews of any film in the new year, which many expressed disappointment over.

Directed by Dee Rees, the film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Joan Didion, one of her only works of fiction. The project was announced almost immediately after the success of her previous film Mudbound and was co-written with first-time writer Marco Villalobos. Although it was originally believed to have been ready in time to make the fall festival circuit in 2019, the excessive editing schedule forced Netflix to push it back to early this year.

Set in 1984, Anne Hathaway stars as Elena McMahon, a hardline journalist working for The Washington Post. She’s following a vast conspiracy where the Reagan administration is allegedly supplying weapons to fighters in Central America. While she covers the presidential race, her estranged father Richard, played by Willem Dafoe, gets on-set dementia. From there, Elena unintentionally inherits his position as a gun-runner for the U.S. government and becomes a pawn in the very story she was trying to break.

I absolutely adored Rees’ previous feature Mudbound, the first “Original” film from Netflix that I truly loved. It was a complex, richly satisfying drama about racial tensions in America that refused to give any easy answers to the questions it raised. From Rachel Morrison’s incredible cinematography to an Oscar-worthy performance from an unrecognizable Mary J. Blige, it showed that she was a talent to keep an eye on.

Hearing news that her next project would be a politically-charged thriller sounded like an unexpected but unique step forward. With a stacked cast of recognizable names and some sadly relevant subject matter, it seemed like the film would be a way for her to further realize her potential as a filmmaker. Unfortunately, and it pains me to say this, The Last Thing He Wanted is just as bad as people say it is and quite possibly Netflix’s worst film to date.

At first glance, it can be somewhat easy to tell why Dee Rees signed on to write and direct this film. The story attempts to tackle issues left over from the wreckage of the Reagan Era, specifically with American interventionism in foreign affairs and instigating illegal conflicts for both sides. But pretty soon, she loses a grip on the story as it becomes increasingly and needlessly confusing with all sorts of story threads that never come together. I don’t know if that’s the fault of her, her co-writer Marco Villalobos, or author Joan Didion for making the story like this in the first place.

Moreover, The Last Thing He Wanted feels like it was directed by two completely different people, as if Rees just gave up and someone else finished the job. It never finds a clear stance on what exactly it wants to say for its subject matter or how it wants to treat the Latin American characters. And it definitely doesn’t help to clear things up whenever shadowy American bureaucrats show up in every other scene in a feeble attempt to contextualize just what the hell’s going on.

Anne Hathaway is unquestionably a great actress, but here she just feels severely miscast in the lead role. Elena is tough as nails and extremely determined to get to the bottom of the truth but is clearly way in over her head and doesn’t have the faintest idea of who the real powers and players are. Hathaway is mostly believable with this character in the first half but soon loses sight of what angle to play at and feel more like a caricature than a fleshed-out human being.

By her side during most of her adventures is Rosie Perez as Alma Guerrero, Elena’s trusty and loyal photographer friend. Perhaps the only actor in the film who manages to rise to the occasion, she is far and away the only Latina character here with any sort of depth or layers. She seems to have a clear understanding of how grossly corrupt the system in this world is but still tries to look for an optimistic chance to do the right thing.

Hell, even the usually reliable Willem Dafoe feels lost and out of place in this movie. As Richard McMahon, Elena’s long-estranged father, he spends the majority of his screen time drunk out of his mind and confused about his life. There is an element of tragedy somewhere as his mind slowly withers away and regrets the only things he can remember with his daughter, but there’s so little context between the two of them that it’s hard to grasp on.

Ben Affleck, Edi Gathegi, Mel Rodriguez, Toby Jones, Carlos Leal, and Julian Gamble round out the supporting cast. Sadly, none of them are really able to elevate the material when needed or give their characters much life. Affleck’s character is by far given the most screen time, but even then there isn’t much character development or intrigue for his part; if anything, he makes the situation even more confusing.

And even from a technical standpoint, The Last Thing He Wanted shows Dee Rees struggling to find a complete and unique voice here. Shot by Bobby Bukowski, the cinematography has a certain grainy quality to reflect its period setting and uncertainty of the storyline. It’s often done on tripods or mounts to create an illusion of control that the characters seem to think they have. There are a handful of close-ups or push-ins throughout where it tries to represent the characters’ headspace. It also occasionally uses the split-screen technique when Elena is on the phone with someone, which happens quite often in the film.

But the editing job by Mako Kamitsuna is so choppy and poor that it completely breaks any tension or intrigue in the film. It almost feels like the film is missing half of its scenes because the film frequently reuses footage from earlier moments. This is meant to give extra context or explanation for what’s going on, but it only adds further to the confusion and messiness of the plot. And the in-continuity segments are strung together in such a dull and unappealing manner that it feels like they’re trying to hide how incomplete the whole thing feels.

When it’s all said and done, The Last Thing He Wanted is an utter trainwreck of a thriller that wastes its timely potential. Despite her best efforts, Dee Rees is unable to wrangle this Joan Didion book into a cohesive feature film. Its fascinating premise and subject matter aside, this is a woefully miscast and highly miscalculated film that barely finds a moment of genuine intrigue or entertainment.

I know that with the whole world in full lock-down mode right now, it’s tempting to watch any sort of content that Netflix has to offer. But pushing through this slog of a movie when there are hundreds of other, far better options to choose from is literally the last thing any of us want.

Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Rosie Perez, and Anne Hathaway in The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

 

“The Gentlemen” Movie Review

If this movie were any more British, you would need subtitles just to figure out what all of the characters were saying.

This crime black comedy was released in the UK on January 1st, 2020, after a surprise premiere in mid-December of 2019. It was later released to theaters in the rest of the world by STX Entertainment on January 24th. Made for the budget of $22 million, it has thus far grossed over $110.1 million at the worldwide box office. This ranks it among the young distributor’s biggest financial successes to date, in addition to some fairly positive responses from critics and audiences.

Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, the film marks a return to form for him after a string of so-so blockbusters. It was originally unveiled at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival under the title Toff Guys and then Bush, with Miramax essentially bankrolling it. There seemed to be have been so hot demand for it as distributor STX Entertainment reportedly acquired the rights from Miramax for $7 million. It was promised to be more tonally in line with the director’s earlier crime films such as Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearson, an American ex-pat living in London. Over the course of several years, he has built a highly profitable and powerful marijuana empire that even includes Royals in the mix. Now looking to retire peacefully with his wife Rosalind, played by Michelle Dockery, he approaches an Oklahoma billionaire with a proposition to buy out his business for $400 million. When word of the potential deal reaches the streets, all sorts of criminals and characters come for the throne in a series of blackmail, murder, and double-crossing.

I’ve been on-and-off about Guy Ritchie’s movies for a while now. He definitely has a distinct style that separates him from other filmmakers, but it’s not always suited to films like the live-action Aladdin or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The type of fast-paced, immensely quirky works really well when he finds a story that suits that rhythm, which is why I’m a big fan of Snatch and his adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.

When I heard that he would be making a smaller-scaled, mid-budget caper, I became excited about what he could do. It’s always interesting when filmmakers try to return to their basic roots, and I was curious if his vision of unapologetically British criminals would translate well into the 21st century. And while it’s far from perfect, The Gentlemen is still fun and shows that Ritchie’s still got a lot of creative juice left in him.

It’s very clear from the opening sequence that Guy Ritchie is much more comfortable here than in the confines of major blockbusters. Credit where it’s due, he manages to successfully make the film have a modern setting and feel to it without feeling like an old man disgruntled over the new generation. It’s interesting to see how widespread the drug business is in this world, with even the press and Royal family members involved in some form or another.

However, it needs to be said that The Gentlemen can also come off as offensive to some viewers, as the characters frequently say casually racist or anti-Semitic things. I suppose it’s a way to make this world feel more natural and lived-in, but it becomes a little distracting when someone makes a huge point of the character’s ethnicity and it’s not in a positive light. It hardly takes over the whole film and eventually dissipates, but it is still worth mentioning and definitely takes me out of the movie a little.

Matthew McConaughey has made a lot interesting acting choices in recent years with varying degrees of success, but this might be one of his better ones. As Mickey Pearson, he’s his usual rugged and charismatic self, always assured of his dominance in the game. He manages to be quite ruthless and efficient as a crime lord, but prefers to settle all of his disputes with as little bloodshed as possible, having a soft spot for his wife and soldiers under his command.

By his side for much of the film is Charlie Hunnam as Raymond Smith, Mickey’s highly resourceful right-hand man. He’s extremely straightforward when it comes down to business, always having an ally or unseen source waiting in the wings for him. Despite this, he’s insecure about getting his own hands dirty and trys to avoid hurting anyone severely for whatever their istakes may be.

Hugh Grant continues his hot streak from Paddington 2 with his role as Fletcher, an unethical reporter and private investigator. He starts the whole film by breaking down everything he’s gathered so far, however inaccurate it may seem, often going on long unrelated tangents. His deadpan delivery of several lines helps amplify the dark humor of the film and he even adds his own mannerisms that make his character seem even more slimy and amoral.

Ritchie also gets ample performances out of his extensive supporting cast. This includes Colin Farrell as the wise coach of a group of underserved MMA fighters, Henry Golding as an arrogant underboss for a larger crime syndicate, Michelle Dockery as Pearson’s business-savy wife, Jeremy Strong as the peculiar billionaire Pearson tries to sell his empire to, Eddie Marsan as a loud-mouthed tabloid editor, and Eliot Sumner as a young heiress affected by the drug world.

And just looking at the technical aspects, The Gentlemen sees Guy Ritchie’s highly energetic style come to life once again. The cinematography by Alan Stewart balances conventional techniques with unique camera movements. This include sudden dollys and zooms on characters whenever something unorthodox is happening or being explained. The frame creates enough space between subjects to maintain a certain level of tension, such as when an unseen assailant walks up behind someone.

This matches up with the editing job by James Herbert, who works to align with the director’s unique vision. Multiple scenes have constant cuts between shots to illustrate the frenetic speed of the drug business, such as Mickey explaining his operations to a customer. Other times, it uses freezes frames for comedic effect or creates on-screen texts to explain local lingo. It can be a little distracting from what’s happening with the characters, but it definitely grabs your attention.

The Gentlemen is a scrappy yet somewhat problematic return to form for the director. Guy Ritchie, despite making some questionable choices with the story and characters, shows he’s still got a lot of juice left in him after dabbling in Hollywood blockbuster for the last decade. He’s also able to get some pretty fun performances out a well-organized cast that looks hungry for great lines and moments.

Final 2020 Oscar Predictions

It’s that time of year again, folks. The 92nd Academy Awards are nigh upon us, and much sooner than usually expected. Unlike last year, the lead up to the ceremony itself has been relatively quiet, save for the occasionally befuddling snub or surprise. And just like the last two years, I have managed to watch the majority of the big nominees and contenders and have decided to put down my own predictions for who I think will or should win. In addition, I’ll be including films or artists who I felt should have been recognized but were ultimately left out of the bunch.

And no matter what you think of the nominees or the ones that were snubbed, we’ll all find out the results when the ceremony airs on ABC this Sunday, February 9th.

Best Picture

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Parasite

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Director

Will Win: Sam Mendes for 1917

Could Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Greta Gerwig for Little Women

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Could Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Win: Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Renée Zellweger in Judy

Could Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Win: Scarlett Johannsson in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Awkwafina from The Farewell, Lupita Nyong’o from Us

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: Joe Pesci in The Irishman

Should Win: Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Have Been Nominated: Song Kang-ho in Parasite

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Could Win: Florence Pugh in Little Women

Should Win: Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Parasite

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Knives Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Booksmart

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Just Mercy

 

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Toy Story 4

Could Win: Klaus

Should Win: I Lost My Body

Should Have Been Nominated: Weathering With You

 

Best International Feature Film

Will Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Could Win: Pain and Glory (Spain)

Should Win: Parasite (South Korea)

Should Have Been Nominated: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: American Factory

Could Win: For Sama

Should Win: For Sama

Should Have Been Nominated: Apollo 11

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)

Could Win: Life Overtakes Me

Should Win: In the Absence

Should Have Been Nominated: Birders

 

Best Live-Action Short

Will Win: Brotherhood

Could Win: The Neighbor’s Window

Should Win: Brotherhood

Should Have Been Nominated: Anima

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Hair Love

Could Win: Kitbull

Should Win: Hair Love

Should Have Been Nominated: Best Friend

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Could Win: 1917 by Thomas Newman

Should Win: Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Should Have Been Nominated: Us by Michael Abels

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Could Win: “Stand Up” from Harriet

Should Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II

Should Have Been Nominated: “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” from Wild Rose

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: The Irishman

Should Have Been Nominated: Ad Astra

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: A Hidden Life

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Little Women

Could Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Should Win: Little Women

Should Have Been Nominated: Dolemite Is My Name

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Bombshell

Could Win: Judy

Should Win: Joker

Should Have Been Nominated: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

 

Best Production Design

Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Could Win: 1917

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lighthouse

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: The Irishman

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Parasite

Should Have Been Nominated: Rocketman

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: Ford v Ferrari

Should Win: 1917

Should Have Been Nominated: Alita: Battle Angel

 

Do you have any thoughts or predictions of your own? Which films do you think will, could, or should take home the prize in each category? What are some that you felt were snubbed by the Oscars? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a Comment below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my blog for more movie-heavy stuff.

“Marriage Story” Movie Review

I was lucky enough to grow up my whole adolescence with both parents in my life and happily married. I can only imagine what it was like for children of divorce to experience this film.

This divorce dramedy originally premiered in competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. Following an extremely lengthy run on the festival circuit, it began a month-long theatrical engagement in specialty theaters around the world on November 6th, 2019, where it grossed over $2.3 million against an $18 million production budget. It then landed on the streaming service Netflix on December 6th to high anticipation from various cinephiles. It currently stands as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year and has been selected or nominated for many year-end accolades.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the idea originally came to him while in post-production on his previous film, The Meyerowitz Stories. The story was partially inspired by his tumultuous real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who apparently responded very positively to the finished product. He discussed the concepts and characters with the two main leads long before anything was written down in order to better develop their respective characters. And as a testament to the film’s unbiased nature, Leigh apparently really liked the film after watching it.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and Charlie Barber, an acclaimed stress and theater director based in New York. At the beginning of the film, they decide to get a divorce and Nicole moves to L.A. to film a T.V. series. While they initially agree to split as amicably as possible, they hire divorce lawyers Nora Fanshaw and Bert Spitz, played by Laura Dern and Alan Alda, respectively. From there, it turns into a harsh, coast-to-coast battle not just for custody of their young son Henry but also for their own personal agency.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve managed to watch a handful of Baumbach’s features across different platforms. The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) really show that he has a style of realism uncommon in many movies. He has also proven to bring out earnest, understated performances from some big name actors in the industry and bring them down to a naturalistic level.

When I heard about the plans he had for his newest film, and the second one under Netflix, I got ecstatic with the cast he was working with. And the news that it would be the streaming service’s second big awards contender, the other one being The Irishman, made me realizes that it would be taken seriously rather than just another film of theirs to add to the queue. And that’s just the case because Marriage Story is a heartbreakingly beautiful film that’s so emotionally rewarding.

If you go into this film expecting to root for one side or the other, then you’d be missing the point of the film. The most admirable quality here is that it always stays neutral, never really showing who was right or wrong, but instead highlighting the emotional and legal fallout from a failed marriage. Part of what makes Marriage Story feel so realistic isn’t just the fantastic dialogue but also how it showcases the two protagonists trying to keep it all under a smiley façade for their confused child.

Nicole and Charlie are actually very reasonable and polite with one another when meeting in-person, only turning sides whenever their ferocious lawyers are in the same room. They only really argue with each other once during the entire film, and it’s really hard to watch as they let long-repressed feelings finally loose. By embracing the messiness and lack of easy answers in the situation, it feels like a real self-reckoning for Baumbach and can even seem theraputic.

Adam Driver has always been one of the best actors around and here, he finally steps away from big blockbusters to deliver his best performance to date. As Charlie, he’s deeply fixated on trying to stay in New York and repeatedly (And unsuccessfully) tries to get Nicole and their son to come with him. His hard upbringing has a clear effect on his emotions, as he has no true concept of expressing his feelings toward anyone in a healthy or friendly way.

Opposite him from a different coast, Scarlett Johansson gets a chance to shine in an incredible role as Nicole. She wants a chance to break out into her own stardom after working under Charlie for years, even if that means breaking his heart and ego. The toll this divorce takes on her is immense, compartmentalizing and drinking her feelings away until it all comes flooding out in several instances.

If these two actors didn’t work well together, the whole movie would have fallen apart. But they have incredibly convincing chemistry and their interactions feel so believable that it’s almost like watching a real marriage fall apart before our eyes.

Laura Dern is also worth mentioning here as Nora Fanshaw, Nicole’s calculating and world-weary divorce lawyer. Her charisma is absolutely scene-stealing as she glides through all of the state and county laws to try and get Nicole on top in the settlement. Although she does seem to care about the well-being of her client, her ruthless tactics and meticulous planning only strains the process even more, even if she can’t quite realize it.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, is full of stars and character actors giving great performances. This includes Alan Alda and Ray Liotta as two polar opposite lawyers Charlie hires, Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s wayward but supportive mother, Merritt Wever as her experienced sister, Azhy Robertson as their confused yet hopeful son Henry, and Wallace Shawn in a brief role as a member of Charlie’s theater company. All of them work wonders in the simple yet emotionally complex story.

And from technical standpoint, Marriage Story isn’t especially showy but still manages to keep your attention. Shot on 35mm film, the cinematography by Robbie Ryan is straightforward and unpretentious. The simplistic shots and compositions give a lot of room for the actors to breathe on-screen, especially given the hefty amount of dialogue. A handful of panning movements and slow zooms throughout help to keep the action in perspective and get inside the mindset of the characters.

It works really well with Jennifer Lame’s editing job, which finds a great rhythm for the story to follow. The film opens with two back-to-back montages of the ups and downs in their marriage as Charlie and Nicole describe everything they love about each other. It’s a perfect way to establish the two and their differing opinions on their time together over the years. Numerous scenes use dissolves or fade-in/fade-out techniques to transition between one another, which gives it a classical feel.

Randy Newman takes a break from Pixar to deliver the instrumental film score here. It’s just as smooth and jazz-influenced as many of his other works, using a lot of soft percussion and double reeds. It gracefully captures the melancholy tone of a failing marriage without verring off into sappy territory. The score uses two different motifs for Charlie and Nicole and frequently repeats them whenever their scenes come back into play on-screen. It sounds almost like a more mature version of Toy Story, and I consider that to be a great thing.

Anchored by some of the best acting this past decade and never getting bogged down in pretension or self-importance, Marriage Story is a devastatingly honest and believable examination of the breakdown of a relationship. Pulling from his own past without taking any sides, Noah Baumbach has delivered arguably his best film yet and one I’m sure will speak to many viewers’ own experiences. Driver and Johansson are obviously amazing in their roles, but the excellent dialogue and realistic interactions help to drive this film all the way home.

“Uncut Gems” Movie Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for uncut gems poster

“Parasite” Movie Review

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

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“Dolemite Is My Name” Movie Review

There’s something really inspiring about watching a bunch of goofballs genuinely trying to make something just for the fun of it. This biographical comedy-drama initially premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. After a brief theatrical run that last for 3 weeks, it landed on the streaming service Netflix on October 25th, 2019. It has thus far amassed some of the best reviews for a film this year so far, not to mention for Netflix films. Directed by Craig Brewer, the film had long been a major passion project for its star and producer. He had met with screenwriting duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski as far back as 2003 and despite getting extensive details from the real-life subject himself, early versions never made it past the initial stage. It never really saw the light of day again until 2018, when Black Snake Moan and Hustle and Flow director Brewer signed on and found life once more. It’s the star’s first R-rated movie in 20 years, and even features a heartfelt tribute to his late older brother Charlie. Based on the true story, Eddie Murphy stars as Rudy Ray Moore, an African-American artist struggling to make ends’ meet. After scraping by as a local amateur singer and shake dancer, he comes up with the character of Dolemite, a vulgar pimp with rhymes and punchlines for days. When his comedy records featuring the character become successful, he becomes inspired to put Dolemite on the big screen in a film made and funded entirely by himself and his friends. Recruiting talent including respected actor D’Urville Martin as director, played by Wesley Snipes, Rudy and his crew set out to make what would become a defining film for the Blaxploitation genre. It’s been a good while since I was actually excited to see a film starring Eddie Murphy in the lead. The trailer made it seem like a role he had been dying to play for the longest time and hearing raves about it out of TIFF was even more encouraging. Seeing the massive talent he had managed to line up here also certainly didn’t hurt its chances with me. I’m also always a big sucker for movies that have to do with the business of filmmaking in some capacity. The fact that it’s based on a real person and the guerilla-like efforts they made to get their movie off the ground makes it even more fascinating. And thankfully, Dolemite Is My Name isn’t only a brilliant return for Eddie Murphy as an actor but the rest of the film itself is full of great actors and craft. From the very first frame until the last, it’s clear that this is a passion project for Murphy and all others involved. Although I’m not personally familiar with the movie Dolemite or the Blaxploitation genre as a whole, it’s hard not to appreciate the respect and reverence shown towards Rudy Ray Moore. He’s just a guy who wants to make art and share it with the world no matter what, and always wants to include as many people as possible in the experience. It also helps that Dolemite Is My Name is very funny, and not just from all the raunchiness of Rudy’s character. Seeing the whole crew trying to figure out how to make a movie as they go along is highly amusing because it’s clear they don’t know what they’re doing. That sort of naïve charm, much like Alexander and Karaszewski’s work Ed Wood, is perhaps the biggest emotional throughline of the whole picture. There’s been talk recently of Eddie Murphy making a comeback starting with this film; that rings true as we watch one of his best performances ever. As Rudy, he brings an infectiousness that’s hard to deny as he tries to make his way through the entertainment industry in any way possible. Murphy’s classic nonstop energy and boisterous personality are easily seen in the scenes where he acts out as Dolemite on stage or on-screen. But he also surprises with more quiet, reserved moments where he discusses his insecurities with his entourage of supporters. Wesley Snipes also makes a big impression as D’Urville Martin, an acclaimed actor and the director of the real-life film-within-a-film. His charisma and sense of humor shine through as he gradually realizes the inexperience of all his cast and crew members. While he seems elitist, he’s also very pragmatic and understanding about how the film industry works, especially for people of color. The supporting cast, meanwhile, features a treasure trove of great actors and artists both of current trends and yesteryear. This includes Keegan Michael-Key as the serious-minded playwright Rudy hires for the script, Craig Robinson as the golden-voiced singer behind the soundtrack, Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock as cynical radio hosts who want Rudy to succeed, Luell as his well-meaning and comedic aunt, and Titus Burgess as his flamboyant friend running a record store. Each player brings vibrant life to their characters and add something new and substantial to the table. But the real scene-stealer is newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, a single mother Rudy meets on his journey. Dramatic and comedic in equal measure, she proves a force to be reckoned with, even when she’s on-screen with the main star. She has a demeanor that changes from guarded to more open, confessing near the end of the film, “I’ve never seen nobody that looks like me up on that big screen.” I’m already excited for the long and successful career that she deserves. And from a technical point of view, Dolemite Is My Name has plenty to offer besides just excellent performances from the cast. Shot by Jason Reitman’s regular collaborator Eric Steelberg, the cinematography has a certain grainy tinge to it appropriate for the era. Overall, the movements and angles of the film are straightforward and unpretentious, going for a mix of static medium shots and short tracking ones. It still leaves plenty of room for the camera to capture the fantastic period costumes and gets a really excellent color palette across many frames. Billy Fox’s editing job also finds an amazing energy to match its main character as he moves all over. It knows exactly when to add a cut either for comic or dramatic effect, almost feeling like an old-school comedy that Murphy would’ve made back in his prime. It also lets some shots breathe as they draw out the awkward nature of the film they’re all making and wait for a proper punchline to come. It has a couple of montage sequences throughout, such as watching Rudy go from studio to studio trying to seel his movie and his crew putting the set together. This refusal to rush to an easy laugh is part of what makes it so funny and effective. With plenty of laughs to go along with its engaging story, Dolemite Is My Name is an invigorating and heartfelt tribute to an icon of underground cinema. Craig Brewer manages to find a dynamite groove to what should be a fairly straightforward and formulaic picture. And not only do we get arguably Eddie Murphy’s best performance of his career, but it introduces Da’Vine Joy Randolph as an absolute force to be reckoned with. It’s easily one of Netflix’s best offerings, and it may even inspire some to pick up a camera and make something with their friends.

“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.

“Mean Streets” Movie Review

With Todd Phillips’ Joker coming out this month, there is so much attention given to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I decided if we’re gonna talk about that film’s obvious influences from Scorsese, why not go back to his real roots? This crime drama was originally released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 14th, 1973. Part of the reason it managed to see the light of day is because some of his fellow “Film School Brats” of the Hollywood New Wave helped him get it off the ground. When it finally did, it managed to gross over $3 million against a production budget of around $500,000, which was considerably low at the time. The film also managed to become extremely popular with critics and young NYC audiences when released, including a rare positive response from Pauline Kael. Co-written and directed by Martin Scorsese, the screenplay initially began as a continuation of characters from his debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door. The film is said to based on real events Scorsese witnessed regularly as child in the Little Italy neighborhood. The director almost made it in the style of a Blaxploitation film for Roger Corman before a connection got him in contact with producer Jonathan Taplin, who managed to secure studio funding. While it is his third directorial effort overall, it’s apparently the first one made completely of his own fingerprints. Set in a small New York City neighborhood, Harvey Keitel stars as Charlie Cappa, an Italian-American man and small-time hoodlum. He’s best friends with young gambler John “Johnny Boy” Civello, played by Robert De Niro, who’s swimming in debts to local loan sharks. Charlie is struggling to reconcile his deep Catholic beliefs with his aspirations to rise in the local mob run by his uncle Giovanni, played by Cesare Danova. However, as Johnny Boy’s behavior towards other street-level thugs becomes increasingly volatile, their chances of making it out alive get increasingly harder. This is not usually the film that people talk about whenever Martin Scorsese’s name comes up in conversation. It’s understandable why not, since it’s very early work and clearly lacking the finesse of some of his later films. But I still feel like it’s important to acknowledge where every artist gets their start, no matter how bumpy it is. Recently, almost all of the auteur’s early films appeared on Netflix, including Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I thought it would be a cool change of pace to steer clear of his more well-known pictures and choose something a little more hard edge for him. And Mean Streets proves to be a pretty good starting point for the director, even if it’s more amateurish than his later works. Scorsese’s career-long fascination with Italian-American crime is evident here in the look at all these small time hustlers. The mob itself isn’t captured in as much sprawling detail as it would be in the future with Goodfellas and Casino, but there’s a certain quality to it that makes it feel lived-in and real. Everyone in this neighborhood knows everyone and what they’ve done, and that doesn’t always bode well for the protagonists. Where Mean Streets falters a little is that it’s sometimes hard to care for the characters and what they’re all doing. There are numerous scenes where multiple people are talking over one another with lots of vulgarity, which helps give it a fly-on-the-wall feeling. But seeing this and watching them do reprehensible things for about 2 hours can get exhausting, especially because none of the characters really change by the end. Harvey Keitel has always been an underrated actor in my opinion, and his performance in this film is proof of that. As Charlie, he’s very conflicted about his choice of career as it contrasts heavily with his Catholic background. He does his best to keep cool but when pressured just enough, he explodes in a fury of anger that’s hard to look away from. And in the first on nine collaborations with the director, Robert De Niro is absolutely incredible as Johnny Boy, one of his most unpredictable characters. In every scene, he’s extremely volatile and fast-moving, practically refusing to stay in the same place for very long. There’s a tinge of melancholy to his character as he just gets himself into more and more trouble as the plot rolls along. These two characters are undoubtedly the main focus of the whole movie and rightly so. De Niro and Keitel’s chemistry is excellent and you really feel like these two have been friends for a long time. This duo is also flanked by a capable supporting cast of character actors, who fill various roles with lots of appropriate gusto. Chief among them are Richard Romanus as one particularly irked loan shark trying to collect his due, George Memmoli as a pool hall owner, Amy Robinson as Johnny’s cousin and Charlie’s secret girlfriend, and Cesare Danova as Charlie’s calculating and cautious uncle in the mob. Each one has something to lose to someone else and the film’s refusal to paint a black-and-white portrait of the characters is very engaging. And when it comes to the technical aspects, Mean Streets shows Scorsese’s distinct voice gradually developing. In his professional film, Kent L. Wakeford’s cinematography has a certain cinéma vérité quality to it. Nearly every scene is handheld and follows the characters through the grimy and ugly streets of New York. There’s also a beautiful use of the color red, as it often appears in a hazy dominance over several scenes. Whether it’s a birthday party for a drunken soldier or a simply night out at the bar, the color red is almost always there as if to foreshadow the bloodshed in this lifestyle. This just about works on par with Sidney Levin’s editing job, which cuts between each scene exhaustively. While lacking real precision, its intentions are still clear as it never tries to linger too long on violence or nudity to avoid being gratuitous. A couple moments also involve freeze frame, which gives leeway for Charlie’s narration of his thoughts. Although, there are a handful of moments where it’s hard to figure out who’s saying what, but that just adds to the immersion of this world. Mean Streets is a bumpy but solid start to a great auteur’s career. Although I’d never rank it alongside his best work, Martin Scorsese still manages to paint a unique picture of crime in an environment that seems familiar yet alien. With actors that would later become his own regular collaborators, it could certainly be argued that this served as the basic blueprint for his films to follow. It gets very rough around the edges and probably not worth watching more than twice, but if it helped lead to the director’s later masterpieces, than I am content with it.

“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.