2019 Summer Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) discuss their careers in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Source: Polygon)

Quentin Tarantino is one of the most talented filmmakers of all-time. From directing masterpieces, such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, to being the owner of the New Beverly Cinema in L.A., it’s hard not to be impressed by him. He has barely directed a terrible movie. He continues the streak in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a film unlike anything he has done before. This love letter of Hollywood cinema oozes with style containing a massive cast and film references galore mixing fictional characters with real-life Hollywood stars including Steve McQueen, director Roman Polanski, James Stacey, and Bruce Lee.

Set in Los Angeles in 1969, crime shows and Westerns are the most popular genres on television. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is one of TV’s biggest stars. He and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) have been good friends since Dalton’s time on the (fictional) hit Western Bounty Law. However, they are both struggling to keep their careers afloat. One day, Dalton’s agent Martin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) offers him a role in a Spaghetti Western. When the two later find out about the Manson family, things take a turn for the worst.

One of the many reasons why the movie works is the look and feel. Robert Richardson’s superb cinematography gives L.A. a sunny, vintage feel to a much simpler time. Even when Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, who looks scarily similar to the actual Tate) goes to a matinee showing for one of her movies called The Wrecking Crew, also starring Dean Martin, she finds it enjoyable hearing the audience react to it. As Dalton states, it’s better to own a place in the city rather than rent one because people want to live there as opposed to visiting. It’s almost rare to hear dialogue as sharp as clean razors like what Tarantino brings to the table, even the little things to his direction make the movie shine.

DiCaprio and Pitt deliver some of the best performance of their entire careers. It’s awesome to see DiCaprio back to play someone as natural as Dalton, who is not ashamed of playing the anti-hero in every B-movie or television show he is in and also giving it all. It still surprises me Pitt has yet to receive an Oscar. Almost ten years after working with Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds, he plays another wonderful character in Cliff Booth, a Vietnam War veteran, who will refuse to stand in anybody’s way even during an altercation (without giving anything away, the movie has such a spectacular payoff, and I kid you not, I cheered). They lead a marvelous cast in Robbie, Pacino, Emile Hirsch, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis among others in one of Tarantino’s best.

10/10

2019 Summer Movie Review: Yesterday

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Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) becomes Britain’s biggest pop sensation in Danny Boyle’s Yesterday. (Source: Smooth Radio)

The Beatles have been loved for generations, since their successful U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1964, 73 million people tuned in on an exciting night during a time where the nation mourned for the death of JFK. Their fears soon faded once the band performed in front of a screaming audience. It established a popularity in other British bands in the U.S., including The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. 

Their music has been used in numerous movies; famously in A Hard Day’s Night, where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr play satirical versions of themselves, and Across the Universe, a dazzling yet overblown jukebox musical set over the course of 1960s history. 

We already have an enjoyably trashy biopic of Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody) and a magical rendition of Elton John’s life (Rocketman). With two upcoming films featuring music of Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light) and a Christmas-themed film featuring the music of George Michael (Last Christmas), 2019 might end up being a fun year for these type of films featuring classic artists. Now–director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis collaborate for the first time to give the audience another jukebox musical featuring the wonderful music of The Beatles with Yesterday, a movie that is less of an acid trip than Across the Universe.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) lives in the small seaport town of Lowestoft. He’s a struggling singer-songwriter to make a name for himself. One night, the unthinkable happens. A worldwide power outage occurs when he gets hit by a bus. Once released from the hospital, he performs a gorgeous rendition of “Yesterday” in front of his childhood crush Ellie (Lily James) and a group of his friends, in which they thought he originally wrote the song. Befuddled, Jack eventually finds out he is in a world where The Beatles and their music never existed. He becomes a worldwide phenomenon from recording their music at a local recording studio, with the support of his new manager Debra (Kate McKinnon) and Ed Sheeran (playing a fictional version of himself).

The poster consists of Jack walking across the iconic Abbey Road alone with a guitar on his back. The tagline reads: “Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only Jack remembers their music. He’s about to become a very big deal.” 

With that, he sure does! Although with disappointing results.

For his theatrical debut, Patel has great talent as a singer; putting enough vibrant energy into the 17 Beatles songs used in the film. With the music aside, as Jack, he comes across as a character with little to no personality. Sadly, same goes to the charming Lily James, whom I loved in Cinderella, Baby Driver, and last year’s Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Even with a gifted supporting cast, there are stuck in a setting with barely any character. The concept is nothing short of genius with some humor thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, there is nothing to save for the narrative containing barely any surprises.

The movie does have its moments. All of the songs used (imagine how long it must have taken to accept the copyrights) are wonderfully covered by Patel, a talent I could actually see having a more successful music career. Without giving anything away, the movie has surprisingly touching final act I think a box of tissues is required. Other than that, Yesterday is a movie I wanted to like. However, it ends up as a bland and borderline heartless musical that will attract Ed Sheeran fangirls.

5.5/10

2019 Summer Movie Review: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) try to reclaim a Victorian mansion in Joe Talbot’s fantastic debut The Last Black Man in San Francisco. (Source: The Atlantic)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the latest hit from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is based on an actual friendship between Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot, two San Francisco natives who would hang out constantly. They would ride on skateboards and discuss their hopes, dreams, and fears. Considering how expensive it is to live in the city, Jimmie has been living in group homes all of his life. 

After its premiere earlier this year, it has finally expanded to more theaters around the country. I admit, it’s definitely worth the wait.

Jimmie (Fails, playing a fictional version of himself) and Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) are two street-smart African-American friends living in San Francisco. They spend time with Mont’s blind grandfather (Danny Glover, delivering the most tender performance of his long career), watching classic film-noirs while Mont narrates the scenes for him. While Mont is an aspiring artist and playwright, Jimmie is struggling to live the life he wanted, especially earn money at a good paying job. One day, the two friends stop at a stunning Victorian mansion, built by Jimmie’s grandfather after World War II, in the historically black Fillmore District. Although the place is owned by an older white couple, they stop by every day to renovate it. Together, they both reminisce the past while living in the present.

Talbot’s directorial debut is a miraculous achievement. Although moving at a patient pace, every scene feels 100% authentic rather than forced. The actors feel like real people. It’s a beautiful tribute to a beautiful city that is as surprising as it is thoughtful. Fails and Majors portray one of the most heart-rending friendships I’ve ever seen in recent years. Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography and Emile Mosseri’s score give San Francisco an almost dreamlike quality. Not to mention the soundtrack, containing hip-hop and classic folk songs, including Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Michael Marshall’s gorgeous cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, summing up the city’s diverse beauty. The mansion, at the film’s core, is symbolic for Jimmie’s hopes for a future that he could live up to his generation. 

To quote David Fear, of the Rolling Stone, “You can tell this movie is going to be special within its first five minutes.”

I cannot agree more! The Last Black Man in San Francisco will be a movie I will watch for the rest of my life. I’ll be damned if this doesn’t earn any Oscars.

10/10

2019 Summer Movie Review: Crawl

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Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and David (Barry Pepper) try to avoid a group of alligators in Alexandre Aja’s monster movie Crawl. (Source: Bloody Disgusting)

In a summer filled with sequels, it’s refreshing to see a blockbuster with a running time less than 90 minutes. French director Alexandre Aja is known for directing the 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and the 2010 gorefest Piranha 3D. He returns–along with producer Sam Raimi–with an original monster movie Crawl (although people will compare this movie to the 1999 film Lake Placid), inspired by events during Hurricanes Katrina and Florence. 

(Although the latter didn’t have any reported alligator attacks, there was a moment where someone in South Carolina recorded an alligator wandering through the storm.)

Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a swimmer at the University of Florida. A Category 5 hurricane is about to hit landfall. She is worried about her father Dave (Barry Pepper), who is not returning any of her phone calls. After refusing orders from her sister Beth (Moryfydd Clark) to get out of Florida, Haley decides to brave the storm. Once she arrives at her childhood house, she sees Dave seriously injured in the basement. As the floodwaters begin to rise, they must survive by a group of ravenous alligators.

In real life, there are a lot of houses in Florida that don’t have basements, due to flooding and swarming with alligators. It is common in the Southeast where alligators can sneak into people’s houses. In the movie world, it can make for one nail-biting fight for survival, kudos to Aja’s confident direction balancing tension and self-awareness.

Known for starring in Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, 25th Hour, and, more recently, The Maze Runner series, Pepper gives a strong performance as Dave, Haley’s ex-swimming coach and works for his own construction company. He expects her daughter to persevere and be brave, even in the most difficult of situations. In one quiet scene, he tells Haley the story about how frustrated she was, as a child, that she couldn’t hold her breath underwater long enough to the other side of the pool. He saw her in the pool, and was surprised she didn’t give up. That’s why Haley makes for one badass action heroine, kudos to Scodelario’s powerhouse performance.

Crawl is everyone’s answer for a good time at the movie theater this summer that isn’t too long. Despite the basement issue and the limited character development, it doesn’t hurt the overall experience at all. The performances, the thrilling set pieces, and the straightforward are more than enough to recommend the movie. The alligators might be CGI, but they look as real as they can be. Trust me, there will be lots of blood.

9/10

2019 Summer Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Peter Parker (Tom Holland) joins Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to save the world in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the final film of Phase Three in the MCU. (Source: Thrillist)

The friendly-neighborhood superhero has been a staple in popular culture for years. According to a graph in 2016, Spider-Man has made $1.6 billion in global retail sales (yes, more than The Avengers, Batman, and Superman combined). He has appeared on toys, lunchboxes, cereal boxes, candy wrappers, video games, television shows, and, of course, movies. After being famously played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, British actor Tom Holland swung into action to make his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War

With everyone’s expectations went through the roof, he went onto appear in his standalone film, the surprisingly terrific Spider-Man: Homecoming, which contained amusing elements to ‘80s-nostalgia. With it paying tribute to John Hughes, Spider-Man: Far From Home pays tribute to the National Lampoon’s Vacation films. It’s a pitch-perfect film set in a post-Avengers: Endgame era.

Peter Parker (Holland) struggles to get back to his normal life; trying to ace his classes as a high school student by day and fight criminals as Spider-Man by night. He is excited to go on his trip to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) among other students, because it will give him a chance to tell MJ (Zendaya) on how he truly feels about her. Great power comes great responsibility when Peter witnesses one of four monsters, known as The Elementals (that make up of earth, fire, air, and water), wreak havoc through Venice. Illusionist Quentin Beck a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes into save Peter and his friends. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) assign Peter to help Mysterio take down The Elementals once and for all.

Yes, there are plenty of thrilling action set pieces, particularly one set at a festival in Prague in which he tries to save Ned and his girlfriend Betty Brant (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys). However, the movie shines bright when Peter interacts with his peers, getting into trouble (at times) in humorous ways, or when he is stricken with grief. Holland plays a more angsty Peter, yet, he still manages to bring enough charm and awkwardness to the table. Whenever he gets upset, we feel his pain. Whenever he swings into action, we cheer. 

He leads a gifted supporting cast. From knowing him in the Spider-Man 2 video game, it’s exciting to see Mysterio (or Quentin Beck) makes his first on-screen appearance. Gyllenhaal couldn’t be more perfect for the role! If Tony Stark was a father figure to Peter, Beck is viewed as the “cool uncle”, as director John Watts describes him. He and Holland have some great chemistry. Jon Favreau returns as Happy Hogan, who has a bigger role than in the previous entries in the MCU, and provides some good laughs, especially when he flirts with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Batalon’s Ned still has perfect comedic-timing and Zendaya’s MJ is as dark as she is engaging.

After the heart-breaking finales of both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, it’s about time Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers give some of what made Homecoming great; a light-hearted, energetic, hilarious, and visually dazzling sequel with plenty of dark, emotional moments and pleasant surprises sprinkled throughout. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a much-needed light-hearted escapism after Endgame. Although I wanted more, it’s just as fun as Homecoming. It ends with plenty of room for Spider-Man and what is yet to come in Phase Four.

9/10