Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Movie Review - "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974)

Even in 2020, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is hard to watch in the most gut-wrenching way a horror movie can be. Not every horror film can be as brutal or sickening as this time capsule about mutilation or its depraved look at insanity and the trauma it can create. Every moment I was either uncomfortable or wanted to turn off the movie, but only because of how thick the gruesomeness is and how it loves every second of violence and craziness. It often feels like the tapes a serial killer would make of what he did to his victims, and to do that in 1974 when the slasher genre hadn’t been created yet makes this one of the most important horror films of all time. It sets the standard for unsettling horror films to come and makes every horror film made before it look tame by comparison. It is difficult to watch because that’s how horror should be.

Final Grade: B

Movie Review - "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" (2019)

The key to Star Wars has always been the joy in its simplicity. While other works in the franchise like "The Mandalorian" or "The Last Jedi" often challenge this notion, the core of Star Wars has revolved around the battle between good and evil, both external in the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith and internal between characters like Anakin, Luke and Rey fighting their own battle between the dark and the light. And yet the series always feels so massive and elegant in its fantasy, taking that conflict and making it universal. Star Wars is the ultimate entertainment fantasy because of how primal and fierce these conflicts become.
It is because of this overpowering joy that the final entry in the Skywalker saga, "The Rise of Skywalker" feels so satisfying. There is never a dull moment in this movie, as it basks in the same basic feelings as the first film, with the shrinking rebel forces fighting a losing battle against the imposing and all encompassing First Order with no hope in sight. For the first time since watching "A New Hope," that feeling of dread and futility on a universal scale is overpowering. Yet there’s a sinister atmosphere that makes the First Order exciting and it’s all thanks to the return of the Emperor, who continues to manipulate everyone like they’re nothing more than his pets, especially Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). The way the Emperor is reintroduced is bone-chilling while still carrying the maniacal evil the Emperor has always had in spades, and it’s made even more terrifying when we see what he’s been up to since we last saw him "Return of the Jedi."

More than any previous Star Wars film, "The Rise of Skywalker" feels like the pulp sci-fi serials that it was based on, especially "Flash Gordon." Many scenes have our heroes desperately going around the universe, searching for clues and people that’ll get them closer to finding the location of the Emperor while the First Order and Kylo Ren are hot on their trail. Each segment often feels like its own little movie, with vibrant locations such as an iceberg floating in space and a desert planet celebrating its big festival (think "Midsommar" without the drugs and only slightly less murder) as well as unique characters who create some wonderful character moments for Poe (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega). Each of these scenes offers something of value, whether great visuals, some stunning non-CGI effects, captivating action sequences or some touching character moments, including the best moments ever for C3PO. It has been quite a while since Star Wars has felt as grand or suspenseful as this, with each piece contributing to the overall adventure without ever taking itself too seriously.
The only thing holding "Rise of Skywalker" back is that the movie and J.J. Abrams have to "fix" the problems of "The Last Jedi," taking a lot of time to set fans minds at ease before creating its own identity. Looking back on "The Last Jedi," there are some things that I wish had been done differently, specifically the fates of Luke and Leia, but the film certainly had an idea in mind about developing Rey, Poe and Finn into more three-dimensional characters while building up its themes of handling failure and living up legends. It is not a perfect movie by any stretch, nor is it close to the best Star Wars, but it was the most complex. Yet these filmmakers feel like most of "The Last Jedi" was a mistake that has to be erased or forgotten, even down to some characters like Rose getting cast aside or characters like Poe unlearning what he found about leading in the last film. The film spends so little time addressing what happened in "The Last Jedi" that almost hates the film and wants the audience to feel the same way. These revisions and quick hand-waving of important development in "The Last Jedi" does lessen the impact of the overall trilogy, though not enough to ruin this movie.

As a sci-fi, fantasy epic, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" is everything I wanted it to be – non-stop entertaining, emotional, grand and the most visually rich film in the series. As an end to this nine film saga, it completes everything a story of this size set out to do while never straying too far from its core values in the inner and outer battles between good and evil. It encapsulates everything fun about the franchise and reminded me why Star Wars is one of the best movie series of all time.

Final Grade: B+


Movie Review - "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)

It is fascinating to watch "Creature from the Black Lagoon" with the knowledge I have now, so many years after falling in love with movies like "Godzilla" and "The Shape of Water." Like many people, it is hard not to sympathize with the Gill Man as he defends his home from us, the invaders, and tries desperately to find love. He certainly is the most interesting character throughout the film, as every other character fills the generic monster movie tropes, including the macho hero (Richard Carlson), the greedy corporate leader (Richard Denning), and the helpless beautiful damesel in distress (Julie Adams), though it might help that the Gill Man has one of the best monster costumes ever made and is shown how dangerous he can be underwater with some rather beautiful underwater cinematography.

Though one thing I found distracting throughout the film was the music, since the same theme for the Gill Man would be used many times in "King Kong vs. Godzilla." Every time I heard his theme, I expected King Kong to show up and destroy a building. Still, I can see why "Creature from the Black Lagoon" has attained cult classic status - it is the right amount of campy monster goodness with seriousness, mixed with some great cinematography and an icon monster that may not really be a monster.

Final Grade: B

Movie Review - "Marriage Story" (2019)

"Marriage Story" is like an honest, heartfelt version of "Gone Girl," minus the kidnapping and murder - a tale of two emotional, vulnerable individuals that we see every possible side of, especially what's wrong with them, leading to an emotional roller coaster with many peaks and valleys that paints both parties in this marriage (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver) as neither good nor bad. There's a spell around this movie, the way it uses empathy and love during the moment most think love must end in a divorce.

It is through the many subtle gestures and silence of Driver and Johansson's performances that this film comes to life, as well as their unbridled love for their son. It is often heartbreaking and devestating, and yet it will put it all back together again through its comedy and honesty. If there is any film that perfectly encapsulates the difficult of love and its bottomless rewards, that film is "Marriage Story."

Final Grade: A

Movie Review - "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974)

"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" opens with a powerful Mexican crime lord putting a $1 million bounty on the head of our titular character and seemingly the entire crime world getting in on this. You would then think this would lead to many shootouts of one man against thousands while trying to bring down the crime world, or many terrible people trying to hunt one man who might have been wrongfully accused of a crime he didn't commit. But if "Alfredo Garcia" does one thing better than anything, it is subverting expectations.

Rather than a loud, epic gangster showdown, we get a quiet, leisurely western about a bartender (Warren Oates) falling in love while trying to hunt down a man who never fully know. In that regard, the film is servicable, Oates performs well as a man slowly learning what really matters in a world that is so quick to discard him. But given that this is a Sam Peckinpah film about a worldwide manhunt, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" does leave a lot to be desired, even as a reflective neo-western.

Final Grade: C

Movie Review - "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)

I don't know why I would ever doubt Billy Wilder. Despite this not being mentioned on many of his best films list, "The Seven Year Itch" is still just as vibrant, witty, satirical and sexually charged as all of his comedies. It is raunchy without ever needing to be censored, funny while only needing two key performers (Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe), and its due to Wilder's brilliance of turning a phrase like no one ever could and impeccable comedic timing.

The idea of pairing up a lonely but married man with the most vivid imagination with...well, Marilyn Monroe leads to some of the most creative, bizarre comedy to ever come out of the 50s. It certainly helps that Monroe gives the best performance of her career here, as well as the best outfits she ever got to wear, including the famous subway-grate dress. Ewell constantly going over the top and over-thinking every little detail is paired so well with Monroe's simple, dim-witted approach that it sets the standard for many romantic comedies to come.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, December 30, 2019

Movie Review - "Paris, Texas" (1984)

"Paris, Texas" is a slow burn that feels reminiscent of a David Lynch film, where more questions are asked without any answers and silence speaks louder than any dialogue. The film starts off with a man (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering the desert aimlessly and it basically feeds us little by little from that point on, slowly answering the questions of why he's there and where he was going at its own pace. Stanton's performance drives this film, never speaking a word in the first third of the film as he slowly but surely regains his humanity and what he holds dear.

His performance almost feels like a child maturing, starting out as a picky brat who refuses to talk, evolving into a curious but charming helper who wants to make a difference, ultimately becoming a man who wants to right the wrongs of his past. It all leads to a beautifully paced and shot climax that sells the entire picture, one of the great film endings. "Paris, Texas" certianly isn't for everyone, but there's no denying that it is emotionally-charged and perfectly performed.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Movie Review - "Das Boot" (1981)

There's a scene early on in "Das Boot" where a young German boy reflects on the French girl that he proposed to before departing to serve on a Nazi U-boat - the boy knows that they'll both be shot if the Nazis found out about their love, and it's tearing him apart. That's the emotional strength of "Das Boot" - men who learn that the values and strength of the Nazi regime won't bring you love or happiness, and their struggles with that lesson despite everything they've worked for. This is not just one of the best films to depict living in a submarine and the claustrophoic and deadly environment that comes with it, but one that shows good men serving an evil cause and the lengths they go to in order to keep their humanity intact.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Review - "Queen & Slim" (2019)

Before I watched "Queen & Slim," I read a review about how there's an oversaturation of movies that negatively portray the black experience and how that needs to stop. The point was that, while this has led to some of the best films of the last few years, including "Fruitvale Station," "12 Years a Slave" and "Moonlight," that there are so many imitators ("The Hate U Give," "Black and Blue," "Waves") that it portrays an atmosphere of how terrible it is to be black and that there's nothing that can be done about it, especially since films that positively portray this are far fewer (the only one he could cite was "Black Panther").

While I don't fully agree with this sentiment, since these empathetic, culturally diverse films have given a new voice to cinema that it desperately needed, we have gotten to a point where films like "Queen & Slim" have become predictable in their modern tragedy, making the impact feel a bit hollow and forced at times. Even though the film is well acted, especially by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, it often does feel like it is going through the motions of similar films, whether that's "The Hate U Give," or "Bonnie and Clyde." So maybe there is a point about too many films that negatively portray the black experience - even if the films are good, some diversity would be welcomed.

Final Grade: B-

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Movie Review - "The Irishman" (2019)

If "Goodfellas" is Scorcese at his most passionate, then "The Irishman" is Scorcese at his most mature and honest. There's still a deep-seeded love for gangsters and the power they wield, but there's even more reflection on how they got that power and if it was truly worth it. This is all perfectly encapsulated in the quiet, contemplative performances of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, while complimented by Al Pacino doing what he does best by chewing the scenery to beautiful effect as the loud-mouthed Jimmy Hoffa. And while the runtime is nearly three-and-a-half hours, there isn't a single wasted scene, every moment lasting exactly as long as it needs to in order to give us the most introspective look at gangsters we've ever seen. "The Irishman" is smart, well-paced, funny and has three of the best performances of the year, making it the best gangster film since "Goodfellas" and one of the best films of the year.

Final Grade: A

Friday, December 27, 2019

Movie Review - "Knives Out" (2019)

Who would have thought that a whodunit murder mystery would be the perfect genre for Rian Johnson? Maybe its because Johnson wanted to get as far away as he could from "The Last Jedi," or it could be that Johnson always loved subverting the audiences' expectations, and no other type of movie does that more effectively than an old-fashion murder mystery.

As such, "Knives Out" excels at its unpredictability, making every character so vile and filled with rage and hate that violence could erupt at any moment, perfectly portrayed in every performance from an ensemble cast, such as Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans and Don Johnson. And yet, there's a surprising refreshing sense of humor throughout the film, where over analysis often comes across as incompetence, especially from the two leads played by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. The framing device makes "Knives Out" even more unique, as many flashbacks play out after the questions but before the answers so that the lies and personalities hit that much harder. "Knives Out" is a whodunit that is worthy of standing next to the other great murder mysteries and one that will certainly hold up over repeat viewings.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Movie Review - "Frozen II" (2019)

As a 30-year old male, I can safely say that "Frozen II" left no impression on me. It does the job that it's supposed to for the little kids - give them new catchy songs, provide loads of comedy and fantasy and more of the same family love that "Frozen" brought us. But outside of even more Olaf (Josh Gad) and his hilarious extenstial crisis and recap of the events of the first film, this is just more of the same, though with even less direction and focus. Many of the subplots feel disjointed or have nothing to do with the main plot, like Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) trying and failing to propose to Anna (Kristen Bell), even Olaf's crisis doesn't really add anything to the story outside of some great comedy. Although, nothing is done incompetently (outside of Kristoff's 90s boy band song that feels out of place) and the characters are still just as charming and likable as ever, so "Frozen II" is at least a passable family experience.

Final Grade: C+

Monday, December 23, 2019

Movie Review - "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019)

A fair comparison to make with "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is "Saving Mr. Banks" - a film that has a very different goal in mind than what the audience came for. Both films feature Tom Hanks in a supporting role that steals the show in every scene he's in, and when he's not on screen both films are bizarrely melodramatic and poorly acted. Despite the title of both films, Hanks' characters are not the primary focus, in this films case its about a vaunted journalist (Matthew Rhys) whose having troubles with his father and interviews Mr. Rogers (Hanks) who wants nothing more than to help the young man. And while Hanks' scenes are whimsically charming and perfectly capture the love that Mr. Rogers had for everyone, the scenes without him are so strange in their discomfort and awkwardness that it does detract from Hanks' scenes, much like it did in "Saving Mr. Banks."

The intent was there - present a man who hates humanity to the most kind-hearted man who ever lived and see what happens, but there's so much focus on the hate that even the love doesn't quite feel rewarding in the end. This is still a movie worth seeing, if only because of Tom Hanks doing what he does best, but beyond that there's nothing going on with "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

Final Grade: C+

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Movie Review - "El Camino" (2019)

If you're a fan of "Breaking Bad," then "El Camino" is exactly the fix you need to get all of your unresolved answers. As far as I'm concerned, that's all "El Camino" was good for - wrapping up everything that the finale didn't touch upon, mostly the fate of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). As a follow-up to "Breaking Bad," it is nice to see that Jesse's humanity has remained intact despite all the time he spent with Walter White on his power trip. Even after everything's happened, Jesse's soul is still there and now that's put to the test against many more hardened criminals. Beyond that, there really isn't anything else to this one. It is simple-minded in its goals and performs it with the same slow pace that Vince Gilligan became known for. It's servicable, but filled with mostly fluff that is only there for hardcore "Breaking Bad" fans.

Final Grade: C-

Friday, December 20, 2019

Movie Review - "Ford v Ferrari" (2019)

"Ford v Ferrari" never takes itself too seriously and instead focuses its attention on the main reason people are here - Matt Damon, Christian Bale and fast cars. Damon and Bale's chemistry is sizzling, always feeling like they're a moment away from breaking into a fight, and yet both of them have such a great respect for each other. The many car scenes are beautifully photographed and are surprisingly intense, perfectly capturing just how chaotic and unpredictable these delicate cars could be. Many of the scenes with the Ford executives and stuffy business men interacting with the oily and rough mechanics are charming and simply hilarious. "Ford v Ferrari" is just a fun ride that's light on seriousness and high on thrills and laughs, and does it all with enough respect and charm to always be entertaining.

Final Grade: B

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Movie Review - "Doctor Sleep" (2019)

If there's one film that never needed a sequel, it was Kubrick's "The Shining." And yet, that unneeded sequel, "Doctor Sleep," is not only an effective follow-up, but is a servicable horror film in its own right. This is mostly because "Doctor Sleep" doesn't step on Kubrick's toes, walking a similar eerie but slow path while creating its own unique visual style that uses its psychic characters to its fullest. Instead of being haunting, it is mysterious and trippy. There are of course visual homages to "The Shining," but they never feel forced, especially when they arrive at the hotel, leading to some wonderful scenes of Danny (Ewen McGregor) revisiting his traumatic past, especially a wonderful moment with his father. It is a fine horror experience without ruining "The Shining," while also making you realize just how spectacular and one-of-a-kind Kubrick's horror masterpiece was.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, December 16, 2019

Movie Review - "All This and Heaven Too" (1940)

Yet another Bette Davis period piece and yet another film that meant nothing to me. But unlike her other period pieces like "Jezebel," I can at least point to the reason why this film doesn't work - the whole film is set around a French governess (Davis) recounting her life story and all the juicy drama that unfolded when she was the caretaker of a Baron (Charles Boyer) and his family, including the romance that slowly formed between the two. As Davis tells this story to a bunch of American school girls, she goes into explicit and surprising detail about everything that happened, including bits and pieces that she wasn't around for and could never have known about even if she asked. It's not just that Davis is an unreliable narrator, but a narrator who knows everything despite being the main character in a story that doesn't have her in every scene, especially key scenes that involve the Baron and his wife (Barbara O'Neil) in private. If you stop and think about how Davis knows all of this, the whole timeline falls apart. This is just another forgettable period piece that doesn't expect its audience to think about the story.

Final Grade: D

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Movie Review - "Parasite" (2019)

Part of the reason I feel "Parasite" is one of the best films of the year is due to my inability to place it in a genre. Bong Joon-ho continues to push the boundaries of what we should expect out of movies by creating a slow-burn that peels back so many layers between the rich and poor to show that we're not different at all. It certainly isn't like "The Host" or "Snowpiercer," since the high-concept ideas of those sci-fi movies is replaced with several broken family units trying to cling to any chance they can to live. But what I loved most was how despicable and rotten each character acts, greedily consuming whatever they can no matter what that does to other people, and yet they're all so well-acted with just enough humanity that I can't hate any of them - they're all despate people who don't have anything to lose, and we're along for the ride, making for one of the more barbaric yet dazzling cinematic experiences of the year.

Final Grade: A

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Movie Review - "Jojo Rabbit" (2019)

While you might be lured in to "Jojo Rabbit" by the uniquely hilarious idea of a little Nazi youth having Hitler as his imaginary friend that he treats like an unstoppable superhero, the film does not dwell on this for long. Rather, this is more of a coming-of-age story set during the most difficult time to be a child - in the middle of Nazi Germany.

While there are plenty of laughs and snide comments about the Third Reich, especially about their ego and their sense of fashion, the focus quickly becomes about keeping the family unit intact, as well as kids developing their own sense of identity when their nation wants to destroy anything that isn't them. I found the film to be quite heavy-handed as it went on, especially since it seemed at odds with the comedy, but as a coming-of-age tale about finding yourself amongst the Nazis, "Jojo Rabbit" was effective enough.

Final Grade: C+

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Movie Review - "Dolemite is My Name" (2019)

There's a moment early on in "Dolemite Is My Name," where Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) explains how he ran away from his backwards unapologetic father to get to Hollywood. Moore explains that his father would always tell him that he'd never be as good as him and that he'd never amount to anything and should just settle on falling in line. This is a man who has been told to settle his entire life, to fall in line and accept that he isn't destined for greatness, if not by his father than by those trying to put him down. And yet, being surrounded by all these great artists that Moore looks up to, it is impossible for him to understand why he can't have that same greatness. Even if he's been told "no" his entire life, he refuses to let one word get in his way.

This is the emotional core of "Dolemite Is My Name," and a brilliant one at that. Whether trying (and failing) to invent himself as a singer, a shake dancer, or a comedian, Moore takes each step in stride and with a positive spin on each career attempt. He is so intoxicated by the hope of Hollywood that he refuses to let a little thing like failure get in his way. And as Moore's career finally starts to take off with his own unique persona of Dolemite, something he can claim as his own, people start to finally notice him to the point that he goes on tour and even plans to make a movie, even if he has to do everything himself.

Some might describe "Dolemite Is My Name" as a black "Ed Wood," and that would be an apt description. Both films have a love for cinema and its worldwide appeal, and feature an optimistic protagonist that wants nothing more than share his love with others. But what separates "Dolemite Is My Name" from "Ed Wood" is that search for an identity near the beginning of the film, something that turns Rudy Ray Moore into Dolemite that gives this film an even greater punch. Moore doesn't just believe in the magic of cinema, but in the magic of creation. In his eyes, that is a gift that only few people ever get, and its a gift that must be shared.

"Dolemite Is My Name" is the most uplifting movie of the year, giving everyone who has ever been silenced a voice. Eddie Murphy is brilliant and honest in every scene, nailing every comedic moment as well as the dramatic with just enough ego to be charming. Despite being as much of a blaxploitation film as the original "Dolemite," this is one that transcends the cultural barriers with its comedy, honesty and hunt for identity in a difficult world.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Movie Review - "Pather Panchali" (1955)

Much like "Rashomon" opened the world to Japanese cinema, "Pather Panchali" introduced the rest of the world to Indian cinema, showing a vastly different and unforgiving look at the world from the innocent perspective of a child that would otherwise probably go unlooked. Films like "Pather Panchali" are the reason to watch foreign movies, the entire world is filled with as much wonder as there is tragedy. Every type of people has a story to tell, and film offers quite possibly the most human way to experience those stories.

The film follows the Roy family, who lives in a run down shack of a home, where the father (Kanu Banerjee) is not making ends-meet and only has a slim hope of success as a writer, but only if he leaves his family for several months. This leaves the mother (Karuna Banerjee) to fend for her children, Durga (Uma Dasgupta) and Apu (Subir Banerjee), with nothing but her wits and will, all while the rest of the village is convinced that Durga is thief and her aunt (Chunibala Devi) leeches off her very little food and supplies.

Yet under all of this, there is a honest sense of hope and optimism that permeates throughout the movie. The children take ever opportunity to savor every moment of innocence, while the parents seem to genuinely enjoy watching their children grow and enjoy themselves despite their less than ideal home. This is certainly helped due to most of the actors being a real family who live in similar squalor when the cameras aren't rolling. It paints a harsh but uplifting view of India that was daring and bold for 1955. Hell, it would still be bold if it was filmed today.

"Pather Panchali" is certainly the most important Indian film of all time. Its honest depiction of the impoverished is striking and soulful. It is one of the rare films that transcends cultural and language barriers and speaks to anyone on a loving, passionate level.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Movie Review - "Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019)

The Terminator franchise really should have died after the second film. Not because they could never top "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (even though they haven't yet), but because they haven't can't come up with anything new and end up redoing the same things again and again, only getting worse with each entry.

If you've seen or even heard of a Terminator film, you can guess the plot and most of the twists - in the future, mankind is fighting a war against an A.I. that became self-aware, who sends an unstoppable killing machine back to our time to kill an important member of the human resistance, while mankind sends someone else back to protect this important person from the Terminator. That idea hasn't changed at all since the first film, only a new person, a young Mexican woman, Dani (Natalia Reyes), and her protector Grace (Mackenzie Davis). And despite the inclusion of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to give her hardened, unwelcomed advice, she offers nothing to the plot, nor does she offer any real fan service and comes across as a forced, useless character, much like Arnold Schwarzenegger's part in the movie as a old T-800 who joins their fight.

Everything about "Terminator: Dark Fate" feels forced and repetitive, like they had to use the same plot points of saving the messiah or a good Terminator or else the movie wouldn't work. Even though we have a new protagonist, she has the exact same message about the how the future isn't written in stone that John Connor had. For a film franchise so fascinated with the future, it really has been stuck in the past since 1991. There are endless possibilities with a self-aware A.I. sending machines back into the past, like sending one back to protect a founding member of the A.I. while the humans send someone to kill him, but producers are so focused on the one idea of killing one person to stop the future that it has officially lost its luster.

Anything that could have been new or original about "Terminator: Dark Fate" is left vague or unexplored. Despite having all three main characters be female, it never does anything with that. They attempt to get Dani from Mexico City to America, and yet there are little to no comments about immigration and any scenes of Dani leaving her family behind are pushed aside when you realize her family is already dead. What could have been a better concept to explore was what the T-800 did after it fulfilled its purpose, but instead that's summarized in a couple lines about "adopting" a family that has no clue that he's a robot. Even the comedy is uninspired and lackluster, most of the jokes being so predictable or cringe worthy that it makes me wonder why they tried to be funny in the first place.

"Terminator: Dark Fate" is not worth anyone's time or money. It is a sad attempt to cash in on nostalgia and shows that the franchise hasn't changed in nearly thirty years and certainly hasn't improved either. It is predictable, boring and even questionable at times with decisions regarding the T-800's inclusion and the Terminator hunting down these women. Save yourself the effort and just watch "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" again - despite what "Dark Fate" tried to do, that film is a timeless sci-fi action masterpiece.

Final Grade: D

Monday, November 18, 2019

Movie Review - "The Fog" (1980)

"The Fog" was John Carpenter's first big budget release following his smash hit, "Halloween." Many of Carpenter's staples are on display, a seemingly unstoppable slasher, the past haunting the innocent, and Jamie Lee Curtis. But the larger budget helps to create an even greater atmosphere and lore as the town of Antonio Bay is haunted by the ghosts of hundred-year old shipwreck, seeking vengeance on those who wronged them, using the haunting fog as a means to get what they want. Now the citizens must piece together what is happening to the town and how they can save everyone from a grizzly fate.

Carpenter takes what he started with in "Halloween" and presents it on a much grander scale, with a whole town caught in the middle of a supernatural curse, and multiple characters working in their own ways to fight it. This includes a radio DJ (Adrienne Barbeau) who reports where the fog is headed, a fisherman (Tom Atkins) and his new girlfriend (Lee Curtis) using what they've learned from a boating incident to help the town, and the local priest (Hal Holbrook) learning why this happening to the town and realizing their doom. Most of these groups rarely meet up or have little communication with one another, so it does often feel like a whole town of people working together.

Still, the intimacy of "Halloween" is gone and so is most of the fear. The ghosts are more mysterious than terrifying, since we never really get to see most of their carnage. Outside of killing some people who step into the fog, the worst they do is mess with some appliances and windows, something that the gremlins would be doing. This doesn't diminish "The Fog," but it does make it more atmospheric and creepy instead of a horror movie, where the mystery of how they'll solve this is more interesting than what the ghosts are doing.

Final Grade: B-

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Movie Review - "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970)

I love Roger Ebert more than any other film critic. But "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" proves he made the right choice by picking film criticism over screenwriting.

Let's be honest, the only reason "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is still remembered today is because it was written by Roger Ebert. It wasn't the only musical about sex, drugs or Hollywood at the time, and beyond those elements, this film has more in common with a porno than a Hollywood production. The whole thing is supposed to be a satire of Hollywood and its superficiality and the dirty side they only talk about at parties, but its all so over the top goofy that the satire loses its meaning. One minute our three main female leads are having a blast as the next big musical hit, and then the next minute one of them is sleeping with her uncle, another has her boyfriend get beat up by a boxer, the other is sleeping with her friends boyfriend, while that same boyfriend tries to kill himself in front of both of his former lovers.

It all screams of a desperate, almost laughable, soap opera that can't make up its mind about being a drama or a comedy and doesn't so either very well. What should be funny is murdered by all the sudden drastic shifts in tone, especially near the climax, while the serious moments are so poorly performed that you'd think it was done by a comedy troupe, or porn stars who can't emote to save their lives. Any attempt at subtlety is ruined by the ending, when a narrator we've never heard before gives us the moral each character was supposed to learn (including the dead ones), though the film never indicates if those characters learned these lessons (especially the dead ones).

"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is everything ridiculous about the 1960s and early 70s rolled up into one movie - drugs, hippie music, sex, struggles for individuality, sending a message to "the man." Except that everything is dialed up to its most extreme that it all comes across as obnoxious, making it impossible to take any of this seriously. In that regard, this is certainly a porno comedy that speaks to its time. Beyond that, just be glad Roger Ebert didn't write more movies like this one.

Final Grade: C-

Friday, November 15, 2019

Movie Review - "The Lighthouse" (2019)

Robert Eggers has certainly established that he is a master of establishing creepy moods. Moods that are engrossed in their mysterious style that they're almost inviting, like you want to know why this world is as weirdly fascinating as it is. I had no clue what was happening during Eggers' "The Witch," but its world was so unique in its old fashion archaic style that I didn't really care about the plot and wanted to explore more of this subtly haunting world supposedly filled with witches.

Eggers newest film, "The Lighthouse," works much in the same way, but is certainly bolstered by a pair of strong, raw performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. The mood is palpable, set on a small island surrounded by a restless ocean and fog with only a worn-out lighthouse and a fog horn that sounds for sailors that never come, all photographed in beautiful black-and-white cinematography with an aspect ratio that makes everything feel a little more cramped. What follows is a slow descent into madness, where Pattinson and Dafoe exchange old timey sailor yarns and attempt to show their authority over the other, often leading to disastrous results where the other lashes out like a frightened sea creature caught in their lobster trap.

Eggers' mood remains the driving force though, as if the fog and blinding light of the lamp is playing some sort of spell on these two men, bringing out the worst in them. What starts out as simple attempts to not give in to loneliness turns into a power struggle, the two fighting over who does the chores and who gets to watch the lighthouse at night, the thing both of them were sent here to do. This transition is slow but not without its own rewards along the way, as hallucinations and possibly powers beyond their mortal control start to plague their minds, as if we're going mad along with these men. That maddening mood of repetitiveness and isolation on this rock, serving no real purpose, is brilliantly captured by Eggers.

Overall, "The Lighthouse" is a beautifully and uniquely captured look at madness and paranoia. The cinematography is like nothing I've seen before, the chemistry between Pattinson and Dafoe is volatile in all the best ways and Eggers' world is so perfectly sculpted that it drives the whole picture, answering all the necessary questions while still making you question reality and fantasy.

Final Grade: A

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Movie Review - "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" (1968)

"Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell" intrigues me more than it entertains me. The film follows the survivors of a commercial plane crash (after a supposed bomb threat). As we learn more about the survivors, including one of the passengers being the assassin of a recent deceased politician, they learn they were followed by an alien spaceship, helmed by blob-like goo who possesses the assassin and goes on a rampage, trying to suck the blood of all the survivors.

But what's more fascinating is "Goke"'s view on the world - political assassinations, the Vietnam War, pollution at an all time high, greed and ignorance causing men to turn a blind eye to all the horrors being committed. In the filmmaker's eyes, the world is hell and we're probably better off by having aliens come to end our suffering.

"Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell" is a Japanese horror film released in 1968, during the height of Japan's special effects boom, in particular the daikajiu genre and the Godzilla films. While I wouldn't describe this as a kaiju movie, it does seem like a direct response to Ishiro Honda's uplifting, positive Godzilla films. In those movies, mankind often puts their problems and differences aside to help solve a much bigger crisis, and emphasizes that we're all one people and should identify by that rather than our nations. But "Goke" almost seems insulted by that philosophy, and instead shows that mankind will never truly be at peace, as long as we remain prejudice and fearful of others, as shown by our numerous characters and their own pride or paranoia getting the best of them. And rather than mankind triumphing over evil aliens in Honda's movies, the aliens take advantage of evil mankind to conquer our world.

As someone who worships the Honda Godzilla films, I'm intrigued to see such a dramatically opposing view point. More than anything else, at least "Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell" makes for a fascinating companion piece to the Godzilla films at the time.

Final Grade: C+

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Movie Review - "Zombieland: Double Tap" (2019)

The name of the game in "Zombieland: Double Tap" is pandering. Nearly every joke is a rehash from the first film, or a not-so subtle wink at the camera moment for those who loved "Zombieland." This includes mocking of many tired catch phrases, including loads of jabs at "Time to nut up or shut up," parodies of their own characters, and going through all of Columbus' (Jesse Eisenberg) rules of survival over again, just in case you forgot them. Oh, and of course there's a big reference to Bill Murray.

This would be a problem if the plot actually made sense, but it all falls apart if you give it even the slightest bit of thought, especially in the third act. The majority of the film revolves around the four main leads from the last film trying to find some place to call home, and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) finding it in the form of a hippie community that melts down all weapons and guns and literally sings pacifist songs despite the zombie horde outside that they attract with fireworks.

How these pacifists survived in a world overrun by zombies for this long is infuriating, but what's worse is that the filmmakers side with the hippies and that they shouldn't be killing the undead that are impossible to reason with and won't stop until they've devoured you. The main characters don't try to argue with the hippies either, they just seem to agree that they live better lives because they destroyed their only form of protection.

"Zombieland: Double Tap" is stupid. All the best parts are taken from the first film and the characters act like morons who just so happen to get everything to go their way. Any ounce of humanity from the first film has been lost to pandering.

Final Grade: D+

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Top Ten Favorite Films in My Lifetime

Today marks my thirtieth birthday, a day that I've been giving a lot of thought for quite some time. Despite my youth supposedly coming to an end as I make the march towards middle-age, I can't help but feel young. Maybe it's because I live my life without regrets, or because I always do everything in my power to make the most out of each day, but I'm at the point in my life where age is a good thing, like I'm maturing like wine.

But I certainly feel like part of this perspective comes from watching movies and gaining new perspectives on life and myself through a camera lens. Cinema has played a massive role in my life so it's only fitting that I take a look at some of the films that have come along since I've been alive. This works out almost perfectly to encompass three decades of cinema (1990s, 2000s and 2010s). With so many films that have left an indelible impact on me as a person to choose from, I've decided to keep this to just my personal favorite ten that have left the biggest marks on me, the ones that I'll always come back to and remind me of what it was like when I was thirty.

Number Ten - "Adaptation." (2002)

It pains me to admit that I've rarely talked about how brilliant "Adaptation." is on so many different levels and how it perfectly captures the crisis that comes with creativity. The film is a biopic about its own writer, Charlie Kaufman, going through the most difficult experience of his life as he attempts to adapt an unadaptable book and to make a story where there is no story, and the story he creates is him trying desperately to create a story about the book he's trying to adapt. No one could ever attempt something like this besides Kaufman, and it's brought to screen with that same love for passion, uniqueness and originality through the confused and fun performances of Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep. It is the prime film example of life imitating art imitating life imitating art that still blows my mind just thinking about how everything comes together.

Number Nine - "Goodfellas" (1990)

Gangster films are the ultimate tragedies, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Martin Scorsese has always excelled at making those highs as enthralling and mouth-watering as possible, like being a gangster is the greatest thing in the world, while never detaching itself from reality so far as to sympathize with these criminals so that there ultimate fall hits even harder when they do crash back to our reality. "Goodfellas" is the greatest gangster film of all time because that power is lavishly explored through multiple decades of long takes and loving narration. At times, it almost feels like we're watching aliens with no empathy or understanding of humans other than greed and power, especially Joe Pesci's foul-mouthed trigger-happy gangster that only loves his mother, which only makes the more human moments of realization and betrayal stand out so much more.

Number Eight - "her" (2013)

More than anything else, I adore "her"'s depiction of the future. Sterile, but imaginative. It is distant enough from our own world to wonder how we got here, while still innovative enough to create a fun world with endless possibilities. In a time where every depiction of the future is grim and desolate, "her" is a shining example of how A.I. can be just as witty and passionate as us. It is comforting without every losing its joy for life, showing our evolution as a charismatic love to learn more about ourselves, captured perfectly through the love between a man and an A.I.

Nubmer Seven - "Shin Godzilla" (2016)

I couldn't help myself, this is everything I wanted in a modern-age Godzilla movie. The monster is not only terrifying, imposing and captured in the best possible light, but the worlds' governments react with the chaos and confusion that would come with a giant monster rising from the ocean. It is both parts political thriller and kaiju film, bolstered even further with its sense of national identity so that it's not just a few stuffy politicians reacting to Godzilla, but all of Japan. Even if it didn't have loads of call backs to the Showa series through its music and sound effects, "Shin Godzilla" would still be the best monster movie in the last decade because of its love of monsters and the modern bureaucratic response to such an abomination of life.


Number Six - "The Lego Movie" (2014)

Who would have thought a brand-name movie about yellow bricks would hit me this hard? I can't think of another movie that makes me feel like a kid again quite like "The Lego Movie." It is one of the most creative, witty and bizarre movies I've ever seen, but then again you have to be to have your main characters be Batman, a pirate, an astronaut and a cat-unicorn-hybrid while fighting Will Ferrell. Just thinking about how everything unfolds so perfectly makes me giddy, while the comedy still makes me laugh to this day. Everything about this movie still feels fresh, certainly helped by the unique look and design that makes "The Lego Movie" timeless and forever relevant, especially with that twist ending.

Number Five - "Nightcrawler" (2014)

As time has passed, I've fallen in love with the brutal honest of "Nightcrawler"'s depiction of success. Where "Adaptation." was hopeful and passionate, "Nightcrawler" is desensitized to the American Dream, where success only comes to those who want it hard enough, especially in an endangered profession that is journalism. The film is often disturbing, but always rings true to its message of how "Man Bites Dog" is a far more alluring headline than "Dog bites Man." Jake Gyllenhaal has never been as commanding or sinister as he was in "Nightcrawler," always coming across as a man who'd do whatever it takes to succeed in a world that does not care for him.

Number Four - "Ed Wood" (1994)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from "Nightcrawler," we have "Ed Wood," the greatest film about filmmaking. There's a contagious love for life and movies throughout, all perfectly captured in Johnny Depp's charismatic performance as Edward D. Wood Jr., a man so blinded by the spectacle of cinema that he thought it (and he) could do no wrong. Yet beyond a love for movies, there's a genuine optimism that permeates through Depp and Martin Landau's role, both making the most of the time and opportunities they have, a passion that all artists can truly appreciate. It speaks to me, not just as a love letter to one of the best worst filmmakers of all time, but also of how to face the challenges that come with any passion - with an open-mind and a kind heart.

Number Three - "Fargo" (1996)

If I could have, these last three films would all be tied for first place. They are not just perfect movies, but timeless classics with characters that have helped shape my own personality. Take for example, Marge Gunderson from "Fargo," the contemplative, curious, feisty cop who will stop at nothing to make a better world for her child, even if it means copious amounts of fast food and a cute Minnesotan accent. The framing of Marge within the world of "Fargo," filled with greedy, ugly, weak men clawing for something they can call their own and watching them fail due to their own incompetence, makes Marge and her husband sharing little moments of love and affection the most heart-warming and uplifting experience in the last twenty years. The balance of dark comedy, authentic Minnesota charm and Marge's determination despite everything going against her makes "Fargo" not only the Coen brothers' best film, but one of the best films of the last few decades.

Number Two - "The Shape of Water" (2017)

When I think of fantasy, "The Shape of Water" is now the first thing that comes to mind. It is filled with wonder and awe, without ever losing an ounce of humanity, taking the good people with the bad people. It makes the more fantastical moments far more breath-taking, and the moments of quiet realization and love so much more touching, while the angry outbursts of men losing control over something they never had so much more satisfying. It certainly helps that this film boasts the best performance of the decade with Sally Hawkins giving the most raw, passion performance without hardly uttering a word. Guillermo del Toro's sympathetic re-imagining of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," has a tremendous love for the beauty of life that is hard not to love every affection moment of this wonderful fantasy.

Number One - "WALL-E" (2008)

"WALL-E" is one of the best examples of science fiction, a quiet, contemplative look at where mankind's over-reliance on our tools would eventually take us and how much our own tools would start to mimic us. Some will see this as Pixar's cute take on sci-fi, but I see it as their masterpiece, a visually breath-taking film with a joy for life, all while the silence is even more powerful than words could ever be. Not a single moment is wasted in "WALL-E," whether its exploring a world filled with trash as a single robot tries to find meaning to it all, creating a wonderful companionship between its two robot leads that becomes (oddly enough) the emotional core of the film, showcasing the vast beauty of the universe, or building off the themes of "2001: A Space Odyssey" in the most touching way. I love everything about this movie, and it only gets better every time I watch it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Movie Review - "Joker" (2019)

I've always had qualms with making super villains the main characters of a movie. While it is natural for popular and established villains like Venom to get their own movie in an age when superheroes are the name of the game, the entertainment of these maniacal, psychotic characters has been the relationship between them and the hero they're always out to prove wrong. Venom is nothing without Spider-Man to antagonize. Lex Luthor would just be a corrupt, greedy businessman/politician if he didn't have Superman around. And the Joker is just an insane, murderous clown without Batman to challenge him and his ethical dilemma of taking even one life to save thousands. Having a villain without a hero around defeats the purpose of being a villain.

What's worse is that Todd Phillips "Joker" takes a strange stance on this aspect, where its titular murdering clown is put in the spotlight like he's supposed to be a hero. Maybe that's where the controversy comes from - the love and admiration for what the Joker does. Even if his crimes don't go unpunished, the society that this film creates makes this mentally-disturbed man seem like he's helping rid of the world of an injustice, when he's really just murdering anyone he wants. Which goes hand-in-hand with the other reason I'm against villains as the main character - this isn't fun to watch. It is a slow descent into madness that can only end in a bloody mess. The fact that the world sees this crazed lunatic as a symbol of the lower class is depressing and asinine.

Of course, "Joker" isn't without its merits. Joaquin Phoenix, as always, gives a William Shatner-esque performance, a mix of scenery chewing insanity and unbridled joy in the chaos he brings to the screen. This is Phoenix's most cinematic performance, putting everything he has on the screen as his psychotic rage fuels every scene. The film is well-shot, with some of the best uses of color and motion we've seen all year, and really sells just how much of a hell hole Gotham is becoming. These things keep the film engaging, even if the tone and crude storytelling become grating.

"Joker" is what would happen if the real Joker made a film about himself - sympathy towards appalling behavior, overly oppressive, lacking any sort of empathy towards a world that is trying to improve, and any sort of subtlety is gone. Every emotional moment or act of violence is beaten into the audience with a crow bar, symbolism is overbearing and ham-fisted, as if the filmmakers think the audience can't put anything together on their own. To top that off, "Joker" is ultimately derivative of so many other tragic or misunderstood character pieces, especially "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy." The fact that Robert De Niro now plays the idol instead of the idol worshipper is infuriatingly over-the-top.

It's as if I were to tell the film that it is dark for darkness' sake and doesn't give the audience room to think, that the film would speak back to me and say "That's the joke! Why don't you get it?"

I do get it. And it wasn't a good joke. I've heard it before and Martin Scorsese told it better.

Final Grade: C

Monday, October 21, 2019

Movie Review - "Suspiria" (1977)

"Suspiria" is a vibrant, methodical nightmare, crafted by a master of cinematography and color. It tells the tale of Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), who has moved from New York to a prestigious European dance academy, where every student or teacher she meets is more foreboding than the last. As the night comes though, more tragedies befall the academy, including maggots raining down on the students and murder, all while the teachers and headmistress start showing their distaste for Suzy. One of Suzy's friends, Sara (Stefania Casini), can't figure out how she keeps hearing footsteps in the middle of the night, and starts to suspect that these murders aren't mere coincidence, but the work of witches.

"Suspiria" owes a lot of its inspiration to German expressionist movies, with many scenes where light and shadow are used to brilliant effect, along with haunting camera angles, especially as it nears its terrifying climax. The film is has a slow but satisfying buildup as information is gradually fed to the audience, building up the dread, all while the horrifying atmosphere hangs over every scene, dripping like a slimy haunted house - it doesn't always scare you, but it makes you feel like something terrifying could happen at any moment. It is a visual feast, with the strangest uses of colors I've ever seen, but each used so well that it compliments the strange mystery of the dance academy. As far as Italian horror movies go, "Suspiria" is the best one I've seen to this day.

Final Grade: A-