Category Archives: Romance

“Parasite” Movie Review

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

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“It’s a Wonderful Life” Movie Review

If you’re not in the mood for the sappy schmaltz of Hallmark movies or the action-heavy bravado of Die Hard, you can always look to the “Golden Age” for holiday favorites. This holiday romantic fantasy drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by RKO Pictures on December 20th, 1946. Despite being able to recoup its $3.18 million production budget, the film failed to break even due to stiff competition, and it wasn’t close. Many experts and historians attributed this as the start of the once-popular director’s decline in his favor with the major studios. Nowadays, it is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, the film was originally inspired by the short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. The studio initially set it up as a starring vehicle for Cary Grant with Dalton Trumbo writing the screenplay before all of their ideas were scrapped. Capra came in and did extensive (And apparently strenuous) work on the new script with Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich and auditioned several actors for all bu the main role. A few months after the release of the film, there was a memo sent out to the public by the FBI accusing the film of having Communist sympathies. Set in the fictional small town of Bedford Falls, Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, a young man working as a building and loan banker. As the film goes along, we witness all the things in his life leading up to a series of particularly miserable decisions and bad luck. On Christmas Eve 1945, he becomes so depressed from his situation that he contemplates suicide, only to be saved by his guardian angel Clarence Odbody, played by Henry Travers. In an effort to show him how different life would be, Clarence takes George to a version of the world where he was never born and the consequences therein. I’ve made it clear in the past that Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and I firmly stand by that. However, I also recognize that sometimes it’s nice to find something a little older and more family-friendly to watch over the holiday break. And although it could from household to household, more often than not, it comes down to this film and White Christmas. I had personally not seen this film for the better part of a decade, even though I distinctly remember loving it the first time. I finally got the chance to watch it again in the past few weeks, hoping that my older eyes would see it in a new light. And it’s with a brightened heart and a lifted spirit that I say It’s a Wonderful Life is still fabulous and even improves on repeat viewings. The central premise is a question we’ve all asked ourselves before; would the world be much different without me? This film paints Bedford Falls as a genuinely kind town and in the scenario without George Bailey around, it becomes a much darker and colder place called “Pottersville.” It does a fantastic job at showing how much the protagonist has made the lives of those around him better, even if he himself can’t realize it. Interestingly, something you may notice is that It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t really get to Clarence or the alternate world until over an hour into the film. The whole movie leading up to that moment is spent with the voices in Heaven recounting George’s whole life story from childhood to present day. It not only helps further establish context for him and his loved ones but also creates a big emotional payoff for the iconic and heartwarming ending. Jimmy Stewart has built his whole career playing the likable American everyman, and I’m convinced that this might be his best work outside of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. As George Bailey, he’s immensely compassionate and is able think on his feet rather quickly when financial situations come up. Although he’s clearly happy to help his fellow neighbors, seeing him sacrificing his dreams of leaving Bedford Falls time and again shows his growing frustration of wanting to live a bigger life but never getting to. In direct contrast to him, Lionel Barrymore is extremely memorable as Mr. Henry F. Potter, the richest man in town. Although he doesn’t move much outside of his wheelchair, he’s successfully able to make both Bedford Falls citizens and audience members despise him as he only cares about buying and owning everything. He prides himself on manipulating various businesspeople on deals and loans for his own gain and only seems to get angrier and greedier as the film goes along. Henry Travers also delights as the guardian angel in training Clarence Odbody, one of the best side characters in cinema. Despite his cheerful and optimistic attitude, he’s determined to show George why his life truly matters and isn’t afraid to show the darkness. It’s almost like a learning experience for both him and us as we learn everything about this town and its people right alongside Clarence and the value of human decency. The supporting cast includes Donna Reed as George’s loving and quick-witted wife, Thomas Mitchell as his caring but dim-witted uncle Billy, Todd Karns as his innocent yet honest younger brother, H.B. Warner as a well-meaning but oft-drunk druggist, and Frank Albertson as George’s wealth but absent old friend. Each one plays an important part in the story of the main character and it’s clear they all are impacted by him. Even if George himself can’t see it, their lives are much better with him around and radiate a genuine warmth and neighborly presence in each scene. And from a technical point of view, It’s a Wonderful Life showcases Capra’s real brilliance behind the camera. Because of the difficulty of production, three cinematographers were credited: Joseph Biroc, Victor Milner, and Joseph Walker. Despite this, the black-and-white cinematography is still timelessly great, filled with long takes for dialogue-heavy scenes between all of the characters. There are a surprising amount of close-up shots used, either used to capture an actor’s internalized emotions or highlight important information on a document. Although a colorized version does exist, the black-and-white original makes the frame feel much more natural and the smooth movements make it seem almost like a fairytale. The editing job by William Hornbeck is equally excellent, being able to showcase everything with great precision and timing. As previously stated, there are several long takes throughout the film. But there are also numerous scenes where it cuts back and forth between different points of view to provide variety and tension, especially during arguments. A handful of times, the frame will freeze so that Clarence and his superiors in Heaven can fill in some blanks on lost time. It’s a brilliant way to keep the audience engaged without trying to hold their hand the whole way through. Dimitri Tiomkin, who previously worked on the director’s prior films, provides the instrumental film score for what would be their last effort together. It has all the sweeping greatness of many old-school Hollywood films, with a full orchestra and more. The main suite is a grand theme that mixes multiple different sounds and instruments together in a great manner. The mixture of strings and brass help create an emotional environment as George moves from one thing in his life to another. It also utilizes both subtle and overt choral moments that highlight the ethereal nature of the story. And best of all, it also knows when to let their be no music whatsoever, making it land much more effectively. A true cinematic classic if ever there was one, It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful and humanistic tribute to all the small moments in our lives. Arguably Frank Capra’s masterpiece, the film shows us how much of an impact we all have on the people immediately around us, even if we don’t fully realize it. Jimmy Stewart has quite possibly never been better than here and George Bailey is undoubtedly one of the best heroes in movie history. There is perhaps nothing more true to the “Christmas spirit” than for us to appreciate the time and space we share with our loved ones, and this film shows that wonderfully.

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“Highlander” Movie Review

After watching and reviewing a slew of critically acclaimed “classics” for My New Year’s resolution, I decided to have a bit of a change of pace. And I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the decision. This fantasy adventure film was originally released in U.S. theaters by 20th Century Fox on March 7th, 1986. It was eventually brought to theaters in the U.K. about 5 months later on August 29th of that year by the now-defunct EMI Films. Made for the budget of around $19 million, it failed to recuperate that with a final box office intake of just $12.9 million. It also didn’t help that critical reviews for the film at the time ranged from dismissive to outright panning it. Despite this, it later found some newfound success when it was released on home media, becoming something of a gem with a huge worldwide cult following. It also, for some reason, spawned a franchise that included four sequels, an animated film, and a T.V. spinoff. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, the screenplay was originally written while screenwriter Gregory Widen was an undergrad student at UCLA, and sold it for $200,000. The original concept was apparently much darker and more violent but was watered down after the studio brought Larry Ferguson and Peter Bellwood to rewrite several drafts. Filming was apparently a grueling process for all involved, particularly with getting locations figured out and the logistics of certain shots. Beginning in Scotland 1536, Christopher Lambert stars as Conor MacLeod, a warrior and patron of his family clan. After apparently dying on the field of battle, he discovers that he is one of a group of immortals that can only be killed by decapitation. Fast forward to 1985, Conor is living in New York City under the alias Russell Nash and learns that his lifelong enemy The Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown, has found him. Knowing that their confrontation could decide the fate of the universe, Conor remembers all his teachings and prepares for the final battle. If that premise alone doesn’t automatically scream the 1980s, then I honestly don’t know what does. It was a time when the industry, while heavily commercialized and influenced by the Reagan Era, still churned out original blockbusters at a steady rate. Even if all of the movies from that decade weren’t great or even good, it’s cool to see something so admittedly bonkers get bankrolled by a major studio at the time. This was one of those movies that I had always heard a weird response about, with just as many people proclaiming it a genre classic as there were those who denounced it completely. It had been in my Blu-Ray collection for many years, but now I finally had the chance to sit down and watch it myself. Make absolutely no mistake; Highlander is objectively a bad movie on several fronts, but I just couldn’t help but be totally entertained by it. In my personal experience, there are two different types of “guilty pleasure” movies to watch. There are the ones that are so atrocious that they’re hilariously fun to watch with a crowd, and then those that you love even with the full knowledge that it’s not good at all.  The 80s had plenty of both types, and I consider this film to be among the latter category. I also feel like Highlander is a movie that could only really have worked if it were made in this specific time frame. If they had made it today, (And apparently, there are efforts to try and reboot it) it would have taken everything way too seriously and tried to find some sort of thematic resonance. And while there is a glimpse of looking at immortals cursed to walk the Earth forever, it’s really the zany silliness that makes the movie what it is. Christopher Lambert is not a good actor and his performance as Conor MacLeod in this film is iconic in a different way. As stoic as a statue of William Wallace, he can either go too far into a scene or not far enough depending on the emotional requirements. It’s also arguable that no other actor could’ve portrayed him like this, especially with all of that luscious hair. In more positive notes, Clancy Brown seems to be having the time of his life playing The Kurgan in this film. The future voice actor for Mr. Krabs chews up how overtly villainous and contemptible his character is, covered in many scars and undesirable clothing. Aside from an epic voice and a litany of swear words, he also gets credit for uttering the film’s most iconic line, “There can be only one!” Sir Sean Connery is also noteworthy as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, Conor’s immortal mentor during his early days. The only one in the film with a convincing Scottish accent, it’s both perplexing and amusing trying to figure out what background his character is supposed to be. As he rides through the gorgeous hills with a flamboyant costume in tow, he espouses some observations on the values of love for men like them and just hams it up the best he can. Roxanne Hart, Beatie Edney, Alan North, Jon Polito, Sheila Gish, and Hugh Quarshie round out the relevant players in the supporting cast. There’s a decent variety of performance here, with some playing it straight and others going all-or-nothing. I wouldn’t put these actors up as the most memorable roles of the decade or even their careers, but for what it is, they do a fine job. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Highlander are a mixed bag, ranging from good to jarring. The cinematography by Gerry Fisher bares a sort of sheen of plasticity found in many films from the era. Many colors are weirdly washed out, but come bursting out in bits and pieces such as Juan’s extravagant outfits. It often trades big, swooping landscape shots for many intimate medium or close-ups to try and bring it back to the characters. With only one exception relatively early on, most of the shots are consistent in style and quality as it moves from scene to scene. Speaking of which, the editing job by Peter Hoeness can be highly inconsistent. The transitions from scenes in the present day to 16th-century Scotland are pretty clever and subtle for the most part. But during the fight sequences, the cuts between multiple, drastically different shots is bizarre at best and incomprehensible at worst. A couple of battles even take place mostly in dark shadows as if to hide the stunt doubles, which is a shame because a number of them are decently choreographed. But the incorporation of practical sets and effects is mighty cool and at least feels like an attempt at authenticity. The soundtrack is noteworthy because it reeks of the 1980s in the best way possible. Immortal British rock band Queen write a handful of songs for the film, which eventually were composited into their album Kind of Magic. The two most notable songs they contributed are “Princes of the Universe” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Both feature the band’s typical, synth-heavy sound from the decade, while Freddie Mercury’s inimitable vocals fit perfectly for the grand scope of the adventure. Although the former song discuss the cosmic implications of the main story and characters, the latter is more of a somber love ballad for Conor’s doomed attempts at mortal romance. Iconic in ways both genuine and ironic, Highlander is a shamelessly cheesy adventure with entertaining yet unreached potential. Although it definitely leaves much to be desired and could easily find more meat with its premise, Russell Mulcahy and Gregory Widen still managed to create an original mythology that finds a great place in its crowded era. Christopher Lambert may not be able to act well, (Or at all, really) but Conor MacLeod is a hero worth rooting for who gets the chance to go head-to-head in a swordfight against Mr. Krabs. I mean, is there anything else you could possibly ask for?

“Dolemite Is My Name” Movie Review

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

“Ford v Ferrari” Movie Review

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

“All That Jazz” Movie Review

I’ve been constantly looking for the one film that could possibly win over even people who weren’t a fan of musicals. And I’m pretty sure I just found it. This fantastical musical drama was originally released in theaters worldwide by 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures on December 20th, 1979. Made for the budget of $12 million, it went on to gross over $37.8 million at the box office, considered above expectations. One of the most acclaimed films of its year, it went on to garner the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival the following year and won 4 Academy Awards out of 9 nominations. Additionally, it received high praise from figures in the industry, including filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Directed by Bob Fosse, the screenplay was written in collaboration with producer Robert Alan McArthur. As the production’s cost was continuously climbing, another studio had to be brought in to help finish it and was given domestic distribution as well. The film is said to be based on Fosse’s experiences trying to stage a production of Chicago while simultaneously editing the film Lenny, which resulted in him suffering massive heart attack. Many of the actors involved were either based on people in Fosse’s life or were playing mildly fictional versions of themselves. Roy Scheider stars as Joe Gideon, a workaholic yet successful Broadway director and choreographer. As he’s working on a brand new show, while also editing a film behind schedule, his health condition gradually becomes worse as he can’t pull himself away from a life of debauchery. He frequently has imaginary conversations with an angel of death named Angelique, played by Jessica Lange, who tries to help him understand the sins of his life. And despite the crystal clear signs and warnings from family and friends that he needs to slow down, Joe is determined to finish his work before his time on Earth is over. While my Broadway history is far from thorough, I really do enjoy Bob Fosse’s work on musicals like Chicago. His intimate and first-hand knowledge of that world really shines through in just about every one of his projects. There’s a certain energy and wavelength they’re all on that’s just impossible to resist so easily. Despite this, I had never seen any of his film productions until this one. I guess it was partially because I feared if his masterful staging and choreography would translate into cinema very well. And that is just the case because All That Jazz is a phenomenal film that transcends its very genre over and over. Unlike most semi-autobiographical pictures, this one doesn’t try to sanitize the director’s lifestyle or his profession. In fact, the best and most terrifying part about it is how Fosse reckons with his destructive choices and the people he’s damaged as a result. And yet, I’ve been told that this is still somehow less dramatic than what had actually transpired in real life. Even more scary is that All That Jazz is unafraid to show the dangerous side of show business, warts and all. There are numerous scenes where the producers and financiers of Gideon’s projects are either extremely uncomfortable with his vision or trying to find a way to undermine it for investment returns. In that, it might be too brutal to watch for some, but it never forgets the humanity at the heart of the story. Roy Scheider makes a total departure from his heroic turn in Jaws by completely embodying the director in the best way possible. As Joe Gideon, he convincingly portrays his gradual downfall as his personal and professional life come to a head. His constant movement and multitasking shows the natural talent he possesses, even if it alienates everyone in his life. Watching him slowly fall apart, first denying it hen embracing it, is heartbreaking to see. Jessica Lange also shines as Angelique, Gideon’s eager and contemplative angel of death. The film often interjects scenes of the real world with Gideon recounting different stories to her, who’s goal seems to be trying to understand his humanity as death inches closer. Her curiosity towards his failings as a man makes her one of the few characters he opens up to, even though she’s somewhat distant emotionally. The supporting cast is rounded out by a troupe of noticeable character actors, many of whom have background in theater. This includes Ann Reinking as the auteur’s youthful new girlfriend, Ben Vereen as a late night music entertainer, Cliff Gorman as the lead actor in a film Gideon is cutting together, John Lithgow as one of Gideon’s Broadway rivals, and Wallace Shawn as an opportunistic insurance investigator. Each one plays a big part in Joe’s personal or professional life and frequently come and go as the story needs them to. And from a purely technical standpoint, All That Jazz is a towering achievement in the Hollywood New Wave. Shot by Federico Fellini’s collaborator Giuseppe Rotunno, the cinematography is gritty and largely unpretentious. For the moments when it’ just focused on Joe’s personal affairs or business dealings, the color palette is very grimy and harsh as to represent his lifestyle. But when it switches to something more theatrical, the colors turn vibrant with spotlights and the lighting is incredible. Most of the shots are steady zooms or tracking shots, often showcasing a whole performance in one go. It is made even more amazing by the editing job from Alan Heim, which may as well be a Masterclass in editing. The most notable example of it being Joe’s morning routine, which repeats several times and gives a great view of his unhealthy habits. It frequently cuts between two scenes to show a strong juxtaposition between them, such as the Broadway show’s backers discussing financial prospects contrasting with Joe’s heart surgery. As the film goes along, the editing becomes more distorted as Joe becomes more unsure of what’s real and what’s the afterlife. Both of these things culminate in a glorious final act, which might just be one of the best endings in film history. With a new rendition of The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” it’s a spectacular finale befitting of its protagonist. And the smash cut to the last shot is perhaps one of the most devastating you’re likely to ever see in a motion picture. Featuring intense performances, amazing direction, and an incredible ending to cap it all off, All That Jazz is an existential masterpiece of music, death, and the personal cost of artistry. By subverting the “tortured artist” cliché and letting his guard down, Bob Fosse delivers one of the most powerful and unhinged portraits of the entertainment industry. Roy Schieder gives a great performance as a caricature of Fosse and the whole rest and the cast and crew bring their absolute A-game. As I said in the beginning, even if you don’t really like musicals, it will be very difficult to not be captivated by this film’s chaotic beauty.

“Zombieland” Movie Review

We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary for this movie, AND it’s getting the long-awaited sequel it finally deserves. To paraphrase one of the main characters here, now is as good as any time to nut up or shut up. This post-apocalyptic horror comedy film originally premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2009 to a highly enthusiastic reception from critics and genre fans. It was later released in theaters worldwide by Sony and Columbia Pictures on October 2nd of that year, a week earlier than had been advertised. Within its first 17 days, it managed to gross over $60 million at the global box office, eventually bringing its total intake to $102.4 million. This made it become the highest-grossing zombie movie to be released in North America, a position previously held by Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004. Directed by Ruben Fleischer in his feature-length debut, the incredibly witty screenplay was written by Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The idea for the film had floated with them for years, and originally wrote it as a television pilot in the summer of 2005. Although one specific part had been written for Patrick Swayze, the actor was too sick from terminal pancreatic cancer and over a dozen other stars were considered before settling on someone else. One of its other stars had a number of demands before signing on, including the director changing his diet, and allegedly attacked a TMZ photographer while in character. Set two months after mad cow’s disease devolved into a zombie apocalypse, Jesse Eisenberg stars as Columbus, a college student who lives by a strict set of rules. On his journey to see if his parents are still alive, he runs into another survivor called Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson, who’s very violent in his killings. The two of them then encounter sisters Wichita and Little Rock, played by Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who have a hard time trusting anyone. The four of them begrudgingly agree to travel to an amusement park in Los Angeles that’s supposedly free of zombies, and unexpectedly become closer as they make their way. Zombie stories are nowhere near anything new in movies, but they’ve come a long way from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Some are extremely gory, others are more sterile; some are loaded with sociopolitical undertones, are just as mindless as the undead roaming the frame. And others, like this one, are just the right amount of fun and emotional to carry itself for the runtime. I remember really liking this movie the first time I saw it, but after seeing Venom, I worried that maybe Ruben Fleischer’s directorial skills weren’t what I remembered them being. It’s not often that some comedies hold up on repeat viewings, especially if they were released years ago. But that’s not the case with Zombieland, as it still proves to be a very funny and bloody good time. I had genuinely forgotten how sweet-natured the film is, which balances out the wittiness and snarky humor typical of Reese and Wernick’s work. Rather trying to be a serious commentary on contemporary society or human nature, the film is more concerned with telling a story about an unconventional makeshift family. Even though we never learn their real names, we really grow attached to the four central protagonists as they learn to trust other people again. Another thing that sets Zombieland apart from the rest of the pack is the inclusion of Columbus’ extensive list of rules. All of them make sense in the context of the apocalypse, and several others are so amusing because of how weirdly specific they can be, such as “Beware the Bathrooms.” Even though not all of them are explicitly given in the movie, it’s a neat and unique way for worldbuilding. Right before creating Facebook and alienating everyone around him, Jesse Eisenberg puts in earnest and funny work as Columbus. High-strung as ever and always thinking on his feet, his small physique and demeanor juxtapose his harsh view of the new world. Meeting these new people clearly has an effect on him as he suddenly and willfully thrusts himself into danger to keep them all safe and alive. Woody Harrelson delivers arguably his most iconic performance as Tallahassee, a redneck with a big penchant for Twinkies. A man’s man if ever there was one, he has an enormous amount of bravado and pride that attributes to his instinct for distrust no matter the situation. But underneath all of the macho gun action and hilarious one-liners is a fundamentally lonely man broken by the status of the world around him. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are both badass and funny in their own right, always thinking on their feet. It’s clear that something happened to them that instilled a great feeling of antitrust among fellow survivors and always keep trying to move along to the next “safe zone.” They provide a great foil to the more masculine attitudes of Tallahassee and Columbus and all four intermingle perfectly throughout. And as many have already heard, Bill Murray makes an all-timer of a cameo in this film as a fictionalized version of himself. Although he apparently wasn’t the first choice, he gamely puts his effort into this hilarious and self-deprecating caricature. When asked if he has any regrets about the world before the apocalypse he casually replies, “Ehh, Garfield maybe.” And meanwhile, the technical aspects of Zombieland show its effort to stylistically separate itself from other entries in the genre. Michael Bonvillain’s cinematography is highly stylized and frenetic, which lends well to the chaos of this post-apocalyptic world. Not many shots are handheld, more often opting for more controlled or gliding shots into the madness as the four protagonists try to fight their way out. It also frequently lets a shot be drawn out for a pause to make a comedic moment much funnier. This goes almost hand-in-hand with the joint editing job by Peter Amundson and Alam Baumgarten. At 88 minutes long, the scenes are all cut together at a brisk and consistent pace that mostly flows well all the way through. There’s a really great opening credits sequence that shows a slow-motion highlights reel of the initial outbreak of the zombie virus which sets the unorthodox tone to come. The film also features cutaways from the main action to a different scenario. For example, if a character feels particularly proud of a zombie kill, Columbus’ narration will bring up another example of an exceptional kill somewhere far away. More energetic and fun than meaningful and serious, Zombieland is an appropriately zany and subversive breath of life in the genre for the undead. While not really classic, Ruben Fleischer, along with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, are able to inject some great thrills balanced with lighthearted moments. The core four cast members really help to sell this story of a makeshift family trying to find solace after the end of the world. It’s a great movie to watch every now and then with a group of friends and still doesn’t lose its luster after all this time.