Category Archives: Independent

“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.

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“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.

“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Movie Review

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

“High Flying Bird” Movie Review

As someone who grew up in a household with sports junkies family members, I understood more of this movie than I thought I would. I’m not even sure if that’s something I’m entirely proud of, but hey it sure added to the experience. This business-centric sports drama initially premiered at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival. Although its distributor offered to give it a limited theatrical run, the director declined as he thought it wasn’t ultimately worth it. The $2 million production was instead released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix on February 8th, 2019. It garnered some of the best reviews for the filmmaker in quite a while, some even calling it a return to form. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film was originally written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Oscar-winning playwright behind Moonlight. The screenplay was based on an actual lockout that occurred in 2011, and immense research was undertaken in the ensuing years. According to the director, principal photography went so fast that he assembled the first cut of the film on his laptop within a few hours after production wrapped. André Holland stars as Ray Burke, an extremely intelligent and resourceful sports agent who primarily handles basketball players. During an ongoing NBA lockout, neither he nor his clients, including top draft prospect Erick Scott, played by Melvin Gregg, are getting paid while the owners and Players’ Association union refuse to compromise. However, Burke comes up with a daring and risky plan to try and upend the system within a tight timeframe of 72 hours. And every now and then, we see actual NBA players Reggie Jackson, Donovan Mitchell, and Karl-Anthony Towns giving interviews, breaking down exactly how the league works for rookies. To be perfectly honest with you, Steven Soderbergh’s work as a director can be hit-or-miss for me most of the time. I absolutely love Ocean’s Eleven and some of his earlier stuff, but I’ve been iffy on his newer releases, such as Unsane. But regardless, I can definitely appreciate how he tries to approach each of his films in a brand new way, even if it isn’t entirely successful. Seeing him collaborate with the same writer behind Moonlight, a film I wholly adored back in 2016, automatically made me ecstatic with the possibilities. I was interested to see the two of them tackle the behind-the-scenes world of sports, especially since Soderbergh came so close to directing Moneyball 8 years prior. And while it feels a little too lean for its own good, High Flying Bird is still incredibly well-written and sharply acted. The best thing that I can say about this film is that it made me even more interested in the business behind sports, something I don’t usually think about that much. It’s clear that McCraney did his homework here, creating environments and scenarios with such a level of detail that it feels like he’s spent a lot of time on the court. The ideas High Flying Bird wrestles with are interesting, especially in relation to how young black athletes are frequently at the mercy of their older, white owners. Why should we put so much pressure on the public image players put out while owners like Robert Kraft get away with millions and unsettling activities? The problem is that, at just 90 minutes, it feels like some of these themes and ideas get short-shifted in favor of the protagonist’s wild plan. This being a Soderbergh film, it has the verve and personality of an Ocean’s movie that was never made, which is totally fine. But when the scenes where the central issues start kicking, it makes me wish that it was at least a half hour longer, or even a miniseries. André Holland has slowly been building an impressive resume the last few years as an actor, and he continues that here as Ray Burke. From the minute he comes on-screen, he commands your attention with his razor-edge intelligence and charisma. Meanwhile, Zazie Beetz and Bill Duke are equally good as Ray’s snappy assistant and wise mentor, respectively. Much like Ray, they’re both fully aware of the racial implications of a system like the NBA; whenever the issue of slavery is brought up, Duke’s character repeats “I love the Lord, and all His black people.” Kyle McLachlan and Glenn Fleshler are also impressive as two owners who feign concern for their players, while Sonja John is witty and shrewd as a fellow sports agent. Melvin Gregg is definitely worth mentioning as Erick Scott, one of the nation’s top draft prospects. While he may not be privy to everything that’s going on, it’s clear that he loves the game of basketball and wants nothing more than to get back on. This being a Steven Soderbergh film, the technical side of things is pretty clean and interesting. As always Soderbergh acts as his own cinematographer and editor, credited for both categories as Pete Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, respectively. Like many of his films, each scene has a static camera placed in a specific spot in the room, only moving around when needed for the characters. It also cuts between each scene and shot with purpose, replicating the high energy of the screenplay. That being said, I’m really not that convinced that this film needed to be shot on an iPhone, like his previous film Unsane. While it worked for that particular film’s psychological aspects, here, it feels too limited and narrow for the scope of the story, only allowing two characters on-screen at a time. And while some movements are quite impressive, the lack of field depth and extremely static movements can take audiences out of the experience. Still, with enough meat on the bone to generate discussion afterward, High Flying Bird‘s kinetic screenplay and performances outshine some questionable technology choices. Although I wouldn’t consider this a return to form for the director, Steven Soderbergh still shows that he’s got it and is willing to risk failure by trying new things. Not to mention the fact that he’s supported by an incredibly dense script by Tarell Alvin McCraney and an outstandingly committed cast who fully give themselves to a surprisingly topical story. Yes, it does feel like it could be a lot more, but for what it is, it’s still a riveting game to watch.

Final 2019 Oscar Predictions

After nearly a whole year’s worth of screw-ups, terrible announcements, last-minute changes, and other controversial matters, the 91st Academy Awards are finally upon us. And as was with last year, I managed to see nearly all of the major contenders from last year in preparation for this one night. While there are more frontrunners this year than previous expected, I still have some thoughts about who I think will win in all 24 categories (Which will THANKFULLY be all aired live) as well as who I think better deserves it. Also like last year, I took the liberty of including some films I really thought deserved a nod in a category that were ultimately snubbed. And remember, regardless of how it turns out or if we even like it, the ceremony airs this Sunday, February 24th.

Best Picture

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: If Beale Street Could Talk

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Could Win: Spike Lee for BlacKKKlansman

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Marielle Heller for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: Christian Bale in Vice

Should Win: Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Glenn Close in The Wife

Could Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Viola Davis in Widows

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Could Win: Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Should Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Could Win: Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Should Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton in Suspiria

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Sorry to Bother You

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: BlacKKKlansman

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Could Win: Incredibles 2

Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should Have Been Nominated: Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Best Foreign-Language Film

Will Win: Roma (Mexico)

Could Win: Cold War (Poland)

Should Win: Roma (Mexico)

Should Have Been Nominated: Border (Sweden)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: Free Solo

Could Win: Minding the Gap

Should Win: RBG

Should Have Been Nominated: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: A Night at the Garden

Could Win: Period. End of a Sentence

Should Win: A Night at the Garden

Should Have Been Nominated: Zion

 

Best Live-Action Short Film

Will Win: Fauve

Could Win: Detainment

Should Win: Fauve

Should Have Been Nominated: One Cambodian Family Please For My Pleasure

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Bao

Could Win: Late Afternoon

Should Win: Bao

Should Have Been Nominated: The Ostrich Politic

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk by Nicholas Britell

Should Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Should Have Been Nominated: First Man by Justin Hurwitz

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Could Win: “All the Stars” from Black Panther

Should Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: “Hearts Beat Loud” from Hearts Beat Loud

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: First Man

Could Win: Ready Player One

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Black Panther

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Paddington 2

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Border

Should Win: Vice

Should Have Been Nominated: Suspiria

 

Best Production Design

 

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Black Panther

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Annihilation

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Hereditary

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: A Star is Born

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Quiet Place

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Do you have thoughts or predictions of your own? What films do you think will, could, or should win in each category? What are some that you feel got snubbed by the Oscars? Be sure to leave a Comment on it below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my Blog for similar film-centric content.