Category Archives: Movies

“GoldenEye” Movie Review

Obviously, with 24 films in the bag already, I don’t have nearly enough time to review all of the James Bond movies in existence. But since No Time to Die is coming out in theaters soon, it seems only appropriate to go back and review a couple of Bond’s best.

This action spy film was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on November 17th, 1995, being released in the U.K. a week later. It managed to gross over $355 million at the global box office against a production budget of $60 million, far surpassing many of its predecessors without adjusting for inflation. This made it the highest-grossing film in the franchise since 1979’s Moonraker with Roger Moore. It also received some very positive reviews from critics and audiences, mainly for how it adapted to the modern world while remaining true to the past.

Directed by Martin Campbell, efforts to produce a new film were halted by legal and financial disputes within the studio, causing previous star Timothy Dalton to step down from the part. The end of the Cold War and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to numerous rewrites with completely different drafts one after another. The film was the first in the long-running series to not be based on any of Ian Fleming’s novels and to not be solely shot on the 007 sound stage. It was also the last film in the franchise with the involvement of longtime producer Albert Broccoli, who passed the torch onto his daughter Barbara and son Michael G. Wilson.

Pierce Brosnan makes his debut as James Bond, an MI6 officer and veteran of the Cold War. While on assignment investigating the Janus crime syndicate in Russia, a mysterious EMP goes off in a scientific base in Siberia destroying fighter aircraft and knocking out satellite systems in orbit. His newly appointed superior M, played by Judy Dench, orders him to get to the bottom of it, soon discovering a larger techno-conspiracy at play. Facing his former partner Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, Bond races against time to figure out his plan and stop it before it can be enacted.

The James Bond franchise is one that has consistently fluctuated in quality throughout the years for me. For every great movie in the franchise like Skyfall or Casino Royale, there’s always been a few that are mediocre or just straight up bad like Moonraker. In fairness, it’s a challenge for a character that’s over 50 years old to stay relevant in an ever-changing world, which leads to mixed results with each installment.

As such, I was curious to rewatch this particular entry after so many years away from it to see if my opinion had swayed at all with the times. Part of me was worried that its 90s style and setting would have aged badly by this point, not to mention whether its treatment of the main character would still fly in the modern era. Thankfully, GoldenEye still proves to be one of the franchises better entries and just a fun action movie in general.

It’s interesting to note how Martin Campbell is actually responsible for revitalizing the Bond franchise twice, first here and later with Casino Royale. (Whose own review will be coming soon) And both times, he found a way to make the character of James Bond grow and modernize without losing his essence. The Soviet Union is long gone by this point, so what use is an old-fashioned secret agent like him to the rest of the world?

Furthermore, GoldenEye manages to acknowledge Bond’s long history of womanizing and points out that it’s really immature and unprofessional of him. The most telling moment is when M tells 007 “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, and whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appeal to that young woman I sent to evaluate you.” And although the film ultimately can’t resist giving him an attractive female lead, (Or two) it makes up for it in various other departments.

In his first outing with the iconic role, Pierce Brosnan proves more than capable of putting his own unique spin on James Bond. Although he is surprisingly soft-spoken, he knows exactly how to use both words and weapons to turn control of the situation over to his hands throughout the film. He has a very clear way of keeping his composure under stressful situation, but it becomes tested when his connection to the main conflict suddenly becomes personal.

Also making her franchise debut, Dame Judi Dench is nothing short of impressive as the new version of M, Bond’s superior at the MI6. She’s highly determined and intelligent who fully understand the gravity of her new position, but never passes up the opportunity to break out some wit. Although she’s initially skeptical of 007’s capability as an agent, she begins to develop a grudging respect for him even if she strongly disapproves of his seductive methods.

Sean Bean also shouldn’t be overlooked as Alec Trevelyan, the primary antagonist of the film. While Bond villains are very inconsistent in terms of quality or intrigue, Bean is able to avoid these pitfalls by creating a personal connection with our hero and really represents what he could have become if he hadn’t maintained his loyalty to the United Kingdom. His effortless charisma and confidence makes him pretty intimidating, especially as he seems to know all of Bond’s weak points.

Izabella Scorupco, Famke Jenssen, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, and Desmond Llewelyn round out the cast of new and returning supporters. Some of them definitely standout more than others, (I honestly thought Cumming was miscast) but they all play key roles in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knows that they’re in a James Bond movie and have no problem hamming it up for the crowd if the moment comes for it.

And from a technical perspective, GoldenEye marked an evolution behind the camera for the long-running franchise. Phil Méheux’s cinematography looks shiny for the most part but also manages to capture so many cool moments on-screen. Chief among them is the opening sequences when James dives off the top of the Contra Dam and the camera follows down with him. It’s an amazing stunt that immediately sets itself apart from all the previous entries in the series. There are also numerous points throughout where it uses numerous angles and long-takes for certain scenes. And the lighting is almost immaculate all the way through.

This works mostly in tandem with the editing job by Terry Rawlings. Every scene is carefully cut together so that the action can remain exciting but still intelligible for audiences. One particular moment near the end where Cumming’s character keeps frantically pushing on a pen creates a lot of unique tension as it builds towards a literally explosive climax. It also manages to blend the visual effects with practical in-camera tricks really well to where it looks mostly seamless.

Luc Besson’s frequent collaborator Éric Serra provides the instrumental film score here and to be honest, it’s entirely forgettable. The composition very much is inspired by contemporary 90’s music with an attempt to mix traditional orchestral sounds with more electronic rhythms. Unfortunately, the combo really doesn’t work as well as it should, and it honestly feels more like an afterthought than anything else.

Pop superstar Tina Turner gives us an original song for the requisite opening credits sequence titled the same as the film. As far as Bond songs go, it’s fine but not particularly memorable. Turner’s incredible vocals are always a delight to the ears but the rest of the track still leaves a lot to be desired.

GoldenEye is a welcome reinvention of a very archaic character. Martin Campbell is able to wrangle together a capable cast and great crew members to successfully bring James Bond into a post-Cold War world that proves to be just as great, if not more so, than its predecessors. Pierce Brosnan is more than willing to carry the iconic role forward with all of the wit, charm, and sophistication that we’ve all come to expect from 007.

“Birds of Prey” Movie Review

Although I could be wrong, this might be the first movie I’ve ever seen where two female characters exchange a hair tie on-screen. It’s a small moment, but it’s also something totally unique to mainstream films that doesn’t get enough recognition.

This superhero crime comedy film was released in theaters worldwide by Warner Bros. on February 7th, 2020. Made for the relatively small budget of around $82 million, it has gone one to gross just over $202 million at the global box office. While this is undoubtedly a big success and could see a sizable profit, it’s been on a slower role than expected. Following the relative underperformance of the opening weekend, the studio changed the film’s title to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey for some markets. In spite of that, it has amassed some very positive reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Directed by Cathy Yan, the film was one of several DC projects announced after the commercial success of Suicide Squad. The main actress set up her new production company, LuckyChap Entertainment, so that screenwriter Christina Hodson would have more creative freedom in pre-production. The studio had multiple different properties involving Harley Quinn in development, including Gotham City Sirens, but this was the only one with the main actress’s direct involvement. Yan’s hiring, only her second feature overall, also makes her the first female Asian director to helm a theatrical superhero movie.

Picking up a little while after the events of Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, a former psychiatrist turned violent criminal psychopath. After the Joker dumps her and ends any connection between the two, she goes on a citywide bender to keep the breakup a secret as it would remove any protections she has. Word of their breakup soon reaches Roman Sionis, played by Ewan McGregor, a ruthless Gotham crime lord in Gotham who goes by the name “Black Mask.” Harley eventually crosses paths with four other women on Sionis’ radar- mob daughter-turned vigilante Helena Bertinelli, burlesque singer Dinah Lance, alcoholic detective Renee Montoya, and street-wise thief Cassandra Cain -and soon find a way to team up and bring him down.

This was one of those potential superhero projects that I was skeptical about when it was first announced, as DC has had many films in and out of development. My best guess is that most of them are still being made but this one was simply the first one to make it out of the gate. But in any case, it’s finally here now, it’s out in the world, and it’s up to us to talk about the ultimate results of it.

Regardless of your opinions on the movie Suicide Squad, it’s hard to deny that Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was absolutely fantastic. And hearing that she was gonna headline an all-female team-up movie with various other heroines in an R-rated adventure sounded like a true breath of fresh air for the genre. And lo and behold, Birds of Prey is a really fun time at the movies that inverts a lot of classic superhero tropes.

Make no mistake, this is not a movie either to be seen with the whole family nor taken very seriously. Just the full title, And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, illustrates how irreverent it’s gonna get and, credit where its due, Hodson’s screenplay commits to it. The film fully utilizes its R-rating with numerous F-bombs and scenes of bloody violence without becoming immature; to be honest, I don’t know if it would have still worked if it were PG-13 instead.

However, after seeing Birds of Prey, it is fairly easy seeing why the studio changed the name in some markets. Harley Quinn is undoubtedly the protagonist of the story and the other four women are more or less just along for the ride. The script often has trouble finding a good balance between multiple storylines, constantly having to cut back to different timelines to keep the continuity flowing. It’s a little frustrating, but it’s hard to resist the charm of what Yan and company set out to do.

Margot Robbie is the definitive live-action version of Harley Quinn, and no recasting will ever change that. Here, she has her trademark sense of macabre humor and aloofness, more often than not unaware of how much destruction she’s leaving in her wake. While she clearly has zero interest in doing the right thing or helping people who need it, she’s desperate to find a sense of belonging after the only person she’s ever had a connection with has abandoned her.

Meanwhile, the other four “Birds” are absolutely fantastic and fun in their respective roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Rosie Perez, and newcomer Ella Jay Basco all fulfill their duties with flying colors and create different and interesting personalities. Basco is particularly excellent as Cassandra Cain, a highly resourceful petty thief who only wants to find a place of belonging, much like Harley.

Ewan McGregor is also fantastic and flamboyant as crime lord Roman Sionis, A.K.A. “Black Mask.” He’s a complete narcissist who has no qualms about torturing, killing, or humiliating others to get what he wants and always tries to become the center of attention iin the room. McGregor is clearly having a grand time in the role and while it may seem a bit over the top, it perfectly suits the villain’s personality.

The supporting cast is also great and isn’t afraid to ham it up to match the over-the-top nature of the film. This includes Ali Wong as Montoya’s ex-girlfriend of a district attorney, Chris Messina as Black Mask’s psychopathic killer and right-hand man, Steven Williams as the apathetic Captain at the GCPD, Dana Lee as a friendly restaurant owner in Harley’s building, and François Chau as a rival crime boss threatening Black Mask’s operations. All of them know exactly what to do with their respective roles and get one or two good lines in for good measure.

And from a technical perspective, Birds of Prey showcases a unique style that sets it apart from other films in the genre. Shot by the versatile Matthew Libatique, the cinematography is very colorful and saturated, perfectly in the right tone with its wild protagonist. The film makes use of many different techniques throughout, including sudden dolly-ins and roving swoops during action sequences. Numerous primary colors are enhanced to make Gotham feel like a twisted Wonderland playground for Harley and her friends to mess around in.

The editing job by Jay Cassidy and Evan Schiff is frenetic and highly reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s style. There are multiple freeze frames throughout the film so that Harley can wryly catch the audience up on a brand new plot point. And for the most part, during action scenes, it’s cut together in a way that’s easy enough to follow but still filled with enough style to feel unique.

Bolstered by committed performances and great visuals, Birds of Prey is a fun R-rated romp that can sometimes be too fluff and flair. Freed from the normal constraints of a franchise blockbuster, Cathy Yan is able to make an impressive studio debut that proves comic book movies have a future in going beyond what’s family-friendly. Even when the film gets bogged down by an unnecessarily complicated script, Margot Robbie and the rest of her crew are more than willing to hold it together with all the charm and charisma that can be afforded.

“To Catch a Thief” Movie Review

It was only very recently that I realized I hadn’t actually seen nearly as many Hitchcock movies as I thought. Thankfully, my New Year’s resolution presented an opportunity to help rectify that situation, at least a little bit.

This romantic caper thriller was released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on August 3rd, 1955. Made for the budget of $2.5 million, the film went on the gross about $4.5 million in U.S. rentals during its original release. However, its global total at the box office is believed to be closer to around $8.75 million, on par with the director’s previous films. Although the film received mixed reviews at the time of its release, it has since garnered a respected reputation among his extensive oeuvre.

Directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, the script by John Michael Hayes was adapted from the novel of the same name by David Dodge. The main star had attempted to retire two years prior out of anger for the House Un-American Activities Committee’s treatment of Charlie Chaplin. However, he ultimately returned to collaborate with the director and would go on to act for 11 more years afterward. It’s also Hitchcock’s only film with Paramount that the studio still owns the rights to, as the rest were sold back to him in the 1960s and put out through Universal Studios.

Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a retired cat burglar living a peaceful retirement in the French Riviera. While he enjoys a comfortable, reformed public image, a series of copycat thefts is committed against the small town’s wealthy tourists. The authorities immediately assume that Robie has gone back to his criminal ways, causing him to go on the run. With a limited amount of time, Robie sets out with young American tourist Frances Stevens, played by Grace Kelly, to catch the real crook and prove his innocence.

Obviously, Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most important and influential filmmakers in cinema history. He managed to completely change the way that films were made and presented, with a wholly unique style and clear vision of what he wants. North By Northwest and Vertigo rank among some of my favorite movies of all time, and even some of his lesser work like The Birds is extremely impressive for its time.

I had seen that this particular film, one of his more celebrated as I understand it, was finally available to stream through my resources. Hitchcock is far from a stranger to the caper genre and was curious to see what he and Cary Grant could make prior to their collaboration on North By Northwest. And while To Catch a Thief is certainly not the director’s finest work, it still manages to be a whole lot of fun that subverts expectations all these years later.

Obviously, when you’ve made so many iconic and groundbreaking films like Hitchcock, a few of them are bound to get lost somewhere by the wayside. This one certainly falls into that category, since it was made seemingly in between masterpieces as a sort of lightweight exercise for all involved. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all because there’s still plenty of entertainment value to be had here and reflects the kind of caper adventure that Hollywood has seemingly lost interest in making.

It’s also a testament to the quality and production of To Catch a Thief that it stilly manages to really grab your attention all these decades later. Whether it be the magical pull of Hitchcock’s direction, the irresistible cast, or a combination of both, it’s hard not to fall right into Robie’s misadventures and quest for innocence. That’s a sort of Old World optimism that, by today’s standards, actually seems rather quaint, and is an immortal part of its irrevocable charm.

Cary Grant was one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood for a reason, and his third collaboration with the director is further proof of it. As John Robie, he’s his usually charismatic and debonair self, a career criminal who simply wants to hang up his hat and live the rest of his life in peace. While he acts completely in control of the situation towards the authorities and locals, it all turns out to be a façade as everyone he once considered his friends start turning on him.

In one of her final roles before her royal retirement, Grace Kelly shines as Frances Stevens, Robie’s young American accomplice on the run. Although she only appears initially as a pretty face with a lot to say, she actually turns out to be much more intelligent and resourceful than given credit for. Despite the apparent danger this bandit-on-the-run scenario presents, she seems willing to jump headlong into the excitement of such an adventure.

John Williams (Not to be confused with the legendary composer) also gives a memorable performance as H.H. Hughson, a local insurance man who acts as Robie’s handler. Unlike Robie, he’s an extremely pragmatic career man who understands the intricacies of a situation like this and is highly skeptical of his colleague’s innocence. When it comes down to it, though, Hughson comes through for Robie when almost everyone else in the Riviera immediately believes his guilt.

Jessie Royce Landis, Charles Venel, Brigitte Auber, and Jean Martinelli all turn in memorable supporting roles of varying importance. Each one of them fits perfectly into the classic roles of a caper film which have since become archetypes of the genre. They all prove to be formidable players with someone like Hitchcock and manage to find the right balancing act for each of their respective characters.

Meanwhile, from a purely technical perspective, To Catch a Thief shows Hitchcock has already mastered his craft. Shot by frequent collaborator Robert Burks, the cinematography is very bright and full of diverse compositions. This was the first of five films the director filmed using the VistaVision process, which helps to create a widescreen format that makes the adventure feel bigger in scale and scope. Many of Hitchcock’s trademarks are shown throughout the film, including unusual angles that signify a character’s mental or emotional state during the plot.

This matches up well with the editing job by George Tomasini, who go on to work with the director for 8 more feature films. The film consistently makes use of cross dissolves as transitions between scenes to make things feel somewhat dreamy. And while the film consists of many scenes of dialogue, Hitchcock and Tomasini are able to keep things interesting with consistent cuts that don’t interfere with what’s going on. One particular scene sees a highspeed car traveling dangerously on a cliffside road as Frances and Robie finally come to an understanding with each other. Even 65 years later, that sequence still makes my palms sweat from anxiety.

In one of his earliest jobs for Hollywood, Lyn Murray composes and conducts the instrumental film score here. It is a perfect encapsulation of movie music during this period because of how wide-ranging the whole soundtrack is. The primary theme is an excellent tune that mixes the tone of adventure and mystery, using a mixture of woodwinds and strings to its advantage. Later in the soundtrack, we get to hear unusual percussion such as xylophones and bass drums to illustrate the relatively fast-paced nature of the story. While it’s not the best score of Old Hollywood, it is one worth listening to after the credits roll.

The kind of adventure that rarely gets made these days, To Catch a Thief is a lightweight caper with fun performances and old-school tricks. Alfred Hitchcock may have been coasting on his acclaim here, but he’s still able to assemble one hell of a picture that shows the best of his tendencies. It also has the luck of being carried by both Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in their prime to boost this straightforward and unpretentious classic.

Retrospective: The Best Films of the Decade

Well, folks, that just about does it. The 2010s have officially (And finally) come to a close. The world today looks and feels so different than when the decade started, and I’m not just talking about different world leaders and policies enacted since then. The medium of film has drastically changed in these past 10 years, for better and for worse. From an increasing emphasis on digital filmmaking to a vast expansion of the independent marketplace to more of a focus on blockbusters, the way movies are made and watched are very different than how it was when we were all growing up.

In my mind, this was one of the best decades for cinema in a long while, as artists old and new got to expand the medium in innovative ways. Although this list is VERY late compared to most of my peers, I thought it was still important to share my opinions on this past decade of film. You can agree or disagree with my placement or curation of certain films here, but it’s hard to deny how many ways the medium has fundamentally shifted in such a relatively short period of time.

Because of how sprawling and diverse the offerings were this decade, there were so many incredible films that I was forced to leave out. But I still wanted them to be shared here with a number of honorable mentions, to ensure that they are also recognized for their greatness.

Honorable Mentions:

You Were Never Really Here, The Lego Movie, The Nice Guys, Silence, Hugo, Mission: Impossible- Fallout, Annihilation, Lady Bird, La La Land, Drive, Roma, Mudbound, War for the Planet of the Apes, Inside Out, The Shape of Water, Gravity, Baby Driver, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Super 8, Little Women, Booksmart

Let’s get this overdue show on the road, shall we?

#20: “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

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Although certainly not the first film to tackle the issue of slavery, 12 Years a Slave is probably the first one that seriously dives headlong into the psychological toll it takes on those affected by it. Steve McQueen refuses to let sentimentality get in the way of showing Solomon Northup’s real-life captivity and instead goes for a quiet, unflinchingly brutal portrait of one of America’s ugliest chapters in history. It captures not only the individual suffering that Solomon is put through but also the systemic indifference to human cruelty and the collective emotional turmoil it impresses upon others within the system. The film brilliantly points out so many specific areas of trouble in this world, including how Solomon’s intelligence is dangerous for him and that even “nice” slave-owners are still ultimately slave-owners. 12 Years a Slave might be one of the most upsetting films of the 2010s, but McQueen’s masterful touch and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s convincing turn as Solomon Northup make it one of the most essential as well.

#19: “Interstellar” (2014)

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Spoiler alert: This will not be the last film by Christopher Nolan that you will see appear on this list. Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey are inevitable for many, but there’s something to be said about the filmmaker’s endeavor to create an original space epic that relies on scientific plausibility. Whether it’s the eerily possible future of sandstorms in the future or the physics of brand new worlds to potentially colonize, Nolan uses Interstellar to really try and push the medium in new and exciting ways. Despite primarily taking place in the cold, vast vacuum of space, there’s still a palpable emotional core as the characters race to another galaxy to save their own loved ones. And it’s all set to Hans Zimmer’s immaculately ethereal score, perhaps one of the best soundtracks of the last decade. It really is the kind of movie that Hollywood just doesn’t make anymore and seeing this film in IMAX was a theatrical experience unlike any I ever had before.

#18: “Prisoners” (2013)

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This was the film that introduced the English-speaking world to Denis Villeneuve, and boy what an introduction it was. The story itself is fairly simplistic; two girls go missing in a small Pennsylvania town and one father goes to extreme lengths to find the truth. What’s so refreshing and engrossing about Prisoners is that it takes its time with this setup, examining the emotional toll this tragedy takes on families as well as the frustration by the police of not finding a convincing lead. It proved that Villeneuve could not only draw immense performances out of his star-studded cast but also that he could manage to balance expository dialogue with visual storytelling. Because Roger Deakins proves once again that he’s the greatest living cinematographer in the business with so many lively and astonishing shots for such a heavy film. But it wouldn’t be until a few years later that he finally received the proper recognition among the filmmaking world.

#17: “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

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I’ve talked at length about how sorely underrated Cloud Atlas is, but I really believe more people should watch it. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s magnum opus- yes, even surpassing The Matrix -and feel comfortable enough calling it one of the most ambitious films of this generation. Rather than simply being “about” one thing, The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer weave six different stories across many centuries to make a parable on fate and time. Its tonal balance is astoundingly perfect, held together by a magnificently beautiful theme song and a stellar ensemble that plays many roles of varying importance. This is one of those films where, even if it doesn’t totally work in the end, it’s almost impossible not to at least admire what all parties involved are reaching for here. It’s a touching and deeply humanist epic that isn’t afraid to take big risks, the kind of film that should be championed more often.

#16: “The Social Network” (2010)

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Do you remember a time when social media hadn’t totally consumed our daily lives just yet? Those days are becoming increasingly obscure to me, and The Social Network provides an incredible glimpse of how the creation of Facebook completely changed human life as we know it. It’d be so easy to end the story with Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin celebrating their victory, but the film shows the consequential alienation created by a social networking site. This unlikely emotional pull helps drive home the point that even though these people made it to the top, they’re left all alone on the way. The cynical script by Aaron Sorkin is balanced out by David Fincher’s unlikely empathy for Mark Zuckerberg, who- despite complaints from the real-life mogul of historical inaccuracy -is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in a now-iconic performance. And with Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media sites consistently finding themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons, The Social Network has (unfortunately) only become more pertinent in our world.

#15: “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

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Love it, hate it, don’t care in the slightest about it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has redefined franchise filmmaking as we know it. And while it’s had many great entries since its inception, it arguably reached its peak last year with Avengers: Endgame. Bringing together 11 years and 22 movies worth of stories and characters is no small task, but the Russo Brothers achieved something truly unprecedented here. The superhero epic pays homage to all of the movies that came before it without devolving into numbing fanservice, and manages to pack a real emotional wallop for longtime followers. It’s so humongous in scope and so relentlessly entertaining that it practically dwarfs the first installment of The Avengers into a little playset. Regardless of how I feel about the franchise’s cultural dominance, Endgame has some of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever watched in a movie theater.

#14: “Logan” (2017)

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If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial and lowkey for your comic book movie, than I can’t think of a better one than Logan. James Mangold took the beloved character of Wolverine and put him in the context of a somber and hyper-violent neo-Western and boy it worked like gangbusters. But unlike Deadpool, the violence here actually carried a lot of weight and maturity and wasn’t just meant to get the satisfaction of teenage boys. There’s an emotional sucker punch to every claw mark and bullet wound heal as both Wolverine and Professor X survive a world that has deteriorated before their eyes. The father-daughter dynamic between Logan and Laura is undoubtedly the heart of the whole film and thankfully, Hugh Jackman gives a terrifically heartbreaking sendoff to his iconic role while newcomer Dafne Keen more than holds her own.

#13: “Arrival” (2016)

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Watching a film like Arrival is like being reminded why science-fiction is filled with so much more potential than just cool technology and explosions. Yes, I do love seeing those two on the big screen but thankfully, Denis Villeneuve is way more interested in taking a mature and speculative approach to the genre. Released during perhaps the most venomous and divisive period of recent American history, this film showcased the unbridled power of language and how the slightest change in translation can make all the difference in the world. Watching scientists and linguists meet with an unknown alien encounter and attempt to decipher their message is unbelievably captivating and a genius concept that examines the perils of communication in an increasingly standoffish world. Armed with an incredible performance from Amy Adams, this is one of those rare sci-fi movies that will please even viewers who don’t particularly care for the genre.

#12: “Paddington 2” (2018)

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I can’t think of any movie from the last 10-20 years that was as pure-hearted and innocent as Paddington 2. Completely devoid of any cynicism from the world it inhabits, the family film defies all expectations and provides an illustrious example for why unconditional kindness is worth it, especially in these trying times. And even if we were to look past that, Paul King does everything in his filmmaking powers to make this an entertaining romp for all ages, from the Wes Anderson-esque art direction to Hugh Grant’s scene-stealing turn as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan. There’s a perfect balancing act between humor for various ages so that it doesn’t come off as pandering towards any specific audience, all held together by Ben Whishaw’s delightful performance as the marmalade-loving bear from Darkest Peru. I defy anyone to watch Paddington 2 and not feel moved into unbridled happiness and optimism.

#11: “Parasite” (2019)

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Late-stage capitalism is rampant everywhere, and while many artists have attempted to highlight the issues it raises, Bong Joon-ho sweeps them all out by a wide margin. Bong definitely broke out into the wider world of cinema this past decade and while I briefly considered putting Snowpiercer on here instead, there’s just something so enthralling and beautiful about what he does here. Parasite is pretty much a culmination of everything he’s ever done or attempted as a filmmaker, bringing together all of his stylistic trademarks and themes. Bong has certainly tackled class and privilege before, but the way he does it here is both fiendishly entertaining and unnervingly real. The first half plays out like an unconventional yet topical dark comedy before morphing into something much more sinister and powerful, ensuring that its impact will not be lost on viewers after the credits roll. And that doesn’t even touch on its momentous and history-making victory at the Academy Awards, which finally saw the Hollywood elite look past the one inch-tall barrier of subtitles and give world cinema the recognition it deserves.

#10: “A Separation” (2011)

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Speaking of world cinema, not including this masterful domestic drama on “best of” lists should be considered a shame. It wasn’t until last year that I finally became acquainted with the films of Asghar Farhadi, and boy was I missing out? While it’s far from accessible or uplifting, A Separation brilliantly uses the breakdown of a young marriage to explore the thorny issues of home and family. Rather than taking sides, Farhadi fully embraces the messiness of divorce and the lack of easy answers, allowing audiences to sympathize with both the mother and the father as they work through a major family crisis in Iran. The simplicity of the premise is key to him finding the right amount of cultural specificity for the story while still having a universal appeal for anyone watching it. With heartbreaking performances and a decidedly unsentimental tone, I would go so far as to say that A Separation is the best divorce film ever made, even surpassing Marriage Story and Kramer vs Kramer.

#9: “The Lighthouse” (2019)

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A perpetually drunk worker is forced to stay on a remote island with a Captain Ahab-esque sailor in the 19th century. It’s a very simple premise and setting but in the hands of writer-director Robert Eggers, it is transformed into a stark, deeply unsettling, yet wholly engaging experience of cinema. Utilizing its black-and-white 35mm cinematography to the best possible advantage, you could easily fool someone into thinking that The Lighthouse is a long-lost film from the 1950s recently discovered in a box. They actually built a real lighthouse from the ground up just for authenticity’s sake! Disturbing, darkly hilarious, and unquestionably horny, it’s an incredible film that is sure to alienate most viewers but reward those with patience and an open mind. It also helps that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give probably the best performances of their respective careers, which is really saying something.

#8: “Dunkirk” (2017)

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World War II is one of the most extensively covered periods of history in all of cinema, whether it be on the battlefield or in concentration camps. However, Christopher Nolan decides to change the rules of these conceits, setting it in the aftermath of a battle and never showing the enemy on-screen. In fact, Dunkirk can probably be better appreciated as a period thriller rather than a traditional war film. The intentional lack of dialogue and consistent cross-cutting between different stages (And timeframes) of the conflict immediately puts audiences into the dire situation of over 400,000 soldiers trapped on a beach just 26 miles away from home. It’s truly riveting to see this film in a theatrical setting (I personally got to see it on 70mm) because it brings to life one of the greatest and most life-affirming rescue missions ever attempted by mankind.

#7: “Boyhood” (2014)

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Growing up is a really weird experience. People that you think will be best friends with you forever come and go, responsibility forces you to grow up and face the realities of the world, and you give up old hobbies for new ones. That’s the ultimate goal of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s sprawling and naturalistic coming-of-age drama set over 12 years in Texas. Rather than age the actors with CGI or replace them with older ones, we watch all of the cast members naturally age over an unprecedented period of time through different phases in Mason Evan Jr.’s life. Easily the best aspect of this epic is how it eschews clichés of the genre and instead focuses in on the little moments of life in between huge events like graduation and 16th birthdays. There’s almost nothing else like Boyhood out there and the mere fact that it even exists is practically a miracle.

#6: “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” (2017)

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On October 30th, 2012, Disney finalized a deal to buy Lucasfilm and immediately put plans in motion for a new Star Wars movie trilogy. I can still remember lighting up with possibilities because for years, fans had assumed that this franchise’s theatrical life was over. Overall reactions from fans over the new content has been deeply mixed, but I’ve always been a champion of its newfound home, and for me, the new series reached its peak with The Last Jedi. Aside from just looking absolutely gorgeous and giving us an incredible soundtrack by John Williams, Rian Johnson’s sequel understands the right lessons from the original trilogy. It creates meaningful stakes and uncertain conflicts in order to make the characters grow, especially of the older generation. I will defend the new Luke Skywalker to my last breath and watch the Throne Room lightsaber battle for days on end. To quote a very wise Jedi in the film, “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

#5: “Moonlight” (2016)

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It’s an utter shame that a lot of people will mostly associate this movie with a colossal fuckup at the Oscars with La La Land. I honestly can’t remember the last time that a film came completely out of nowhere and completely changed the cultural conversation about the intersection between race, masculinity, and sexuality. The real genius of Moonlight is that while it showcases the harsh realities of a gay black man coming of age in urban America, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney flood every scene with immense empathy and tenderness. Every single character on-screen absolutely shatters their associated stereotypes thanks both to the incredibly minimalist writing and the believable performances from the cast. There are so many moments of quiet between the characters and the narrative is told with such a slow, patient pace that it almost feels like Moonlight came from another realm. This film broke almost every single rule of traditional wisdom in cinema, and the universe has rewarded it greatly.

#4: “Get Out” (2017)

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Hearing the initial announcement that Jordan Peele, one half of the hilarious sketch comedy Key and Peele, would be writing and directing a horror movie was baffling. And yet, he completely changed the narrative of horror filmmaking with Get Out, which might go down as one of the most influential and iconic films of our generation. It not only serves as a terrific horror film with some really unsettling imagery, but even moreso as a satire of modern society. Get Out puts the lie of a “post-racial America” under a microscope and exposes the complicity of liberal white people, brilliantly shown where Chris is the only person of color at his girlfriend’s house party. And Daniel Kaluuya easily gives one of the best and most overlooked breakout performances of the entire decade, showing an internal confusion and uncertainty that makes him one of the most rootable heroes in horror movies recently. This was the first of hopefully many more similarly incredible “social thrillers” that Peele offers the world.

#3: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)

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It almost makes me angry how incredible Mad Max: Fury Road actually is. We truly don’t deserve this movie. To think that it took over two decades, thousands of storyboards, and on-and-off Hollywood commitments for George Miller to finally churn out this behemoth is staggering. In an age where action movies have flooded the screen with unconvincing CGI, incomprehensible shaky cam, and paper-thin characterizations, the 70-year-old Australian roars back to show us how to do things right. You don’t even need to have seen the three previous Mad Max films to appreciate this masterpiece because it reels you in with gorgeous practical stunts and a solid emotional throughline. When it’s all said and done, Fury Road is perhaps the greatest action movie of the 21st century and one that still pumps me full of adrenaline every time I watch it.

#2: “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

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My love for Denis Villeneuve had been built slowly over the last few years, but it absolutely exploded after seeing Blade Runner 2049 in IMAX. It would have been so easy for him and Warner Bros. to use the long-awaited follow-up to Ridley Scott’s classic as a springboard to launch a brand new cinematic universe with many sequel and spinoff setups. Instead, this film not only surpasses the original on almost every level, but it forges its own singular path. It almost feels like an unconditional gift from another time period because it defies so many conventions of blockbuster and Hollywood filmmaking and offers an intensely involved story about what it means to be human. And to top it all off, Blade Runner 2049 might just have some of the most beautiful imagery, colors, and visual composition I’ve ever seen in cinema. Every single frame shot by Roger Deakins is a Goddamn painting that I want to hang on my wall and it FINALLY won him his long-awaited trophy.

#1: “Inception” (2010)

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I slaved many hours over whether Inception or Blade Runner 2049 should take the top spot on this list. But after careful consideration of the whole decade and the films that populated it, I’ve come to decide that Christopher Nolan’s action mindbender not only set the blueprint for blockbuster filmmaking in the 2010s but it also holds up better than many of the films that have come afterward. What makes this film so unique among the landscape is that aside from proving the director’s power as a name brand, (An original sci-fi blockbuster that grossed over $800 million) it used so many different filmmaking tools to explore its potential. Whether it’s the practicality of the special effects, the electro-orchestral score by Hans Zimmer, or the dynamic production design, it truly feels like it’s a warping story inside the mind. Capped off with one of the most discussed and ambiguous endings in film history, Inception really does capture the best of what the decade could offer and how much further cinema had to go.

Do you agree with my picks? What do you think was the absolute best film from the 2010s? I’d love to hear your thoughts or responses in the Comments below, and if you like what you’ve read here, be sure to like this post and Follow my blog for more awesome content. Here’s to another decade of great movies. Hopefully.

“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)

 

“Magnolia” Movie Review

I speak absolutely no hyperbole when I say that that might have been one of the quickest 3-hour movies I’ve ever seen. As someone who lives and breathes off of long films like The Lord of the Rings and Lawrence of Arabia, take that as high praise.

This epic ensemble drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by New Line Cinema on December 17th, 1999. It got a much wider release about two weeks later on January 7th when it expanded to more cities. Although it managed to gross over $48.5 million at the global box office, it struggled to keep up with stiff competition, not to mention its production budget of $37 million. Even so, it garnered some extremely positive responses from critics and audiences, including a glowing reaction from filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. It also went on to win the top prize at the 50th Berlin International Film Festival the following year and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, but didn’t win any.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film came along almost fully formed after the success of Anderson’s sophomore feature Boogie Nights. New Line Cinema and Michel De Luca told him he could make whatever he wanted next, and gave him final cut rights without even hearing a pitch. The director reportedly wrote several roles with their actors in mind, and even visited the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut to pitch it to one of them in person. Anderson also strongly disapproved of the studio’s marketing campaign, allegedly designing his own poster and cut together a brand new trailer for it.

Set in the then-present-day San Fernando Valley, the film is more of an ensemble piece rather than a focused narrative. Over the course of one day, we encounter the lives of over a dozen different characters- including a pick-up artist, a lonely police officer, a quiz show T.V. host and contestant, an ailing producer, and the kind nurse caring for him -who are interrelated in some ways. As strange and inexplicable things happen to all of them throughout the day, these men and women try to find a chance at love, forgiveness, and happiness, even if they may not deserve it.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whom I’ve run hot and cold on in the past, but overall I like his style. There Will Be Blood, The Master, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights show that he has a unique view on human nature and behavior. From the extremely detailed characters he paints to the believable performances he draws out of his actors, he’s often overlooked in his generation of filmmakers.

Despite this, I had yet to watch his third feature, which many people I know consider to be his magnum opus. It being finally available on Netflix gave me an opportunity to watch it in no more than two sittings and see how it holds up against the rest of his filmography. Fortunately, Magnolia proves not only to be one of Anderson’s strongest directorial offerings yet but quite possibly one of the best films of the 1990s, period.

It’s quite clear from the history-heavy cold open of montages that Anderson has very sprawling yet specific plans of what to explore here. In another, less distinctive director’s hands, the synopsis given above could easily devolve into an overlong slog of schmaltz and syrupy sentimentality. And while there are a handful of sentimental moments here and there, there’s never a second of the film that feels cheesy or heavy-handed; it’s a fundamentally human story.

Perhaps the best compliment that I can give Magnolia is that while there are many characters to follow here, you become equally invested in almost all of them. They’re all broken in one way or another and want a chance at reconciliation and happiness, even if they don’t openly acknowledge it or even deserve it. And unlike Love, Actually or any of those stupid, overblown holiday movies with star-studded casts, each of them being connected by the slightest threads only makes revelations about their past all the more tragic and engaging.

In a massive ensemble stacked with talent one either side, perhaps the most underrated performer is Jeremy Blackman as Stanley Spector, a child prodigy competing on a popular quiz show. A precocious and extremely insightful young boy, he desperately wants the respect and approval of his adult peers, particularly his father. He appears to be wiser than many of the people surrounding him but feels eternally trapped in his position and doesn’t feel like he’ll amount to anything more than a has-been.

John C. Reilly is also completely brilliant and natural as Jim Kurring, a bumbling but well-meaning police officer. A sharp departure from his future roles in irreverent comedies, he tries to hide his crippling loneliness and apparent ineptitude as an officer to make it appear as though he is control of his life. When an opportunity arise for him to potentially finally find someone who loves him, he tries to put on his best show and even briefly forgets his own shortcomings.

Anderson works with an enormous troupe of actors in varying roles but manages to get the most out of them. Including *DEEP BREATH* Melora Walters, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Melinda Dillon, Alfred Molina, Philip Baker Hall, Ricky Jay, April Grace, Luiz Guzman, and Jason Robards in his final role before his death.

The most talked-about performer, though, is Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey, a popular and in-demand pickup artist for unconfident men. This might just be one of his best performances ever, as he uses his typical boyish charisma and charm to give way to a self-obsessed hypocrite. It soon becomes abundantly clear that he uses all of his sexist “self-help” methods and self-aggrandizing monologues as a tool to mask unresolved resentment towards his parents. The sheer range that Cruise demonstrates is a true antithesis to all of his haters, and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

And from a pure filmmaking perspective, Paul Thomas Anderson uses Magnolia to further define his cinematic voice. Shot by longtime collaborator Robert Elswit, the cinematography is almost always roving around from character to character, even using whip pans as a sneaky transition. Comparisons to Scorsese in the camerawork are apt, but it always keeps the action rolling during tense scenes. There are a number of push-ins and slow zooms for more dramatic moments, and even a brilliant tracking shot early on to capture the chaos of a show behind the scenes. A handful of primary colors such as red and blue are also used to help further establish the tone of each storyline.

This goes hand-in-hand with the editing job by Dylan Tichenor, which manages to seamlessly weave together each storyline. Often times, it’ll cute between multiple characters many times whenever it feels thematically appropriate. What’s even more impressive is how despite carrying the weight of multiple different characters and story threads, the tone is completely consistent with each scene. Some are darkly funny, some are sad, some are so uniquely emotional that it’s hard to describe in words.

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann heavily contributes to the soundtrack of the film, both with recordings of old songs or her own batch of new ones. After the cold-open montage, a revamped version of the song “One” plays over the introduction to all of the main characters and their situations. It perfectly captures the tone of their loneliness and uncertainty while still being fast-paced. Another notable example is the song “Wise Up,” which manages to be sung by many of the actors at once, even though they’re all in different places. It’s a mesmerizing scene where most of them are at their rock-bottoms and try to cling on to anything to keep going on.

Also, Mann wrote and performed an Oscar-nominated original song called “Save Me,” which is saved for the very end. It’s just as melancholy and empathetic as the rest of her soundtrack and manages to bring nearly all of the storylines to a close. The lowkey instrumentation matches the longing of the lyrics and Mann’s supreme vocals and is arguably one of the most underrated songs ever written for a film.

Carrying the weight of multiple characters and story threads but never once feeling overblown in its ambitions, Magnolia is an emotionally resonant ballet of empathy and humanity. After careful consideration of his whole filmography, I feel comfortable enough to say that this might be Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece. Because not only does he handle a sprawling tale with such care and delicacy, but he also wrings incredible performances out of his massive ensemble cast.

Happiness and forgiveness are extremely difficult virtues to come by for many, especially in these scary times. And while there might not be raining frogs anytime soon, it is the humble opinion of this writer that everyone at least deserves a chance for the two.

“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.

“The Rhythm Section” Movie Review

If you suddenly had the chance to get back at the people who wronged you and your loved ones, would you? Regardless of what the collateral damage might look like?

After numerous delays, this action drama was released in theaters worldwide by Paramount Pictures on January 31st, 2020. Made for the budget of $50 million, it has drastically underperformed and only grossed about $6 million worldwide thus far. This is far below several predicted metrics, making it the worst opening weekend ever for a film released in over 3000 theaters. And in addition to losing the studio roughly $40 million, it hasn’t been graced with the best of critical reviews.

Directed by Reed Morano, the film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay. The product apparently was so attention-grabbing that James Bond franchise showrunners Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson hopped on-board as producers. During production, the main star suffered a pretty serious physical injury that set the schedule back by almost six months while she recovered.

Blake Lively stars as Stephanie Patrick, a young woman in London still reeling from a terrible loss. Three years earlier, her whole family was killed in an international plane crash over the Atlantic and has since spiraled into drugs and prostitution to cope with the tragedy. However, she is recently told by journalist Keith Proctor, played by Raza Jeffrey, that the crash wasn’t an accident but in fact part of a larger terrorist plot. Over the course of the next several months, she begins developing fighting skills so that she can hunt down and kill every person responsible for the death of her family.

I had been somewhat intrigued by this film all the way through the various hiccups and delays. I’ve been a fan of Blake Lively as an actress for a long time, and in 2018, we got to see her give some really awesome work in Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor. The idea of her doing an international action flick from the same people behind the James Bond franchise sounded like an amazing proposition.

Although I haven’t seen her two previous features, I thought Reed Morano’s work on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was really impressive. And despite all the bad reception it was getting, I had hopes that she and Lively would be able to conjure something that was at least interesting. And in all seriousness, The Rhythm Section isn’t nearly as bad as some people say it is; there is some enjoyment to found here.

The story presented here practically begs to become a female version of James Bond, with the CIA and MI6 thrown in for good measure. However, perhaps the best thing about this film is that it avoids that temptation and becomes way more interested in looking at the weight of grief and futility of revenge. Stephanie isn’t a very competent spy, but that makes her feel all the more human as she tries to learn from her mistakes and break the barriers around her.

I think where The Rhythm Section loses a lot of people is that its style is very unconventional for a studio blockbuster. It occasionally moves back and forth between different points in time for Stephanie, which can make it a little frustrating to follow her journey. It’s easy to see why this movie hasn’t fare well at all with critics or audiences, but I definitely at least appreciate it for trying to subvert the norms of a traditional blockbuster, especially since it doesn’t seem interested in starting a franchise.

Blake Lively has been on a role in recent years, and it’s exicitng to see her branch out even further here. As Stephanie Patrick, she is a messy, broken woman who gave up trying to get closure for her family’s death a long time ago. When she gets caught up in a newfound conspiracy web, she becomes desperate to find out the truth and despite knowing she’s in over her head, she’s come too far just to turn around and leave.

Jude Law makes a similar impression as Iain Boyd, a retired MI6 operative who reluctantly helps train her. It’s clear that he wants absolutely nothing to do with the world of espionage anymore and only agrees to help Stephanie due to a personal connection with her case. He’s particularly unremorseful with her, having been desensitized to the worst humanity has to offer, and the secrets he carries make him intriguing.

Aside from these two, the supporting cast is made up of various actors who give hit-or-miss performances. This includes Sterling K. Brown as a highly resourceful information broker, Raza Jeffrey as the determined journalist who gives Stephanie a purpose again, Richard Brake as an infamous international gangster, Tawfeek Barhom as a potential suspect, and Max Casella as the man bank-rolling the antagonist’s plans. Each player has varying amounts of screentime and some leave more of an impression than others.

And looking the technical aspects, The Rhythm Section sees Morano still trying to find her own voice. The cinematography by Sean Bobbit opts for a more handheld, cinéma vérité style to capture the messy and frenetic nature of the protagonist’s situation. Stephanie is in nearly every shot of the film, putting us practically in her shoes as she goes on her bloodthirsty quest. There are many close-up shots and rack focuses, which does a decent job at capturing her state of mind as we learn about the truth as she does.

Joan Sobel’s editing job mostly serves this style well as it tries to keep up with everything happening on-screen. There are a handful of action scenes where it can be hard to tell what’s going on at first, but it soon comes into focus. There’s also a Terrence Malick-esque choice to occasionally cut back to snapshots of Stephanie’s life with her family, using a much brighter color palette. This might be one of the better stylistic choices the film makes, as it illustrates everything that was taken away from her.

Relative industry newcomer Steve Mazzaro provides the instrumental film score here. Like the rest of the film, it tries to provide something unique and different than most mainstream films offer in the genre. The majority of tracks use jagged, staccato violins and other strings to highlight the frantic pacing of the story. Alternatively, this primary sound is often manipulated either into a scene that’s very exciting or deeply somber. What really separates the two is the occasional inclusion of mild percussion or woodwinds sounds.

Taken as a whole, The Rhythm Section is a wonky but determined antithesis to traditional Hollywood spy films. It is far from perfect or even great, but Reed Morano still shows she’s got a lot of potential as a filmmaker who wants to stand toe-to-toe with the other major blockbuster directors of her generation. And Blake Lively proves why she’s completely deserving of a real franchise to lead and manages to deliver one of her most complex roles to date.

When it’s all said and done, I’ve got to give credit to Paramount and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson for trying to create a unique counterpart to James Bond. It’s a bummer that it’s mostly likely going to get overlooked by most audiences, but hopefully that doesn’t deter studios from make more (And better) action dramas geared towards adults.

The Rhythm Section Poster #1

“Tron: Legacy” Movie Review

Imagine being trapped inside a computer programming of your own creation for the better part of 30 years. With absolutely no knowledge of any of the politics, crimes, misery, or troubles of the real world. I kind of envy that.

This techno-influenced science-fiction action drama initially had its world premiere in Tokyo on November 30th, 2010. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Disney over two weeks later on December 17th to high anticipation. Made for the budget of $170 million, it went on to gross just over $400 million at the global box office. Although it managed to break even, it didn’t meet the studio’s big expectations for the long-awaited sequel. The financial disappointment and mixed critical reception put plans for a new franchise on hold, with talks of a new installment coming and going with each passing year.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski in his feature debut, rumors of a sequel to the 1982 original had been in circulation for a long time. Although Pixar was supposedly interested in continuing the story in 1999, it was only around 2005 that Disney began serious development of the project. Kosinski rejected the studio’s idea of drawing visual and narrative inspiration from The Matrix, and instead used money that producer Sean Bailey lent him for concept footage of the style and tone. An architecture student, he also used chroma keying and various other unconventional techniques to give as much creative room for the effects as possible.

Picking up 27 years after the original, Garret Hedlund stars as Sam Flynn, the primary shareholder of the tech company ENCOM International. For the past two decades, he has been investigating the disappearance of his father Kevin, played by original star Jeff Bridges. One night, Sam’s investigation leads him to an arcade that unintentionally transports him to The Grid, an independent virtual reality system. While he reunites with his father, he must contend with a corrupted version of him named Clu and figure out a way to get back to the real world.

It has been many years since I last watched this film, and I only had vague memories of liking it. On the off chance that I would miss something, I made sure to watch the original Tron first to try and understand the lore a little better. And it was a highly impressive and stylistic technical achievement, but was extremely confusing from a story standpoint.

I was hopeful to see what, if any, lessons this long-belated sequel could take from the first go-around. It’s supposed to be so different from almost all of Disney’s other live-action films recently and I wondered if this was as much of a cult hit as a lot of people have made it out to be. And Tron: Legacy is undeniably entertaining and aesthetically unique, but the story at the center is rather simplistic.

This is exactly the kind of film I think Disney should try investing more stock in making. No “live-action” remakes of animated classics, but something that looks and feels totally different than what’s usually on the market. The film is always at its best when its pushing the boundaries of family-friendly entertainment and ponders if it’s worth sacrificing fatherhood for something truly revolutionary.

But beyond the gorgeous visuals (Which still hold up quite nicely) and these brief moments of contemplation, Tron: Legacy falters to create a very meaningful or engaging story. While there is some pretty cool worldbuilding throughout and the majority of the film’s 2-hour and 5-minute runtime are spent inside The Grid, there’s not much of an emotional pull beyond the father-son thread. Still, it’s cool to watch and this is one IP I hope Disney considers revisiting in the future.

Garret Hedlund has always been a “good-not-great” actor and his performance here epitomizes that pretty well. As Sam Flynn, he constantly does immature and rash things in the real world, likely to cope with the lack of a real father figure for the past 20 years. It’s apparent that The Grid gives him an opportunity not only to make up for lost time with his father but to thrive in a world that doesn’t even exist.

In a dual role as both Kevin Flynn and his evil counterpart Clu, Jeff Bridges returns to the franchise with lots of gusto. With Flynn, he feels much more mature and wise than the previous film, optimistic for the future of humanity but still feeling guilty about his lackluster job as a father. On the opposite end, he’s intimidating and relentless as the villain Clu, even though the then-burgeoning effort of de-aging technology doesn’t quite work for him.

Olivia Wilde is also worth mentioning as Quorra, a uniquely programmed warrior who serve’s as Kevin’s only ally in The Grid. She’s extremely adept at fighting and even steals the show in a handful of action scenes because of her wicked skills. However, she’s also deeply curious about what the real world is like, as reading endless amounts of literature and asking questions isn’t enough to quench her thirst to witness a real sunrise.

And while there are some familiar faces that pop up in the supporting cast, it’s Michael Sheen’s turn as Castor, a flamboyant nightclub owner. Although he doesn’t appear until the second act, he absolutely steals the show from under the protagonists and clearly relishes the role. Sheen’s bright personality and fantastic wardrobe are also heavily reminiscent of David Bowie’s early years, which makes him by far the most interesting character in the whole movie.

And from a purely technical point of view, Tron: Legacy is a major step forward for the studio and shows Kosinski knows what he’s doing. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is extremely noteworthy for its smooth movements and slick framing. The Grid heavily relies on the opposing colors of orange and blue while scenes in the real world are relatively muted. This is one of the best examples of 3D filmmaking as the cameras capture everything, from light cycle battles to one-on-one duels, with great precision.

James Haygood’s editing job goes hand-in-hand with the visuals, knowing when to leave a shot lingering or keep the action flowing. There are enough cuts during action sequences to keep the momentum up and never makes it confusing or hard to follow. It’s a testament to the editing crew that the flow between CGI shots and practical actors or sets is mostly seamless. Plus, the sound design is stellar, ensuring that every scene can be heard just as well as seen. It’s actually one of the most satisfying sound designs of the last decade.

Speaking of sound, French music duo Daft Punk provide their first and thus far only score for a film. I hope they decide to do more soundtracks because it’s an absolute thing of beauty and innovation. Like the rest of their work, the score is heavy on electronics across the board, which is appropriate for the unique world here. However, much of the soundtrack avoids being just dubstep and uses synthesizers, low strings, and percussion beats to create an emotional connection to the storyline. At times, it’s warm, harsh, and always attention-grabbing, making for one of the most underrated film scores in recent years.

Pushing the boundaries of filmmaking technology in exciting ways but lacking a real human pull for it, Tron: Legacy is a visually and audibly stunning adventure with a rather unaffecting story. At the end of the day Joseph Kosinski and Disney have made a really impressive tech demo that’s more like candy for the eyes and ears than anything else. It’s fun to see Jeff Bridges return to the saga and his new cast members are welcome as well, but their characters aren’t the most compelling to watch.

I think there’s a lot of potential in this franchise for Disney to explore, and this film seems to indicate they have an idea of where it would go. I just wish Kosinski was just as good with his actors as he was with her camera and effects.

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“Rain Man” Movie Review

Welcome back, one and all, to my New Year’s Resolution! It’s been a great way for me to finally watch films I’ve always wanted to and look back on old favorites. The rules are the same as the have been for the past two years, and it’s time for me to start by scratch a major film off my watchlist.

This road-trip dramedy was originally released in theaters worldwide by MGM on December 16th, 1988. Made for the middling budget of $25 million, it went on to gross over $354.8 million at the box office. This made it the highest-grossing U.S. film of that year, despite competition from the likes of Die Hard and Twins. Critically acclaimed, it went on to win and be nominated for several year-end accolades, including top honors at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival. It also managed to win 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Picture, out of 8 total nominations.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning screenplay was originally written by Barry Marrow before being polished by Ronald Bass. The characters and story were inspired by Kim Peek and Bill Sackter, two real-life savants who Marrow met by chance. The final draft was delivered a few hours before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike started, preventing any further rewrites during filming. There was also a controversy when 15 major airlines omitted a pivotal scene from the film, except for the Australian based Qantas whose safety records become more well-known afterwards.

Tom Cruise stars as Charlie Babbitt, a selfish young wheeler-dealer who tries importing cars against the EPA’s rules. When his estranged father dies, he travels to Cincinnati to hear the will reading and presumably inherit his vast amount of money and assets. However, he learns that his father’s entire fortune has been bequeathed to his older brother Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, who’s lived much of his life in a group home due to his autism and savant syndrome. Together, they embark on a cross-country roadtrip to change the legal status of their inheritance and form an unusual bond along the way.

Full disclosure for everyone reading this: I am an adult male diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I have been on the spectrum for as long as I can remember and it has been a major defining part of my life and personality. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve truly become interested in researching the topic and I’d even go as far as to say that it has helped shape my passion for movies and storytelling. It’s something I’ve become comfortable with, and I’m proud of the resilience it has given me over time.

Despite this, with a few exceptions, I have rarely seen a portrayal of the condition in mainstream media. Shows and films such as Atypical, The Accountant, and Barfi have attempted to normalize it for neurotypical people in recent years, but I had never seen the one that had put it on the map for more people. As a serious depiction of autism, I have a couple of issues with it. But as a film on its own, Rain Man is still a pretty engaging and entertaining road movie to watch after 32 years.

The way they handle Raymond’s condition was much more sensitive than I had anticipated and it definitely gets a lot of things right. Many of his on-screen mannerisms, such as talking to himself and frequent panic attacks or outbursts, are remarkably accurate to the general symptoms of autism. It also gets points for showing how Charlie, a cold and selfish person, initially tries to manipulate Raymond for his own purposes before gradually changing his mind; that really hit close to home for me.

Where Rain Man falters here, aside from just being a typical roadtrip movie, is that it almost implies that all people on the spectrum are savants who are cut off from normal human emotions. This makes Raymond seem almost robotic during his time on-screen, and it feels way too simplified to have a full impact. But at the same time, I have to give Levinson and Co. some credit for at least trying to do something realistic with it, especially for the time it was made in.

In one of the earlier roles of his storied career, Tom Cruise delivers the goods here as Charlie Babbitt. At the beginning of the film, he’s a callous and narcissistic older brother who wants no responsibility that doesn’t result in his own personal gain. And while he tries to use Raymond’s incredible mathematic skills for his benefits, he soon comes to realize that having a relationship with his brother is far more important.

Valeria Golino is also worth mentioning as Susanna, Charlie’s level-headed girlfriend and business partner. She constantly tries to put Charlie on the right path and often tries to shoot down some of his schemes when they clearly only benefit him. As the film goes along, she starts to see his softer side as the influence of Raymond begins to show on the both of them.

And then, we have Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, the role that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s easy to see why his performance was so acclaimed at the time of release and why it’s so controversial now. As mentioned earlier, Hoffman plays the role rather robotically, only showing real emotion during big outbursts. A huge part of me really wishes that had actually cast someone on the spectrum for the role rather than a neurotypical actor, but then again, the film might not have gotten made.

That being said, Hoffman does a pretty good job at showing his character’s insecurity when things don’t go according to his routine. It may seem a little childish at first, but it soon becomes clear that this is the only way that Raymond can cope with the real world, which he has never lived in as an adult. Seeing the way average people dismiss him because of his behavior is heartbreaking, especially since he can’t really express himself or his feelings in a “normal” way.

And from a technical perspective, Rain Man fits right into the pack of late 80s movies. John Seale’s cinematography tries to capture the sense of a sprawling road trip, with sweeping shots across the countryside. Being shot on location helps make it feel like an authentic look through a part of Americana. There are also a number of medium close-ups to help get intimate with the characters in small moments.

This works decently with the editing job by Stu Linder. It’s a very straightforward and unpretentious method he uses to cut the film together. There are only cuts whenever there need to be for the story or for when the emotions start running high, instead opting mostly for longer takes. The lack of flare allows for the characters to take center stage here.

In one of his earliest works in Hollywood, Hans Zimmer provides the instrumental film score. It essentially serves as a guideline for all his scores to come because it is a genuinely good, if not quite memorable one. You can hear his signature style of blending electronic sounds with that of a more traditional orchestral sound. The main theme is an interesting theme that doesn’t really feel sentimental but still feels appropriate for what Charlie and Raymond go through. The trademark 80s synthesizer and percussion is ever present throughout as it sets the tone for the adventure to come.

A clear product of its time, Rain Man is a somewhat problematic mishmash of genuinely good intentions. Barrys Levinson and Marrow do work within the confines of a traditional road trip movie but still put forth a lot of effort to take its subject matter seriously. It’s also a great showcase for a pre-action Tom Cruise and a performance from Dustin Hoffman that, for better or worse, has made its way into film history.

As someone on the spectrum, I’m still trying to work out my exact feelings on how it treats autism. I can definitely respect the attempts the filmmakers made at painting a more accurate picture of the condition, but there’s still a long way to go.