Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hundred-Word Review - "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

As my first exposure to the Hammer horror films, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is a wonderful mood setter that heavily departs from the Universal classics. The film tells a uniquely haunting tale that pays homage to the classic horror films while taking the disturbing imagery and twisted psyche of a mad scientist even further. The film is Gothic in style while dealing with the same themes of power and creation that every Frankenstein adaptation handles, amping up the blood and gore in ways Universal never could, all while focusing on the true monster of the Mary Shelly's novel - Dr. Frankenstein.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, October 29, 2018

15-Minute Review - "Halloween" (2018)

This just might be the greatest slasher movie ever made. Certainly up there with the original "Halloween" but this one has the added advantage of age and complexity. The first "Halloween" worked best when it was subtle and simple, never adding more than it needed to its basic slasher premise of a serial killer on the loose on Halloween. The 2018 film works in many of the same ways, but the film adds another layer by giving its characters far more dimensions and subtleties.

Unlike the first Halloween film, every character in this film feels fully fleshed out and relatable. From the goofy dad to the confused teenage boys to the babysitter that isn't afraid to curse in front of the little boy she's looking after because he's got a fiery attitude as well, I liked all of these characters. And that's the greatest strength of a slasher movie - that the people you care about the most are just as much of a target of our villain, Michael Myers.

Of all the slasher villains, I always found Michael Myers to be a cut above the rest for one simple reason - he is human. Unlike Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger who are unstoppable supernatural killing machine that have unlimited amounts of plot armor until the last part of the third act, Michael is just as vulnerable as anyone else in this movie. He has his reasons for why he kills, but they're never told to us. Is it for revenge? A coping mechanism? Blood lust? It makes him feel alive? Is it the only thing he knows? Or is it something else? We never know and that honestly makes him scarier than any other slasher - that we all have a little bit of Michael Myers inside of us and all it takes is one thing to make us snap.

"Halloween" knows this very well and plays with the psychology of Michael Myers, shown mostly through Jamie Lee Curtis' character and the effect a psychopath like that has on someone. Curtis gives a wonderful performance, showing the deep mental scars she's had to endure from Michael for 40 years and makes this whole movie feel more grounded and emotional than it had any right to be.

This could have easily been another dumb, mindless slasher film. But "Halloween" is not only surprising, but heavily satisfying and enjoyable. Even if you're not a fan of horror or slasher films, this is still one worth checking out. Like the original "Halloween," this film is a game changer and makes its genre to a whole new level of art. Check this one out with a large crowd and see just how scary and enjoyable this one can be.

Final Grade: A

Sunday, October 28, 2018

15-Minute Review - "First Man" (2018)

"First Man" is one of the more worthwhile experiences this year, not just because of its captivating portrayal of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, but because of how it represents the fears and troubles society faced in the 1960s. The film is a time capsule of its era, using the moon landing as a focal point to show how Americans were so emotionally repressed at the time. Combine this with it's commentary on how the majority of America was against landing on the moon until we got up there and you've got a film that sucks you into this dangerous and complicated time.

Ryan Gosling excels as Neil Armstrong, giving us a broken man that does not want to reach out and connect with others in his line of profession. He keeps his trauma as hidden as he can, but whether he knows it or not, that fear of losing the ones he cares about drives him to be greater than he is. Gosling is subtle in his gestures and mannerisms, but clearly wants to explode with emotions.

The visuals are stunningly beautiful, never once looking like CGI or like anything was done on a computer. From the scale and scope of the rockets to the vast reaches of the upper atmosphere, there is a lot to be impressed by in "First Man." The set design compliments this, by always feeling cramped and claustrophobic in those tiny cockpits, while taking specific care to show how flimsy and poorly put together these rockets were, giving the audience an even bigger sense of dread as you realize these ships are probably held together with chewing gum and a lot of prayer. And yet, these are vessels that our heroes must rely on to get them through space.

"First Man" makes for a terrific companion piece to "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" (watched in the order they were made), as they tell the vast range of the human struggle to get into space and become something more than we ever thought possible. All three detail the tragedy and hardships we realistically went through, without shying away from why each of these men would do something as crazy as venture out into space. "First Man" serves as the perfect ending to this tale, telling it from the perspective of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, showing that the challenges and losses of this movie and its brethren was not wasted.

Final Grade: B+

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Movie Review - "The Old Man and the Gun" (2018)

In many ways, "The Old Man and the Gun" is the perfect representation of Robert Redford's career - an easy-going yet charming man who wasn't afraid to buck the system and never wanted to stop doing what he loves, despite his age. This film is not only a perfect capstone to Redford's career, but is just as much about Redford's love and hate relationship with Hollywood and the audience. Beyond this, the film is easy-going and tells an enjoyably laid back story that moves at a brisk pace, helped by a stellar cast and a fitting farewell to a screen legend.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, October 26, 2018

Hundred-Word Review - "The Sisters Brothers" (2018)

If you're looking for a western comedy with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as bickering brothers, this is not the film for you. "The Sisters Brothers" is akin to "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" than "Blazing Saddles," though with a pension for the grotesque and obscene. In this tale of brothers tracking down another pair that wronged their boss in the west, it thrives on how ruthless and unforgiving it could be. Yet there is little to no fun to be had here, the unbridled joy of discovery and freedom is replaced with a stark and harsh reality.

Final Grade: C+

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Movie Review - "Bad Times at the El Royale" (2018)

The greatest strength of "Bad Times at the El Royale" is its unpredictability. The market campaign and trailers brilliantly set this scene by only giving the audience a taste of what the film is about, without ever shading light on what happens. This is something Alfred Hitchcock perfected - no giving away any of the surprises or twists until we're already caught in the moment, so that they hit the audience even harder.

I had no idea where the story of "Bad Times at the El Royale" was heading because I was so caught up in the foreboding and haunting atmosphere of this hotel that sits halfway between sunny California and sinful Nevada. The film plays this as a strength, giving the audience a truly unique and unforgiving thriller where every character is suspicious and untrustworthy, leading to some powerhouse performances from Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. This makes "Bad Times at the El Royale" the most unique and inspiring thriller in years.

In this story of seven strangers spending the night at a hotel off the beaten path and only one employee (Pullman), we learn that each of them is hiding something sinister that plays a much bigger part than they're letting on, while even the hotel hides secrets from our cast of colorful characters.

I've never seen a thriller quite like "Bad Times at the El Royale," effectively a network-narrative that doesn't play favorites. This film is equally suspicious of each character, questioning their morals and even their faith. Religion and how each character reacts to God becomes a much bigger part of this movie than one would expect and leads to some of the better acting moments from Bridges and Pullman.

What brings this move down though is its runtime and pacing. The film is nearly two and a half hours when it easily could have been told in two hours and spends a bit too much time on flashbacks, especially near the end of the movie. While the first hour is tense and atmospheric, the last 45 minutes tend to drag and breaks up the suspense with out-of-place scenes. It is unfortunate that such a great and original thriller would be dragged down by its own originality.

Overall though, "Bad Times at the El Royale" is still a worthwhile thriller, bolstered by a unique screenplay and some captivating performances. I never knew exactly where the film was going to go next, and that is surprising to see nowadays. While the pacing and unnecessary editing gets in the way near the end, the rest of the film is strong enough to make for a standout film that I won't be forgetting any time soon.

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hundred-Word Review - "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936)

While "The Charge of the Light Brigade" has not aged as well as other Errol Flynn classics like "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood," this film does have a massive historical epic scope, especially by 1936 standards. As the film retells the tragic yet heroic tale of the 27th Lancer division of the British army and their travels through India during war, the real highlights are the battle sequences and how its sprawling scope is put to great use, combine with frenetic editing and a pulse-pounding score from Max Steiner. Beyond that, this is an average adventure flick.

Final Grade: C

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hundred-Word Review - "Venom" (2018)


On some level, I compliment the filmmakers of "Venom" - clearly they were given the impossible task of making a movie about Spider-Man's most well-known villain without ever mentioning Spider-Man. The problem lies in the execution - Venom is not portrayed as an antagonist or anti-hero, but unlikely superhero, but without any flare or joy for the source material. The actors are giving it everything they have, despite the nonsensical screenplay, abysmal CGI, and everything else working against this movie. This movie reeks of studio interference as it harkens back to the terrible superhero movies of the early 2000s, like "Daredevil" and "Catwoman."

Final Grade: D+

Monday, October 8, 2018

Movie Review - "A Star Is Born" (2018)

From the beginning, I was skeptical about the newest remake of "A Star Is Born," especially since I recently watched the 1954 version with Judy Garland and was less than impressed with this tedious musical epic about fleeting fame. I was especially dubious after learning that this would be Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, while directing himself and Lady Gaga in a tale that's been told three separate times by Hollywood and is as old as the film industry. But with all the praise heaped onto this movie, especially Lady Gaga's performance, I went into this movie wanting to like it, with the hope that would live up to these expectations.

In the end, my expectations were met and nothing more. I got exactly the movie I thought I'd get, a tale about the music industry with the highest highs and lowest lows, held together with a captivating performance from Lady Gaga that deserves every bit of praise she's getting. The film follows many of the same beats as the 1954 film, though thankfully with better pacing and a much shorter runtime. It does feel like far more is accomplished in this film than any other "A Star Is Born," despite being shorter than the 1954 and 1976 versions.

In this version, Bradley Cooper plays a hard-drinking country musician passed his prime who stumbles across a struggling young singer (Lady Gaga) and falls for her and her stunning voice. The two hit it off and he invites her to join in his concerts, to which everyone loves and she very quickly climbs the ladder of success, even leaving Cooper in the dust.

I would say that "A Star Is Born" is a vehicle to launch Lady Gaga's success into a new medium, but it does feel like the film is trying to say more than that. While her unique style and flare are all over this movie, Coopers' character and performance keep the film grounded in reality enough to remind us that these people don't choose a life of fame for wealth or accolades, but because they have something to say and that nothing reaches more people quite like music. The film doesn't dwell on the clich├ęs of staying true to yourself in the face of the industry or fame corrupting people, and instead goes for a pure message about why musicians do what they do.

That being said, many aspects of "A Star Is Born" come across as awkward or needed more fine-tuning. For example, the supporting cast is all over the place, with Anthony Ramos and Sam Elliott's motivation getting muddy, while Dave Chappelle comes across as not knowing what he's doing there. The cinematography is skewed at times, especially when several shots are from a fisheye lens. But the biggest complaint is that Lady Gaga's jump from a nobody that got turned down because of her large nose to a big sensation is barely covered, going from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye. These complaints don't ruin the movie, but they do stack up after a while.

Overall, the newest "A Star Is Born" is a fine tragic musical with a great performance from Lady Gaga. It fixes the pacing problems of the Judy Garland version while staying true to the message of musicians in today's industry. If you've seen any of the other three versions of this movie, this one doesn't play out much differently than those. But for adapting a tale that's been around since the 1930s, and is often forgotten, to modern society, Bradley Cooper does a fine job bringing enough flare and relevance to a very old story.

Final Grade: B-

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hundred-Word Review - "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974)

While others are quick to point out the spectacular supporting cast, ranging from the subtle from Wendy Hiller and Anthony Perkins to the wild and eccentric from Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery, and inventive way of interpreting Agatha Christie's murder mystery novel, I found the most memorable factor to "Murder on the Orient Express" to be the cinematography. Filmed inside the tight claustrophobic confines of a train, the camera moves in creative ways to showcase a vast range of angles and long takes, made even better by editing that made the tight space feel vast. Definitely a must watch film.

Final Grade: A-