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Haunting, but sporadic
This tale of Joker's descent into madness has legitimate pathos. Joaquin Phoenix here is not charismatic, but sad and pathetic-not in the derogatory sense of the word, but in the sense of appearing skinny, having a cruel neurological condition, and being constantly misjudged, and in deserving pathos, or our sympathy. Sometimes, it did seem like this world of this newly created Joker struggled to fit with the comic book character we know from the Batman franchise. While Joker's slow burn into violent activity was believable, it was less believable that the same descent could lead him into becoming a super villain. Joaquin's Joker doesn't seem to have much agenda for the grand scale. His violent actions are all personal and reactive. This Joker falls into becoming a symbol for a protest movement, which doesn't feel quite a product of Gotham but of hasty scriptwriting. The film does its best to mix outcast themes, clown imagery and mental illness all in one to create the Joker, but something more than clown makeup is missing from the equation.
"Joker" is an uncomfortable and magnetic film. It uses several kinds of storytelling devices to disorient our sense of reality, sometimes successfully and other times not completely enough. Its use of soundtrack is compelling but also less than fully consistent. The era of the when the film occurs confuses itself between the 40s, the 60s, the 80s and the present 2000s. The soundtrack is pulled from a variety of these decades as well, and adds to that feeling of disorientation. The Batman franchise spans these decades, so gives meaning to their reference, but also warps the viewers frame of reference in assessing the important themes of the film. Is there a reason most of the social workers Alex Fleck/Joker encounters are black? Is this a statement of some kind, or a metaphor for projection, or just part of the demographic of the time?
Anyway, not to overshadow the fact that this is a movie dealing with complex psychology of an unsettling but humane kind, and that this film that makes viewers uncomfortable somehow remarkably landed a wide audience and mass acclaim. Well, not remarkably. Any Batman movie would. But that this movie got made is quite a feat.
While this movie isn't anything about incels (it's not a movie about perpetual virginity or anything 2000s, I think), it is probably the one movie most having to do with the fear of violence modern society has for those it has outcast. With this film I think it's possible to have more empathy than fear. However, there are some problematic messages that comes up by meshing together a story of an isolated, troubled, but rather ordinary person with a desire for simple joy, and that of a uniquely celebrated anarchist super-villain like Joker. These two characters don't quite relate, and perhaps shouldn't.
This documentary centers around 19 female to male transgender who had children before of after their gender transition. It deals with questions about custody, being called mom or dad, the feelings of dysphoria in some cases during pregnancy, etc. The individuals interviewed fall across a wide spectrum: some enjoying healthy relationships with their children, some seeing potential conflicts on the horizon after their young children grow up, and others dealing with estrangement and reconnection from their grown children. The stories told are varied and fascinating. Most accept being a mother as part of their identity in addition to being a man. The degree of this acceptance varies.
I enjoyed this documentary, though in my opinion it had too many subjects to interview during its 1hr to 2hr run time. The subjects were all interesting, but I felt the documentary was only able to scratch the surface of their stories. It would probably have been better suited for a mini series program. I will also nitpick about how the home videos were all shown made to look vintage and overexposed. Not necessary!
Still, many of those interviewed were very thoughtful and interesting to listen to. I would normally rate a 7/10 for technical oversight but this topic is so unique that I can help but scoring higher.
Thrilling, thematically complex, also sappy
Thoroughly impressed with this Russian sci-film "Attraction." Unique characters: stoic, tough but pacifist military commander. Brash, manipulative but protective ex-boyfriend. The daughter of the commander, willful and rebellious, but trusting. Their dynamics and the way they react to grief at the loss of loved ones makes for a good study for the nature of violence and where it springs from, and how it can get out of hand when facts are distorted intentionally or otherwise. This is a thoughtful film, often frustrating because of the idiocy of the characters, but ultimately highly compassionate and smart, teaching non-violence more so than violence, but not condemning aggression either.
I enjoy when "Attraction" deals with these complex themes the most. Good thing because it's most of the part that does. The other part though is love story between alien and human. Cute at times, like the Disney Beauty and the Beast dynamic, the innocence the Beast has learning human mannerisms again. I enjoyed it but also the romance did have a young adult novel feel like the "Twilight" books other reviewers mention, though not nearly to the same extent. I didn't mind the cheesy romance so much but was glad it wasn't the main story arc of the film. However the actress playing Julia, be commander's daughter, is very good. Highly expressive and present and multi dimensional. Very unlike the Bella character in "Twilight." It's probably the alien character in the film who is somewhat similar to Twilight's Edward Cullen both in his looks and his soft spoken ness. He's more handsome though.
I think the comparison to "District 9" another reviewer made is a good one. Deals with the question of the right application of violence, has gritty urban locations. But I would "Attraction" has as much in common with the "Transformers" franchise too-blockbuster feel, high level special effects, some one-liners, sense of humor, along with more serious questions about belonging. A comparison can also be made to Dreamworks's animated film "Iron Man."
The Commuter (2018)
Repetitive, but offers some action thrills
Liam Neeson, now a blue collar worker, once employed a set of special skills, which lay dormant and which are now awakened by the threat against his family, whom he must protect.
If The Commuter sounds like Neeson's runaway hit Taken, you got that right.
In The Commuter, Neeson is an ex-cop turned life insurance salesman. Because of his long hours in the office, his physique is somewhat slimmer down, and he appears a little older and more tired looking in a rumpled suit and worn shoes, and has to commute by train every day.
Neeson, down and out, with the wary disposition and the worn clothes to match it, might've made for an interesting variation of his action hero role, but he is much too tall and rugged looking to really be that believable as anything less than a capable man. At his life insurance work he is even suave, has many kinds of friendships, has a very decent relationship with his loving wife. The film may describe Neeson as being in a tough spot, but quickly contradicts itself with the way characters interact with Neeson, who maintains a level of authority and dignity throughout.
In this way Neeson doesn't have much to transform himself into, sliding into an action hero finesse like he never left the police force at all. Neeson is so good at the action part though he remains fun to watch. The ride wasn't boring for me, just not as convincing as Taken, or earning the same dramatic emotional pay off as his character in that film beats the odds.
Still, The Commuter is enjoyable and at times very compelling, i.e. when Neeson almost gets decapitated by a train car which had derailed, swung around and skyrocketed in the air. If this kind of thriller moment entices you, The Commuter offers others like it. I would probably rate this 6.5/10 if allowed. I think the current IMDb rating is fair.
Brightly lit, underplayed, slow burn horror
This is the first film I watched by this director. Having no expectations, and not having watched his previous debut film Hereditary, I was impressed with the skillful storytelling, the way the shots were staged, and the use of various cutaways and CGI effects to show the characters's states of trauma and drug induced disorientation. The cinematography and use of color is amazing, I believe filmed in Hungary but set in Sweden. The overexposure does lend itself to a feeling of being off kilter, as well as the smiling good humor of the Swedish commune, as they distribute unknown drugs and perform terrible and disturbing rituals. All of this is very numbing and a good kind of commentary to the tolerated unease in the relationship of the principal characters Dani and Christian, who are on the brink of break up.
The director has said the film Midsommar was a way of his trying to navigate the feelings of his break up. He has said there is no specific correlation but that he most identifies with Dani and that he has a lingering attachment to "dead things," perhaps meaning to dead relationships. He offers no further specifics, but watching the film you get a sense of how, perhaps, those in our collective ancestral past dealt with cycles of life and death, be it by ritual or sacrifice (extremely literal in this movie), and the kind of depth of emotion that goes with those ceremonies of beginnings and ends.
Midsommar is one part neurotic, hyper articulate and hyper aware relationship drama, portrayed very relatably, and then one part drugged out, mythical, pagan sunshine nightmare. It at times feels it's budget with some of its editing choices and choice of cast (familiar faces who don't quit gel together), but at other times it has the look and sound of incredible filmmaking, if very sparse in the absence of more sounds, and the gore it sometimes does show exorbitantly and then other times not at all.
Horror isn't my genre, but I admire this film for its originality and the type of catharsis it does begin to induce. I don't think it went quite all the way for me in this department. I was expecting more. This film probably needs a very specific audience. Please do appreciate it for its staging and cinematography in any case.
Excellent comic timing, funny and insightful parodies. A real gem!
How come I've never come across this movie before? What a gem! It's like the black version of Naked Gun. Shawn Wayans plays Ashtray, the oblivious straight man of the film, much like Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun. Maybe it's just me, but that's really funny in itself. What can I say. I loved the humor of this film. Molly Shannon's earnest, clueless character in Superstar is also similar.
Other comparisons can be to the Austin Powers series (many visual spoofs every minute) as well as to the Chappelle Show (smart hidden social commentary) and probably also to South Park in the random stuff that happens (grandma with the uzi, crack addict offering fellatio for money).
I enjoyed the comic timing of the jokes as well as the continuity in them too (watch out for the crack addict in the drive by shooting). I thought the concepts of the jokes and their execution was great. It's hard to think of flaws.
I didn't watch either of the movies this movie is said to spoof heavily (see previous reviews). Still I thought it was very funny and I didn't feel lost. But I bet, like with the Scary Movie series (which the Wayans brothers also star in together), the scenes will be much funnier after having watched the originals. Looking forward to it!
Funny! Liked it better than the original
Seems I'm in the minority here. I liked "Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate" much better than the original "Hurricane Bianca." Both rests on some cliches for adequate story telling and has some issues with pacing ("Hurricane Bianca") and inconsistency ("Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate," the Rex character), but for me, "From Russia with Hate" avoids some of the cringe fest where Bianca del Rio (as much as I love her wit) skirts into verbal abuse territory with her students. It's camp, I get it, but problematic. "From Russia with Hate" caricatures a lot about Russia, but in a way because it's more outlandish, it becomes slapstick and I don't take any of it seriously.
The humor in "From Russia with Hate" reaches into the absurdist and goofy, but it works, and I think even makes more sense of the film overall. Bianca del Rio's makeup is way too camp to try to play off well in realistic scenarios, or in any kind of subtle humor, which is why the original "Hurricane Bianca" became problematic at times because it wasn't as clear what you were supposed to take seriously. Again, "From Russia with Hate" gets it right with such jokes as the impossible hair that you can hide everything in, or the horny rats that come at the sound of whinging. The humor in "From Russia with Hate" is much more adult. I think it works for Bianca, because the more unfiltered she can be, the better. Classroom settings like in "Hurricane Bianca" necessitate at least a bare minimum of filter, which I don't think is really Bianca's style.
I'm happy with the way "From Russia with Hate" evolved from the original, which I felt was at once way too bland and way too edgy.
I didn't mind the character Rex. The character was a lovable airhead bimbo. However I agree the character shifted pretty dramatically from like total mad to one of pretty average intelligence. I think the character improved after the shift, but it was still a big oversight I thought.
I enjoyed the acting in general and liked the cameos (i.e. Wanda Sykes). Katya (RuPaul's Drag Race) was fun to watch. She has a lot of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent! Rachel Dratch who plays Deborah Ward was a great antagonist to Bianca del Rio. Very strong. I liked the way they bantered together.
Very good effort from Bianca del Rio, but still waiting for her to knock it out of the park.
Hurricane Bianca (2016)
Love Bianca, didn't like this film--sequel is better!
I'm a Bianca del Rio fan. That being said, this movie fell short for me. It had problems with pacing, was pretty cliche, and was sometimes mean without being funny. First two is pretty forgivable for a probably low budget, campy movie, but the last part is what sunk this film for me. I like Bianca's meanness, but the story involved snot nosed high schoolers, and as Bianca plays a teacher, some meanness is merited, but I think there's a fine line that was crossed too much.
I think the sequel is much funnier because it doesn't involve the classroom so much, and the outlandish scenarios suit Bianca's jabs better.
Action-filled and wholesome!
"Klaus" is the rare Christmas film I can recommend to any friend who likes horror films and action movies because of its many zany, action filled sequences. Also, totally wholesome to boot, with spiritual snow and reconciliating enemies as well as a love story and a tale of moral redemption. . . wow! Plus, the animation is top notch, the character acting full of personality, squash and stretch, and the character design being fun and fitted to the voice acting, which was good too. . .
The animation and character design did have a very Disney-esque feel, and it makes sense because of Sergio Pablos who wrote directed the film worked on Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tarzan. There was also the animation master James Baxter (who animated Rafiki in The Lion King, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek 2, etc) who contributed animating some scenes himself while also taking an overall supervising role, I believe. The film is produced by Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (SPA Studios). In a Polygon interview Pablos writes the animation style of "Klaus" was definitely influenced by his time at Disney, however he hopes future works from his animation studio might take on its own unique style.
Part of the reason you might feel as I did that "Klaus" looks like the old Disney 2D films like Beauty and the Beast is beacue "Klaus" is entirely 2D animated. This means all animation was hand drawn. But Pablos also says "I set out to demolish some of the technical limitations (of 2D animation) as much as we can. Because we've had new technology that we haven't tried to use in 2D, so I was like let's give it a try and see what happens. The goal was to keep all that was great about 2D but replace what was not necessarily a choice but a limitation. So it would feel old but new somehow. But there was no attempt ever at making 2D look more like 3D. . . . The intention was to make this look like a piece of visual development that you that you would find in an art book for an animated movie, but put it directly onto the screen without getting into the grinder of the usual look."
Saying that, "Klaus" definitely has a colorful, vibrant, high end animation look, with high definition ultra smooth colors as well as nostalgic character designs that feel familiar. Some scenes are especially stunning, as like near Klaus' house with them magical snow. There is also definitely that art book, textured painting look that Pablos mentions for most of the film.
An unexpected hit for me, and way more complete story wise than most Netflix films has been so far (personally). Well done!
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Excellent score, great supporting cast, predictable but satisfying ending
*slight spoilers ahead*
First of all, love the score for this film. Some blues and hip hop set to a California cityscape (mention of Inglewood!). Grabbed me from the start with "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" by Bobby "Blue" Band.
I watched this film while doing other stuff and it kept grabbing me back until I was watching it only. Really like Matthew McConaughey in this role as well as much of the supporting cast, from an actress you'll recognize as Rose's mom (Francess Fisher) in "Titanic" and then Marissa Tomei and others. Whoever did casting did a fantastic job, from Fisher's steely gaze to Tomei's natural warmth.
Matthew McConaughey had another role as a defense lawyer in the movie adaptation of John Grisham's "A Time to Kill" (1996). In that film McConaughey defended a man (Samuel L. Jackson) who had killed two men who had raped his daughter. That film dealt with themes of justice for the guilty, and this one deals with injustice for the innocent, except in a totally indirect way. What it is more about, really, is a psycho client who wants to do the most damage he can while getting off scot free.
What's interesting here is the psycho client is a pretty boy, pretty much, and always looks like he's going to cry. This isn't your typical movie villain mastermind. McConaughey's lawyer character on the other hand is brilliant and hard nosed and confrontational when he needs to be. The fight isn't exactly fair, and makes for an expected but still complete and creatively satisfying ending, even if it feels like a novella.
I suggest watching both of McConaughey's films and seeing how they compare. Whether very similar or not, they both deal with gray areas. McConaughey gets a guilty man off both times, but one deserves it while the other doesn't. Defense lawyers don't get a good rep, but watching these two films you might get a sense of why they're necessary and why they do what they do.
Tell Me Who I Am (2019)
A poignant story about brothers as much as about a house of secrets
"Tell Me Who I Am" is a story of blind trust and the way that it helps and hurts twin brother Alex after he has lost his memory, and it's a story about the blind trust children give to parents and the way that can help and hurt them too.
"Tell Me Who I Am" is unbelievable because not many of us truly have the kind of 100% trust twin brother Alex has for his twin Marcus, who it fell on to tell Alex who he was even if it became a lie. And most would opt to tell the ugly truth because it was the truth, but Marcus takes a different route in the defense of fabricating a new and better childhood. This combination of absolute trust and absolute willingness to construct a fantasy to the death is what makes the relationship between Alex and Marcus so riveting in how unusual they really are.
In the realm of fiction, when there is a build up to the uncovering of a secret, regretfully, you want it to be a big one. I saw regretfully because as a documentary, the people on film don't get to leave their stories with their scripts; they take it with them. Marcus desperately leave his script behind on a table somewhere, but to do that he had to keep silent about the details of what unfolded in his parents' home right up until the age of 54, where we have the first footage of the two brothers finally speaking with each other about what happened 40 years ago. These types of revelations, you could say, should be intimate first. But with what Marcus went through, it's understandable if he wished for a public resolution.
What remains is an impossible story as much about the love and bond between twins as about a story of trauma. Even if you don't care to have the mystery unfolded, or don't need it to, I think getting to see who Alex and Marcus are with each other is reason to watch enough.
9/10 for an effective three act structure, good visuals with often interesting abstract designs and use of blue, atmospheric music, and remarkable subjects who speak eloquently and with respect to each other. Minor issues of pacing at certain parts.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)
A highly creative tribute to Doug Kenney, but lacks focus
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a fine tribute to the co-founder of the National Lampoon franchise, Douglas Kenney. As someone else said Doug Kenney is unknown enough for there to be an ending you won't expect for this biopic film. After having watched that I appreciate the film for bringing this creative and talented individual to light, who may have escaped most of our notice even though we love and admire his works, like the National Lampoon magazine, National Lampoon Animal House and Caddyshack.
As a film, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is highly creative in its use of transitions, and its use of comic strips or radio plays to frame important scenes or internal dialogues. It also uses one key narrative device that takes a turn at the end of the film when the twist is revealed. A Futile and Stupid Gesture exhibits a lot of play for what is, as you find, a rather dramatic and poignant end.
While A Futile and Stupid Gesture is commendable in its spirit and in its creativity, a number of technicalities regarding the story, it's focus, and the pacing of it keeps A Futile and Stupid Gesture from a more excellent score. There is a lot that is brought into the story that doesn't really lead anywhere, a lot of stops and starts, and a finale that isn't greatly supported by what has come before. A Futile and Stupid Gesture has a lot of heart, and some creative gusto, but the film feels more episodic and less complete than it really should.
That being said, I enjoyed learning about the co-creator of Doug Kenney of National Lampoon, and hope that Netflix can make more biopics of this type.
Ambitious, but not Shutter Island
I wanted a simple murderous hospital thriller (as promised by the trailer) and instead got "Shutter Island," a film about someone who has a major head injury and a great deal of trauma who has imagined a captivity scenario and a crime he himself committed, if only by accident.
Depending on your reading of Shutter Island, the difference between Fractured and Shutter Island is that in Shutter Island the protagonist committed murder after a devastating event occurred, and in Fractured the devastating event was indeed pure accident. Shutter Island does a better job of backgrounding its protagonist's extreme psychosis and giving reason for it. In Fractured the psychosis is just a bit too far fetched. A concussion? Some drinking? No history of mental illness? It's just not believable enough. In Fractured there was PTSD after seeing the nazi death camps, and an ongoing denial about the protagonist's mentally ailing wife. What happened to the protagonist in Fractured is horrible, but I have a greater sense that what occurs happens because of the writers and not because of the characters, and so I feel like the movie is cheapened.
This movie should've been a straightforward murder hospital plot. Why did it have to go and try to be Shutter Island? That setup is way too complicated for a film of this budget and the details just don't add up. In addition third is way too slow, the middle is decent, and last third is way too quick. Why create a complicated story if you're not going to pay attention to the writing?
Fractured doesn't work, but I at least appreciate that the protagonist's psychotic break wasn't totally demeaned. Sam Worthington does a decent job of making a head case sympathetic, even if not technically believable. I feel like it wasn't his fault for having to carry an over the top storyline, and much was the fault of the script itself.
6/10 for good effort but 5/10 for poor treatment of a tragic moment. This should've been a better movie for what it deals with.
The OA (2016)
Very original, but cancelled. Is it worth it?
The OA hasn't been renewed for a third season. There were five planned. While a promising story, especially with the complex and riveting Jason Isaacs on board, it's a disappointment that many loose ends won't be tied. Having said that, I do think the first two seasons of The OA are self contained enough to still be worth your while. There is a feeling of the series just getting warmed up, it's true, but I did also think there were a number of storytelling crutches used in these seasons that could have contributed to it being cancelled as well. I still want to rate this series 8/10 because of the number of interesting dilemmas Jason Isaac's and Brit Marling's characters bring together, especially with the concepts of "the shadow," "echoes" and "constellations," and etc. I would describe The OA as mystical, thought provoking, sometimes frustrating, inspiring but also unsettling as well, for both intended and unintended reasons.
The OA does boast a strong secondary cast of familiar and unfamiliar faces.
Shout out to Patrick Gibson as Steve for his fiery performance in the first season. I did think his character became watered down in the second season though in a way I couldn't understand.
I enjoyed Scott Wilson (Herschel in The Walking Dead) as a father figure to Brit Marling's character Prarie/The OA. I was glad they gave him one or two physically and emotionally intensive scenes, because he can handle them.
Very much enjoyed Phyllis Smith (The Office) for her oddball, lonely teacher character. I thought she was charismatic and believable. A good choice for the ragtag team of OA's five. I think her character went from strict teacher to friendly teacher far too easily though. Would've been nice to see more of her different sides.
Emory Cohen as Homer did very well.
If there is ever a third season I will check it out, but I am ambivalent towards some story telling choices, such as the sudden occurrence of the school shooting plot without either proper backgrounding or follow through. If a hiatus on The OA can help the writers to review their storytelling methods and not give a lame excuse like "events conspire to bring certain events or people together across echoes" for their rushed plot devices, I think I could enjoy the series better.
If you can look past plot holes that potentially won't get filled in, The OA has a unique atmosphere, a strong and unusual cast of characters, and philosophical themes worth diving into. 8/10 recommend.
Too slow a burn, but still a good one
I got impatient and rushed through parts.
Those likening "1922" to Edgar Allen Poe's "A Telltale Heart" short story are spot on. That's what I thought of too while watching the film.
"1922" does truly feel like a short story. Unfortunately the movie is full feature length at 1hr 41min. I felt there just wasn't quite enough content to pull me through.
But if you have a longer attention span than I, I think "1922" is atmospheric, has rich visuals, and has a very magnetic cast, especially the protagonist father character as played by Thomas Jane, who is utterly believable in his suntan, accent, and menace.
I did think the character of the son (Dylan Schmid) was less believable. His role as accomplice and later criminal in his own right had a rationale, granted, but I just couldn't see it in the actor. The character of his girlfriend also felt less convincing to me, given what she later does.
I did enjoy the ending message. I recommend this movie for what I did see. If you are a fan of both Edgar Allen Poe and M. Night Shyamalan (the film director), I think you can enjoy this film.
Complex and compelling, but often slow
Review for season 1 of "Glow":
Why would someone cheat with the husband of their best friend, and can this friendship be repaired?
This is the question Netflix series "Glow" asks its audience from episode one, while also asking its viewers if they would like to see attractive women wearing 80s highcut leotards powerslam each other in the wrestling ring.
Safe to say, "Glow" presents a winning combination of rarely visited, real dramatic tension (can a cherished friendship survive one of the deepest betrayals, adultery?) and compelling wrestling imagery. It also shows us some of the probable realities of wrestling theatre, what our friends really meant when they asked us "Did you know pro wrestling is fake?" And finally, "Glow" gives us a wealth of politically incorrect humor, such as in Zoya the Destroyer and Welfare Queen.
I would say "Glow" is more than a guilty pleasure. It's more than cheese. It's often intelligent, unconventional and has meaningful things to say, However, I will say that it often drags. Probably like a third of each episode is devoted to other characters of the wrestling team and their backstories, and as they are apart from the main conflict I'm interested in (the adultery), I was not invested. I did stop watching eventually. But I will say that the unapologetically seedy character of Sam Sylvia (as played by Marc Maron) is one of my favorite characters to date.
Sometimes highly creative, but often incredibly bland
After watching about a third of the episodes between seasons 1 and 2, I think I can say that "Disenchantment" has a fair bit of unpredictability that I like, but overall it does suffer from a sense of bloatedness (often at 28 min runtimes vs the Simpson's 22 min) and blandness (like boring and mean Family Guy episodes) that makes the series a bit of a missed opportunity, at least so far in its first two seasons.
I was looking forward to Matt Groening's humor in the medieval era, and I think there are some great moments in the show, like when Princess Bean gets carried to the castle like a slave on her wedding day, or when King Zog says the figurines on Bean's wedding cake ought to look less like her and more like him, and just be him alone because he's an egotistical king. I also liked when sweet Elfo making candy starts to get it on with the promiscuous elf of the candyland kingdom, Kissy.
"Disenchantment" has a fair bit of medieval and fantasy dysfunction that I like, because of how offbeat it is given the familiar and safe Groening art style, not discounting Futurama. There is also a very neurotic quality to the show that reminds me of Matt Groening's early endeavors in his comics "Life in Hell." The characters Vip and Vap in "Disenchantment" reminds me of Akbar and Jeff from the "Life in Hell" comics. I think this hyper aware psychological humor works sometimes on some levels like in the instances I described, but too often this type of humor because of how wordy it is halts the narrative.
I think in general, there just isn't enough sight gags or clever edits or unique voice acting (most characters sound generic, unlike the original voices of either Simpsons or Futurama chraracters with their recognizable voices) to make "Disenchantment" feel like an appropriate inheritor to Groening's namesake. Half the time it feels like roots Groening, his early "Life in Hell" humor, but the other half the time it feels like it could be any other nameless show or movie with a bent for quirky, over explained neurotic humor.
Still though, I did enjoy parts of season 2 and I do hope it can improve.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
My new favorite
Wet Hot American Summer is a goofy, surreal, romp of a film that has very lovable and very dumb characters. It's a cast of losers and hot chicks and hot guys at an 80s summer camp, trying to find love or friendship, or just trying to score because let's be honest, they're just 16.
The relationship between the camp director and the astrophysicist next door who has crabs is particularly endearing, because of their nerdy sincerity with each other. I was rooting for their romance.
Wet Hot American Summer has a loose story structure with an improvisational feel, almost episodic. it does meander, but I enjoyed many of the characters and what they brought, and it overall worked for me. It was fun seeing young Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler and etc. Molly Shannon did not disappoint as a brokenhearted activities teacher.
Wet Hot American Summer does have an insight to itself, with the hot characters reflecting on their state of mind, like Paul Rudd saying he doesn't love his girlfriend but she's incredibly hot, so he isn't going to give her up to the nerd character. Kudos to the writers.
Wet Hot American Summer is also unusually supportive of gay and lesbian characters, for a film of this period (2001). Two jocks end up buying Bradley Cooper and his boyfriend a chaise lounge to go with their other furniture. Elizabeth Banks makes out with a hot girl and tells Paul Rudd off, who had rejected her.
I like this funny, smart, ridiculous film.
Wanted more Jonah Hill
Maniac is an intriguing concept with a unique cast done sometimes in a boring way. By around the 6th or 7th episode of binge watching, I was amazed that there was 10 episodes, actually, because with each episode being forty minutes if felt way too long. By then Emma Stone had become more of the protagonist, and Jonah Hill had become something like a morose side character. Bless Emma Stone, but I was really there for Jonah Hill. It was only until episode 9 of 10 that Jonah Hill really got to let loose with his comedic chops with his Icelandic-Swedish-Finnish character Snorri. Suffice to say, I did watch the whole series, and I was glad to get to episode 9, but by the end I did think there was a lot more resolution for Emma Stone than Jonah Hill, so I was left unfulfilled on that score.
Despite saying all that, I think Maniac does truly have things to say regarding mental illness and psychology and what not, and as well as that is, it also has fun saying it at least at times. I think that's a rare enough combination that I appreciate it. While feeling that Emma Stone did take the show, I think her character arc was a very believable one with good things to say about accepting loss.
What irritated me though was all the Japanese mannerisms. I thought it just kinda didn't need to be there, and just seemed corny like an orderly tells the participants of the trial something like if they don't follow the rules, they will bring "shame and disgrace" on themselves, which I mean I don't know, but that just sounds like bad writing.
Anyway, if you liked the idea of Westworld but didn't like the show, you might like Maniac because it deals with a few of the same themes regarding artificial intelligence (as played by Sally Field) with as much production value but with a greater overall likability and actual message.
Enigmatic, unresolved, but intriguing
A secret story and buried truths. "We Have Always Lived In the Castle" intrigues, but never fully resolves. If you like an open ended story, this film has the characters, the acting, and all the implications that leaves you wondering, what actually motivated the murderer to murder half their household?
I haven't read the book the film is adapted from, but it seems like the book has the same unanswered questions, which is part of its intrigue.
I think "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" is a very good film, with some surprises, although it does still feel incomplete despite that being part of the story.
Wicker Park (2004)
Great performances and soundtrack
I watched Wicker Park then watched the beginning again. It was fun to see the way Rose Byrne's character Alex was hidden away in the beginning scenes, like an Easter Egg. You can often see how Josh Hartnett's character Matthew just barely misses her. To me, the film is a unique puzzle like film experience that holds up because of the way it is constructed, the atmosphere it has and the performances the actors give.
Matthew (Hartnett) has a magnetic, but shy presence in Wicker Park, where Diane Kruger's Lisa has a magnetic and bold presence. You can understand why both characters draw the attention of their respective admirers, Alex (Byrne) and Matthew. The story poses interesting contrasts between male and female courtship, and male and female obsession, and the point where pursuing is stalking, or when it is not. In these roles, both Hartnett and Byrne do a good job of making their character's emotions and motivations understood. I would even say that Byrne does the more compelling job.
In 2019, and in the preceding years, Rose Byrne has steadily been gaining in popularity from this 2004 film. She is almost unrecognizable in her role here. The character is very unlike the more comedic or the more authoritative roles she has taken on lately, as withdrawn and browbeaten as her Alex character is in Wicker Park. As such, however, I do think her performance here is more affecting.
In 2004, the same year Wicker Park was released, the movie Troy was released too, in which Rose Byrne and Diane Kruger both star. They have a good chemistry together, whether it be as flatmates in Wicker Park or relatives by marriage in Troy. Diane Kruger plays Helen of Troy in Troy, the legendary woman for whom her lover set sail a thousand ships to lay siege to her hand. In Wicker Park, Diane as Lisa has the same mysterious and attractive power to which her Matthew is drawn. I think it's a remarkable effect.
If you would like comments on how the film is constructed, film critic Roger Ebert (who gave Wicker Park 3/4 stars) has a memorable analogy to quantum physics, which is to say he doesn't understand quantum physics either but he thinks there must be a logic to it. Ebert credited the actors's "astonishing emotional realism" with holding the film together, and I agree. While there are elements of the unbelievable in Wicker Park, I give high marks to the performances as well.
The soundtrack has an alternative indie feel, a bit "strange and beautiful" as one of the tracks of the film (by Aqualung) is called. I like the song choices and even remember downloading that very track because of this film.
All in all, I think Wicker Park is an ambitious concept that does fall short of the highest scrutiny, but if you can enjoy the performances and listen to the great soundtrack then there is a lot to enjoy.
Hors de prix (2006)
Many movie critics call "Priceless" a romantic comedy farce. To me, "Priceless" has the style of a romantic comedy but neither romance or comedy. It is a farce for being so implausible only its bright colors hold it together. The movie is not a forgivable farce to me. I think the subject matter is more appropriate for a drama.
The male lead (Gad Elmaleh) has stalker like adoration and obsessiveness that inspires incredulity. It's only the device of the female sugar daddy, a wealthy widow, who saves him from complete bankruptcy by his object of affection (Audrey Tatou), who takes all she can get from him to prove her point that he can't afford her. It's hardly believable that a woman as cold as her could forego her fifth potential sugar daddy to be with the bankrupted male lead.
The pair (Elmaleh and Tatou) constantly meet with each other despite having each a sugar mama and a sugar daddy, often just out of earshot. Some call this romantic. I just call it selfishly indulgent and dumb. In the end I have more sympathy for the sugar mama and sugar daddy than the two protagonists. They deserved better.
The parts I liked about the film are when Elmaleh and Tatou get dropped because of their indiscretions with each other. I give credit to the filmmakers for at least giving the sugar mama and daddy this dignity. They also don't get badly hurt by the two, which if they did, would've made for a much sadder film.
What movie critic Eric of Three Movie Buff Movie Reviews said about the film did change my mind, and helped me not to dislike the film too deeply. As follows:
"In Priceless, no one is a victim and no one is a criminal. The rich older people know what they are getting when they have sex with the young. The young know they are playing a dangerous game. Feelings get hurt, but everyone is sexually sophisticated enough to understand the rules."
I still dislike the film, but certainly there is a sophistication to "the rich older people" anyway that makes the conduct of the younger pair more bearable. I did also like how movie critic Noel Murray of The AV Club had to say about Audrey Tatou:
"But the real memorable figure in the story is Tautou, who at the beginning of Priceless is so confident in her trade that she can expertly opine on how much everything costs and how much she deserves, yet by the end of the film, realizes that after years of living off men, she hasn't really held onto anything of worth."
I think, having the Three Movie Buffs and The AV Club reviews together, I am minded to give "Priceless" a bit more of a pass than I started out with. On the average though I think "Priceless" is terribly shallow.
Very safe, but decent enough
Initially put off by an early teaser trailer with Will Smith as the blue genie (his face didn't quite track with his muscular body, which is CGI), after the movie's release I heard that Will Smith is in human form half of the time, too, and it was fine. An additional trailer was later released showing Will Smith in his human form, too.
Now, many reviewing the film say actually Will Smith was the best rather than the worst part of the movie, and he carried the film. For me, however, Will Smith's performance as the genie was typical of the actor, a return to early career performances like in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Wild Wild West," "Men in Black," "Hitch," "Wild Wild West," and so forth. Will Smith is a charismatic and likable actor, and I like this side of his persona, but his role in "Aladdin" was nothing groundbreaking for him. So in this sense I wouldn't say Will Smith as the genie was the best or worst part of the film.
I did however appreciate the remix of the genie to suit a more hip hop style, with the baggy pants and the break dancing and so forth. But even though the filmmakers did change genie's role to suit Will Smith, it still seemed as though they tried to get Will Smith to match Robin Williams's frenetic energy at times, and it was to me a partial remix instead of a full remix, and there was an inconsistency in that. Will Smith is a calmer, down to earth genie, who doesn't quite have the range to hit the mania Robin Williams might.
In many ways the movie "Aladdin" is like the almost debacle of Will Smith as the genie, and his there-but-not-quite-there redemption. How do you please a fan base of "Aladdin" (1992) movie fans, while offering something new, while not being able to be offensive to children or to Arabs, while not being able to be truthful to Arab culture as a powerful patriarchy, while also supporting Disney's female empowerment agenda?
With these constraints, what Disney came up with is something neither here nor there, while often skirting the bounds of the powerfully wrong and then sometimes the amazing but also ridiculous (the odd placement of Jasmine's "Speechless" song and her arc afterwards), but then also hinting at some of the truer realities of Islamic culture (while "women should be seen not heard" is not something only particular to Islam/Arab culture, it is part of their doctrine much of the time) which is pretty ballsy of Disney you have to admit.
The experience of watching "Aladdin" is sometimes bizarre because it's like watching part of Arab culture but then like a constant backpedaling so that we know we're watching fictional Arabland "Agrabah" rather than any real place, so it's impossible to give criticism because Arab culture is alluded to but never referenced.
However, despite the mish-mash of ideas, and the generic not-Arab allusions, the powerful story of magic, and love, and control that is the story of Aladdin and the genie still comes across. More than the other Disney remakes I've watched so far ("Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast"), "Aladdin" has real dramatic tension still in a way that wasn't completely flattened out. Here, Aladdin could potentially have turned into someone like Jafar. In other films, Disney heroes don't have quite this chance to become someone real and disappointing. And you get why. If you really had a genie, who would let him go?
Disney had a challenge, and at least this time they pulled through. I say Disney had a challenge rather than Guy Ritchie, the director, had a challenge because "Aladdin" is compromised and patched together in a way I don't think a guy who has made intelligent hustler or heist films like "RocknRolla" or "Snatch" or "Revolver" or even "Sherlock Holmes" would've wanted.
This isn't the first time Disney cast the right director then (likely) contradicted their vision enough to make something unrecognizable of them. Kenneth Branagh, who directed "Cinderella," had successfully adapted many Shakespeare films to the screen, like "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Henry V," often writing the screenplay himself and acting, too. You telling me the guy who managed to make "Much Ado About Nothing" fun and watchable, even using Shakespeare's original poetic language, couldn't make a bare bones story like Cinderella? Please. For me, Disney really has to be getting in the way because the directors so far have all made much better films prior to their Disney remake movies (Bill Condon directed "Beauty and the Beast" and "Chicago;" Jon Favreau directed both "The Lion King" and "Iron Man").
But anyway, with "Aladdin" you have a movie that is average, and not excellent, but is not as flat as other Disney remakes so I'm giving it a better score. 7/10
Very much like "The Professional" meets "Taken," but holds its own
From watching the trailer for "The Man from Nowhere," my immediate vibe was "Leon the Professional" meets "Taken." And although reviews here state "The Man from Nowhere" is its own identity, after watching the film I think comparison to these two films is fair. If you have watched both "Leon the Professional" and "Taken," you will have a very good idea of the tone, the themes, and the kind of highly competent violence in "The Man from Nowhere."
Unkempt, stoic, "child molester" vibe pawnshop owner Cha Tae-sik has a parent-like relationship with his young neighbor Jeong So-mi, very much like as in "Leon the Professional." The character Cha Tae-sik, I think, is not as developed as Leon, though, and neither is the young girl. But even so the relationship feels genuine and the bond believable enough to carry the film.
I would say Cha Tae-sik's martial art skill set background is not really as believable as Liam Neeson's character in "Taken," like I mean Cha Tae-sik is phenomenal in his movements, but the reason why he is in such stellar shape (having a six pack) as a pawnshop broker is less believable. While a retired special operative like Cha Tae-sik, Liam Neeson's character was shown to be a bodyguard. There's a bit of suspension of belief in regards to Cha Tae-sik's character that does impact my rating of the film, although I found these aspects easy to overlook as I consumed the great action sequences.
I did feel that there were other parts of the film that did ask me to just kind of go along with it, like the whole thing with the cops was a bit extraneous and like, why were they even mad. Didn't even seem like they were mad at the organ harvesters, and just at Cha Tae-sik for busting up some cops. I felt like the cops could've played either a lesser role or a more integral role to the story. At some point the cop characters and the druglord/organ harvester characters just seemed to run into each other because of their similar personalities (serious boss/funny sidekick).
But like, overlooking the extra parts, and the gaps, "The Man from Nowhere" does have serious heart. Here the feeling is very much like "Taken," such as one man going against a very large, apathetic organization. I do think "Taken" goes one step farther than "The Man from Nowhere" because it shows how the cops involved also aid the problem of human trafficking. If "The Man from Nowhere" had done that, I think its themes would've been stronger.
Anyhow, if you are going to make a film that takes its inspiration from other films, then "The Man from Nowhere" is how to do it. I did enjoy the message it tried to get across, and I also found some moments of humor in it, too. In the last minutes Cha Tae-sik says something brooding and enigmatic to Jeong So-mi and she simply asks, "What's that supposed to mean?" I do think that Cha Tae-sik did sort of say nonsensical things at times, with the druglord not understanding. It was kind of funny because it's a bit of a cliche in Asian films, I think.
Anyway, the kind of activities the criminals do in "The Man from Nowhere" is genuinely despicable, but the characters have this balance between being utter pieces of work and then like, total children, so there's a weird likability to the villains even though because of how destroyed they get you understand their actions are unacceptable, and as it should be. "The Man from Nowhere" is at once hyperbolic and absolutely serious and even poignant, which is what I think differentiates it from the other two films mentioned. I think "The Man from Nowhere" is closer in tone to "Leon the Professional" rather than "Taken," because it's not as gritty or realistic as the latter. In terms of plot though, "The Man from Nowhere" is much more inclined towards "Taken," since it is less a relationship film than a rescue film.
I thoroughly recommend.
I do want to mention one thing though, that confused me for a great length of time. A character meets Jeong So-mi's mom in the first few minutes of the film. The character has the same hairstyle and build as Cha Tae-sik, so I thought it was him and was trying to make this bit of background fit for the rest of the film. Finally I figured out Cha Tae-sik had no relationship with the mom, so he was really "the man from nowhere" rather than "the man from a few minutes before." It appears I'm the only one who made this mistake, but honestly I think the beginning of the film is relatively weak, since it doesn't spotlight or foil important characters. They should have started with Cha Tae-sik, or something.
Was in the mood for an epic film, and browsing movies available for free on Youtube, I settled on "Terminus." I didn't have high or low expectations either way, not having watched the trailer, and casually watched the movie while playing mobile games. Making these qualifications, here is my review:
I like how my expectations were played to and subverted regarding the two agents we see in the first scene of the film, Agent Stipe (Bren Foster) and Agent Lubinski (William Emmons). One is broadfaced, charismatic and trustworthy looking, while the other is spindly, narrow and hangs in the shadows. I liked the role reversal going on, and with a theme like "don't trust the government," you can guess what that implies.
While I did appreciate the broader arc with the agents, I still felt there was a lack of middle steps getting Agent Lubinski in particular from acting as an accessory to Agent Stipe's crimes in the line of duty to preventing him from performing them. There was enough motivation shown, perhaps, but not enough background to either Agent Lubinski's character or to overall story in general to get the viewer 100% on the ride. It could be I just missed it.
"Terminus" is a B movie, with characters that are just a bit too generic or who don't sell their roles completely, and with a plot that kind of adds up but also feels a bit thin while also feeling drawn out. I did check the length of the movie on two occasions. At some points, "Terminus" has more of the pacing of a TV show episode than a feature length movie, although for me it did pick up again.
I think, though, as a B movie, "Terminus" is very sufficient. As others noted Kendra Appleton who plays the daughter has an empathetic performance (though again, lacking background), and Jai Koutrae who plays her dad is convincing, and also Agent Stipe is a piece of work in a compelling way.
I also did enjoy the themes of the movie, like Kendra Appleton's character says, "What is bad never lasts." "Terminus" is an interesting blend of grim, apocalyptic, and optimistic. For once, the aliens are the good guys.
Overall I think "Terminus" is a quality film, and an original one, although it has a variety of occasional setbacks. 7.5/10.
P.S.. I will also note that I didn't questions that the movie was set in America, because of how there was a Spanish speaking person, and I think the actors did a standard American accent well. I didn't guess the movie was set in Australia. However I am not sure the movie had to be set in America, and if it did, I don't think the setting was exploited much. For me, not really a plus or a minus.