First-Time Viewings: July 2020

(Source: The Irish Post)

Taken (2009) *watched on July 1* – Let’s start the month with something awesome! 

I’m shocked it took me this long to finally see Taken, the movie that made Liam Neeson one of the biggest action stars in the world. He obviously delivers in this movie, written by Luc Besson, as former government operative Bryan Mills, who brings back his “particular set of skills” once his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) gets kidnapped by a group of sex slavers. Of course, the story is nothing new and it does take time to get going, but the pace does pick up once Neeson makes his iconic phone call (which I can still recite to this day). The action is about as brutal as anyone would expect and viewers will easily sympathize Mills’ hunger for revenge. Definitely no masterpiece, but Taken makes for one thrilling ride. I refuse to see any of the sequels.

9/10

(Source: IMDb)

On the Town (1949) *watched on July 5* – Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Leonard Bernstein. What more do you need in a classic movie musical? On the Town is definitely no Singin’ in the Rain, but it contains plenty of memorable music numbers, charming characters, and humor to go along with the story of three Navy sailors trying to make every minute count on their 24-hour leave in New York City. Awesome stuff!

10/10

(Source: Medium)

Rumble Fish (1983) *watched on July 6* – After directing The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola adapts another S.E. Hinton novel Rumble Fish. This is a more brutal movie than its predecessor, starring Matt Dillon as Rusty James, who spends most of his time on the streets of Tulsa hanging out with his friends. One day, he begins to earn some much-needed guidance from his brother known as “The Motorcycle Boy” (a scene-stealing Mickey Rourke). Its artsy approach might not be for everyone’s tastes, but Rumble Fish is one gorgeous-looking film with its use of clever angles, symbolic uses of color in a few sequences, and rock-solid performances by its talented cast (not to mention, being the acting debut for Nic Cage).

8/10

(Source: Forbes)

Hamilton (2020) *watched on July 8* – Why spend thousands of dollars if you can watch a recorded version of the hit Broadway musical on Disney Plus? Hamilton has become a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon after its premiere, which boosted such stars as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs into stardom. Containing footage from Manhattan’s Richard Rodgers Theater in 2016, I couldn’t be anymore amazed. Depicting the life and career of Alexander Hamilton from being an orphaned immigrant to becoming the first Secretary of the Treasury, the staged musical, completely told in song, beautifully blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and pop music. Although slightly sluggish, this is funny at times and quite amazing. Miranda, Odom Jr., and Diggs are, of course, a ton of fun to watch, Jonathan Groff steals the show with his sassy rendition of King George III. I highly recommend watching this with an amazing surround system.

9.5/10

(Source: Slant)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) *watched on July 12* – Remember when Team Edward and Team Jacob were a thing? Apparently, I do…and I’m trying really hard to forget it. But I digress. 

Before watching the sequels for the first time, I watched the first Twilight for the first time since middle school. Although not the worst movie I’ve seen, I still find it dull as hell years later. Now–onto New Moon. I have never seen anything like it, and not in a good way. I’m not surprised to hear Robert Pattinson admitting his sheer hatred for these movies. This movie is a massive failure on almost every level. Every actor looks like they are sleepwalking throughout the whole movie (Taylor Lautner easily gives the worst performance in the series as Jacob Black, the manipulative jerk Bella falls for after Edward leaves for Italy), the dialogue ranges from cringe-worthy to unintentionally hilarious, the pacing sucks, the action sucks, and the look is about as dull as the murky rain in Washington State. The werewolf fights look so cartoonish I was expecting a big cloud of dust to form up.

1/10

(Source: New York Daily News)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) *watched on July 13* – Thank goodness Eclipse is one hundred times better than New Moon. One thing I liked in the first film is how it gives insight on how the Cullens came to be. This movie contains more backstories of the coven as well as the Quileute tribe, described by Jacob’s father Billy (Gil Birmingham, one of the only decent things about the saga), the action is much smoother than its predecessor, and it has plenty of tension. However, all of it gets distracted by the boring-ass love triangle. Is it just me, or is Alice looking more like a young Liza Minnelli with each Twilight entry?

5/10

(Source: Christian Science Monitor)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011) *watched on July 14* – The end is near. Bella and Edward get married…with consequences that arise while on their honeymoon. After the first hour, the pacing begins to go slower than molasses coming out of a jar. Breaking Dawn – Part 1 goes into soap opera territory with its hokey dialogue and lack of action. 

2.5/10

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012) *watched on July 14* – The best thing about its conclusion is Green Day playing during the credits. After seeing that creepy-ass CGI baby, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 does get slightly better until a climax that will leave you feeling frustrated. I will never know what the hell Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are even doing in this series; they both served little to no purpose whatsoever. Call me brave for finishing these movies. 

3.5/10

(Source: The George Eastman Museum)

My Darling Clementine (1946) *watched on July 20* – Maine native John Ford was one of the most influential filmmakers who ever lived. From being in the Navy during World War II to winning four Oscars for directing such amazing films as The Grapes of Wrath and another movie of his that I will talk about after this classic Western.

My Darling Clementine tells the story of Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda, a frequent collaborator of Ford) stopping in Tombstone who takes a liking for Doc Holliday’s lady friend Clementine (Cathy Downs). I assume Tombstone is an awesome movie, but this is a subdued take on one of the greatest myths ever told with its patient pace and terrific performances. Shot on location in Monument Valley, the Old West has never looked so stunning. One of the greatest Westerns by an amazing director.

10/10

(Source: Britannica)

How Green Was My Valley (1941) *watched on July 22* – Based on Richard Llewellyn’s novel of the same name, How Green Was My Valley won five Oscars including Best Director for John Ford and Best Picture of 1941. Here’s an unpopular opinion: I prefer this movie over Citizen Kane. It’s told from the point-of-view of Huw (Roddy McDowall), the youngest member of the Morgan family, a coal mining family in Wales, living in the dawn of the 20th century. There has never been a movie about life that is portrayed more beautifully than what Ford brings here. The movie works on every level: the performances, the cinematography, the dialogue, and the narrative. It’s easy to see why Jeopardy host Alex Trebek describes this as his all-time favorite movie.

10/10

(Source: Screen Daily)

First Cow (2020) *watched on July 24* – I have yet to see more movies from American indie director Kelly Reichardt. The first movie I’ve seen from her was Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams as a woman going to Alaska to find work with her dog Lucy. Although it doesn’t move at the fastest pace, there wasn’t a single moment that felt forced. It’s a rarity for a movie to feature enough realism. 

Her latest, First Cow, will test the patience for many mainstream viewers. However, I find it to be nothing short of a miracle. It’s a subtly moving portrait of friendship between American survivalist Cookie (John Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) as they try to make ends meet in the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s. With a talented supporting cast including Toby Jones and Ewen Bremner, a haunting guitar score by William Tyler, beautiful cinematography, and a wonderful story, First Cow is a slow-burning journey that will definitely be on my list of the best films of 2020.

10/10

(Source: IMDb)

White Oleander (2002) *watched on July 25* – It’s such a shame Alison Lohman hasn’t starred in a lot of films after starring in Drag Me to Hell (which I watched four times this month). I learned she has been married to Mark Neveldine (of Crank and that godawful sequel to Ghost Rider) for over ten years and has three kids. Hopefully, she will make a comeback eventually. I wonder if Sam Raimi will offer her role in Doctor Strange 2 (I doubt it, but I have hopes). 

I think Lohman is a charming actress who has been in a handful of movies I enjoyed including Big Fish and Matchstick Men. In White Oleander, based on Janet Fitch’s book of the same name, Lohman leads a marvelous cast including Robin Wright, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Renee Zellweger. I was afraid this movie would be too corny.  Although it is a bit outdated, there are plenty of surprises to be found here. I love movies that show sheer sincerity in its writing. Kudos to Mary Agnes Donoghue’s screenplay, it brings forth a poetic approach into its tragic narrative. As Astrid, Lohman graces the screen as we see her character evolve going from foster home to foster home with a new identity–either converting to Christianity or volunteering at swap meets. It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it is compelling.

8/10

(Source: What Culture)

The Mask (1994) *watched on July 27* – I have actually seen snippets of The Mask years ago, but haven’t got the chance to watch it in its entirety…until just recently. This is the first movie to use CGI for a more cartoonish effect. Although a little outdated now, at least they don’t look as mortifying as Son of the Mask. This is Jim Carrey’s show, through and through. His comedic talents come into play when he puts on the mask, giving enough energy and hilarious one-liners and film references. Not a masterpiece, but it’s good for enough laughs. Also…

“It’s party time! P-A-R-T…WHY? Because I gotta!”

7.5/10

(Source: The Rolling Stone)

Pure Country (1992) *watched on July 28* – Everybody–young and old–loves George Strait. His cowboy appearance and neotraditional style has made him one of the biggest country music stars in the world, along with Alan Jackson and Luke Combs among others. Pure Country (which, apparently, is the first of a trilogy) marks the first major film role. Not surprisingly, his remarkable performance as Dusty Chandler, a big country star taking a break from touring with his band to head back to his childhood Texas home, is more than enough to make up for the film’s flaws. The narrative might be a bit corny and predictable, but it has a great soundtrack and it will leave you smiling once the credits start to crawl. This also stars Kyle Chandler in his acting debut. 

7.5/10

First-Time Viewings: June 2020

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

The Skeleton Twins (2014) *watched on June 1* – A perfect way to kick off the month of June! This charming dramedy starring Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as twin siblings who reunite after ten years and must confront their current struggles. It’s rare for a movie to affectionately portray the brother-sister dynamic. With Craig Johnson’s tender script and direction and the terrific performances by Hader and Wiig, The Skeleton Twins will make you laugh and cry. 

10/10

(Source: Slate)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) *watched on June 2* – Stanley Kubrick is a master behind the camera. Full Metal Jacket served as my proper introduction and my favorite among his films, even though I was WAY too young to even see it the first time around (13, to be exact). If I saw his 1971 cult classic as a teen, I would have had nightmares for years. I would like to take this time to thank my parents for preventing me from seeing this until right now. 

If you would have guessed by now, I really wanted to like A Clockwork Orange. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments. Kubrick’s trademark of using classical music is clearly existent throughout the film. There are plenty of unique filming techniques to admire. Malcolm McDowell’s shit-eating grin will stick with me for the rest of my life. I appreciate the film’s idea involving being in control of one’s society until society strikes back. However, it doesn’t stop the movie from being overtly nasty and unpleasant to look at. I hardly find the character of Alex DeLarge, who–along with his “Droogs”–finds enjoyment in beating up and raping people as he pleases, to be entirely interesting at all. I’m not a squeamish person, but A Clockwork Orange is, as Alex perfectly puts it, “cold and pointless”.

4/10

(Source: NPR)

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012) *watched on June 3* – Now, onto something that is the exact opposite of A Clockwork Orange. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, stars Jason Segel as thirtysomething slacker who embarks to find his destiny after finding inspiration from watching Signs over and over again. When he goes on an errand to buy some wood glue, he unexpectedly reconnects with his brother Pat (Ed Helms). Although not laugh-out-loud funny, the Duplass brothers put on a pretty decent film about finding the purpose in life. Segel and Helms lead the stellar cast including Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.

6.5/10

(Source: Eater)

Big Night (1996) *watched on June 4* – Before Julie and Julia, Chef, and The Hundred-Foot Journey, there was Big Night, one of the first food porn movies. This indie film from 1996 stars Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as two Italian brothers who are head chefs at an authentic yet struggling Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. As another restaurant gets ahead of the competition, they must live up to their name by having a night of delectable cuisine and music. 

I knew this was going to be something special within the first five minutes. Shalhoub and Tucci are outstanding as Primo and Secondo, who put in a lot of efforts to leave their restaurant open for the locals. Their Italian is spot-on, it looked like I was watching two actual immigrants from Italy. The supporting cast including Allison Janney, Marc Anthony, Minnie Driver, Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini, and the recently deceased Ian Holm are just as delightful as the food. I’m convinced Big Night will leave you starving once the credits start to roll.

10/10

(Source: Vox)

The Vast of Night (2020) *watched on June 6* – This new release on Amazon Prime Video is what Close Encounters of the Third Kind would look like if it was made for a budget of $700,000. This brilliant film debut by director Andrew Patterson will require repeated viewings and tons of discussion for years to come. The movie’s plot device is that it’s actually an episode of a Twilight Zone-type show. That’s only a part of the film’s ambition and creativity. Imagine seeing this movie at a drive-in. 

10/10

(Source: The New York Times)

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) *watched on June 9* – When the death of George Floyd caused protests around the country, streaming platforms have added movies with African-American subjects available to rent for free. I Am Not Your Negro is a harrowing documentary about author James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript of a memoir about the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. It shows footage of Baldwin discussing his views of race and how they are relevant to today’s events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement (which is still going on to this day). This doc couldn’t be more important and insightful than right now.

8.5/10

(Source: The Belcourt Theatre)

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) *watched on June 11* – I have been on a Bob Dylan listening binge this past month. It’s amazing that he is still writing and recording music since the 1960s. His new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is nothing short of a masterpiece. It made sense for me to watch this romanticized Western, in which he does the music score as well as co-starring with Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn. Although nothing entirely special, the graphic violence and sexual content, the music, and the dynamic between the title characters are enough to make up for the film’s sluggish pace. Kristofferson is somewhat miscast as Billy the Kid though.

7/10

(Source: Vanity Fair)

Da 5 Bloods (2020) *watched on June 12* – After the success of BlacKkKlansman, director Spike Lee returns with this Netflix original film. At its center, Da 5 Bloods is far from your typical Vietnam war movie. It’s a film about brotherhood (“Five bloods don’t die, we multiply.”), racism, and imperialism. It couldn’t be a more perfect time to have a movie like this. Veteran actor Delroy Lindo is tremendous as Paul, who is dealing with post-traumatic stress ever since the war. When he reunites with his fellow soldiers–Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Eddie (Norm Lewis, and Otis (Clarke Peters)–in Vietnam, they must go deep into the jungles to search for a hidden treasure and the remains of their captain Norman (Chadwick Boseman, in flashbacks). Although the movie is two-and-a-half hours long, the movie never once drags. There is plenty to be admired in this brutal, beautiful, funny, and gripping epic. Easily one of the best films of 2020.

10/10

(Source: IMDb)

The Glenn Miller Story (1954) *watched on June 14* – I always love Jimmy Stewart. He always brings a lot of his down-to-earth charisma to his films. The Glenn Miller Story is no exception. This biopic/love story tells the story of how trombone player Glenn Miller set up his own jazz orchestra band with a lot of determination and eventually becoming one of the most successful bands in the country. For someone who barely knows about Glenn Miller, this is a good film.

8/10

(Source: Philly Voice)

Just Mercy (2019) *watched on June 15* – I’m surprised this movie didn’t earn more Oscar recognition than Joker. Just Mercy is an excellent true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a young lawyer who graduates from Harvard to go down to Alabama to defend Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) accused of murdering 18-year-old Ronda Morrison in 1986. Jordan and Foxx lead an impressive cast including Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. This is an important film about racial injustice that needs more attention.

9/10

(Source: Detroit Free Press)

Artemis Fowl (2020) *watched on June 21* – How can a solid filmmaker like Kenneth Branagh make such a terrible movie as Artemis Fowl? With a budget of $125 million, the film based on Eion Colfer’s novel of the same name feels rushed, unfinished, and sloppy. I have to admit it did have promise within the first 20 minutes and Patrick Doyle’s music and Colin Farrell’s performance aren’t all that bad, but they don’t make up for its terrible performances, horrible action, and messy screenplay. What the hell is Josh Gad doing in this disaster?

2/10

(Source: Sioux City Journal)

The Hunt (2020) *watched on June 22* – Behold…the worst movie of the year!

I know 2020 is far from over, but no other movie will ever come close to being worse than The Hunt, a movie that was originally going to be released in September 2019 before the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. I wish this movie would have just stayed on the shelves indefinitely instead of being released in theaters before the pandemic. Once you know the political background of this movie following a group of strangers being hunted down for sport will most likely infuriate, offend, and gross out a lot of viewers. The dark humor is forced, the characters have little to no personality, and the narrative plays out as a Hunger Games ripoff. I will not, for the life of me, recommend this movie whatsoever.

0/10

(Source: WNYC)

Blindspotting (2018) *watched on June 22* – I had to watch this to immediately get the bad taste of The Hunt out of my mouth. I never expected to love Blindspotting more than I did. This is what Sorry to Bother You should have been. Not some ho-hum fantasy, but a genuine, timely portrayal of race relations in a diverse city like Oakland, California. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal (who also served as the film’s screenwriters) are fantastic as Collin and Miles, whose friendship gets tested when Collin (who is finishing up his one-year probation) sees a black person getting shot by a white police officer. There is plenty of humor and poignancy to be found here. Diggs’ rap monologue near the end will send chills down your spine.

10/10

(Source: IMDb)

Cabaret (1972) *watched on June 27* – This musical–winner of 8 Oscars–definitely earns the term “classic”. Liza Minnelli is a pure delight as Sally Bowles, the title cabaret dancer performing at a nightclub in Berlin in the wake of the Nazi uprising and falls for a British academic (Michael York) and a German playboy (Helmut Griem). There is so much to love about this movie: the music, the characters, and the production values. Easily a musical I’ll watch again and again.

9.5/10

(Source: The New York Times)

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) *watched on June 28* – Adam Sandler is a talented entertainer who always picks terrible roles. Zohan is no exception. Although not a complete disaster like Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, or I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, there are a handful of funny moments and the opening is kind of fun to watch. However, they don’t make for its offensive racial stereotypes, juvenile humor, and its waste of acting talent. Also, the action sequences give the biggest middle finger to physics.

3.5/10

First-Time Viewings: May 2020

(Source: Screen Crush)

Pretty in Pink (1986) *watched on May 3* – I was surprised to learn that my parents, who both grew up in the 1980s, have never seen this overlooked gem written by John Hughes. Directed by Howard Deutch (the father of Zoey Deutch), Pretty in Pink is a delightful yet slightly outdated coming-of-age high school dramedy with Molly Ringwald gracing the screen as Andi, who must choose between her dweebie best friend Ducky (Jon Cryer) or the popular Blane (Andrew McCarthy) to her senior prom. On paper, it does sound predictable (which is true), but it’s hard not to smile at the story about differing social structures with an awesome soundtrack. Harry Dean Stanton as Andi’s single father is also really strong.

8/10

(Source: Forbes)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) *watched on May 4* – May 4th couldn’t have been a better time to release the latest Star Wars movie on Disney Plus. The Rise of Skywalker was the only one in the sequel trilogy that I have not seen in theaters…and for good reason. Although it’s better than the prequel trilogy, the movie is a mess. It’s a shame since I enjoyed both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi a lot. I wish J.J. Abrams didn’t return to the director’s chair. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful visuals and action and John Williams’s score is great as before. However, there was too much fan service that is distracted from the narrative and the pacing is way off. I’m glad this trilogy is over.

5.5/10

(Source: Deadline)

The Way Back (2020) *watched on May 7* – There have been plenty of great basketball movies over the years. Hoosiers, in particular, is a classic. Coach Carter and Glory Road are also very good. The Way Back reunites director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Warrior) and Ben Affleck in this enthralling character study about redemption. Affleck kills it as Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star struggling with his alcoholism who gets the opportunity to coach his alma mater’s failing basketball team. Yes, the movie might be formulaic and predictable, but as basketball movies go, this one feels more mature. It’s hard not to root for Jack and his team to make it to the top. The editing, O’Connor’s direction, and Brad Inglesby’s screenplay are all top-notch.

8/10

(Source: Entertainment Weekly)

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) *watched on May 12* – Another ’80s movie that my parents have never seen, Some Kind of Wonderful is the second collaboration of writer John Hughes and director Howard Deutch. It has a similar plot to Pretty in Pink, but this time, the lead protagonist is a male named Keith (Eric Stoltz), who lives in a Los Angeles suburb. When he asks out popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson), Keith’s best friend Watts (a scene-stealing Mary Stuart Masterson) has deep feelings for him, despite being rumored as a lesbian by her peers. 

Compared to Pretty in Pink, I have a feeling this is far superior. The writing involving the differing social norms feels more raw and sincere, the characters are a lot more fascinating, and it will make you laugh and cry. The ending really hits home!

9/10

(Source: The Times UK)

Dirty Dancing (1987) *watched on May 13* – This popular film from 1987 has plenty to like: the soundtrack, the chemistry between Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, the swoon-worthy dancing montages, and the iconic dance number at the end. Dirty Dancing does have its fair share of flaws. The corny-ass dialogue, the poor attempts at humor, and some subplots (including one concerning a stolen wallet) I feel the movie should have been fine without. Nevertheless, it makes for a rock-solid nostalgia trip. And also…

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

7/10

(Source: IMDb)

The Incredible Journey (1963) *watched on May 14* Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is a childhood favorite of mine. I always wanted to see the original 1963 classic for a long time. Kudos to Disney Plus, I finally had my chance! The Incredible Journey is just as good as the remake. With beautiful Canadian landscapes, colorful human supporting characters, and the wonderful cast of its three four-legged protagonists consisting of a bull terrier, a labrador retriever, and a Siamese cat (apparently, Disney had a thing for them back in the day, especially with the hilarious 1965 film That Darn Cat!). It’s definitely an incredible journey to spend less than 90 minutes with.

8/10

(Source: IMDb)

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2008) *watched on May 15* – Before earning acclaim with the Oscar-winning film The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius writes and directs this hilarious spy parody that became France’s answer to the James Bond franchise. Jean Dujardin could never be better as Hubert Bonniseur de la Bath, who goes to Cairo to investigate the disappearance of his best friend with the help of assistant Larmina (Bérénice Bejo, the director’s real-life spouse). The laughs keep coming, the music by Ludovic Bource is a delight, and the old-fashioned sets dazzle.

8.5/10

(Source: IMDb)

OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2010) *watched on May 17* – The sequel to Cairo, Nest of Spies never shies away from being raunchier and more retro than its predecessor. Dujardin, again, graces the screen as the titular spy who goes to Rio to retrieve a list by the Nazis. There is plenty more irony and satire to be found here. There is one scene that had me laughing for a good five minutes. It’s a shame Michel Hazanavicius is not returning to direct the third movie, which is slated to release in France in February 2021. These movies will always make me laugh.

8.5/10

(Source: The Criterion Collection)

The Squid and the Whale (2005) *watched on May 26* – After spending a week watching all of Wes Anderson’s movies, I decided to take a look at one movie from writer-director Noah Baumbach, one of his collaborators. The Squid and the Whale is Baumbach’s first movie about a family struggling through divorce. Every bit feels real, justified, and devastating. The cast featuring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, a young Jesse Rosenberg, and Owen Kline deliver phenomenal performances. A must-watch!

10/10

(Source: CrossWalk)

Dude Perfect: Backstage Pass (2020) *watched on May 26* – How could anyone not love Dude Perfect? Five friends from Texas who partake in crazy trick shots, stereotype videos, a Nickelodeon television show, going on tour, and having over 50 million subscribers on YouTube. This YouTube original doc follows the five guys–Tyler Toney, Cody Jones, Cory and Coby Cotton, and Garrett Hilbert–going on tour through 21 different cities, discussing their origins at Texas A&M, their rise to fame after their first trick-shot video became viral, their involvement in such organizations as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and their families. I think it’s awesome all the guys are Christian, which makes sense considering all of their videos are appropriate for all ages. Definitely give it a watch on YouTube.

8/10

(Source: FanPop)

Igby Goes Down (2002) *watched on May 28* – When it comes to comedies, I prefer those with a deadpan sense of humor. Igby Goes Down is no exception. Burr Steers’ directorial debut has plenty of it, the performances including Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, and Jeff Goldblum are quite solid, and it’s hard not to appreciate its indie feel. However, I wish it could have done a lot more to win me over. It’s obvious the movie has gotten inspiration from The Graduate, a movie I think is the most overrated of all-time. Kieran Culkin is fine in the title role and it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from, but his character can be a bit of a wimp. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again, but I’m somewhat glad I saw it.

6.5/10

First-Time Viewings: April 2020

I understand it has been awhile since I posted anything on my blog. Don’t panic, I’m still around. Everything has been crazy busy with life recently. From the pandemic that has taken the world by storm causing every movie theater to close to working numerous hours, time has been limited for me. But–that doesn’t mean I couldn’t catch up on the movies I have yet to see.

That’s why I decided to make a new segment, called “First-Time Viewings”. At the end of each month, I’m going to give my thoughts on the movies I have watched for the first time, sorted by the date I have watched them. If I have already reviewed a movie that has been released in theaters, I’ll insert a link to that review. Without further ado, here’s my list of all the movies I watched throughout the month of April.

african-cats-empire

(source: Empire)

African Cats (2011) *watched on April 2* – I have watched some documentaries in the DisneyNature canon before African Cats. Chimpanzee and Monkey Kingdom provide plenty of enjoyment for kids and adults alike. However, I feel they are aimed more for kids. There’s no denying how beautifully-shot they are and the risks the filmmakers take filming in treacherous conditions. So far, African Cats is probably the most mature of all the DisneyNature docs. Samuel L. Jackson has the best voice to narrate the story following a family of cheetahs and lions surviving in the middle of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. Check it out!

9/10

ONWARD

(Source: IndieWire)

Onward (2020) *watched on April 3* – I was surprised this was picked up by Disney+ one month after its short run in theaters before being overshadowed on what’s going right now. In a world overrun by sequels, it’s refreshing to see an original adventure by the wonderful animators from PIXAR. Although it’s far from PIXAR’s best, I had an absolute blast getting sucked into this fantasy world. I loved the humor, the spirit, and the energy. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are great as two elf brothers who try to cast a spell to get their late father back to life for one day. Be on the lookout for references to The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and Dungeons and Dragons.

9.5/10

jane-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

Jane (2017) *watched on April 4* – I heard little of the famous primatologist in elementary school. Watching this doc from National Geographic made me love Jane Goodall even more. Directed by Brett Morgan, Jane uses hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage and interviews to tell Goodall’s beginnings in London, she’s defied the male-dominant world of scientists with her study of chimpanzees although having no scientific degree at all. Listening to Goodall speak is like poetry. Definitely a must-see!

10/10

cats-variety

(Source: Variety)

Cats (2019) *watched on April 7* – I have never seen a movie musical this bad until now. Tom Hooper’s Razzie-winning film deserves all the hate it has received since its first trailer back in June. The all-star cast including Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, and many more, is nothing short of wasted here. The CGI is creepy as all sin (don’t even get me started on the mice and cockroaches). I understand why it has gained a cult following since its release (hell, even my local indie theater has started a film series involving terrible movies with this movie). Cats can be called so-bad-it’s-good, but as an actual movie, it’s awful! I assume Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original stage musical is much better than this charmless, creepy, obnoxious, and horribly-directed catastrophe (pun DEFINITELY intended). 

0/10

amelie-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

Amélie (2001) *watched on April 7* – I watched Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s famous film to get the bad taste of Cats out of my mouth. This is the movie the whole world needs right about now. Audrey Tautou is an absolute delight as the titular role who tries to bring happiness to others after having a depressing childhood. With its eccentric humor, good-natured narrative and cinematography so good you could almost taste it, this is easily essential viewing for any movie buff. 

10/10

st-elmos-fire-hr

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) *watched on April 13* – How the hell can a terrible movie featuring the Brat Pack have such an awesome theme song? It follows a group of college graduates coming to terms with adulthood. Every bit of Joel Schumacher’s film is like something out of a soap opera. Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Demi Moore among others all try their best, but nothing about their performances feels entirely human. I think Rob Lowe delivers the worst performance in this movie with his cringe-worthy one-liners and immature behavior. There’s a creepy subplot involving Estevez stalking his old crush (Andie MacDowall), which he ends up at a ski lodge. If you like ‘80s nostalgia, avoid this!

2.5/10

thelma-and-louise-vf

(Source: Vanity Fair)

Thelma and Louise (1991) *watched on April 17* – It’s a shame director Ridley Scott hasn’t made movies as great as the ones in the previous century (although The Martian was spectacular). Thelma and Louise has become a stamp in feminist filmmaking, kudos to Callie Khouri’s Oscar-winning screenplay. Fondly remembered for its final scene, everything leading up to it makes it for one wild ride. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon play two friends who agree to escape their mundane lives in Arkansas to Mexico after killing a man at a country bar. Along the way, they encounter a sexy outlaw (Brad Pitt, in one of his first roles) and a police detective (Harvey Keitel) questioning their actions. Containing humor and poignancy, Thelma and Louise is nothing short of brilliant!

10/10

BEARS-nytimes

(Source: The New York Times)

Bears (2014) *watched on April 19* – Another DisneyNature documentary I’ve watched this month. This time, we head up to Alaska. We follow a family of brown bears exploring their environment, beginning with hibernation. I mentioned before that these documentaries are more for kids than adults. Bears is no exception. These movies bring forth famous actors to narrate the docs. John C. Reilly does a good job bringing his warm voice and humor to this story. Although this drags in places, there’s a lot to feast on the eyes.

8/10 

The Conspirator

(source: IMDb)

The Conspirator (2011) *watched on April 23* – Since the beginning of film, there have been a lot of movies about Abraham Lincoln. The Conspirator marked the first movie to take place after Lincoln’s assassination. Directed by Robert Redford, the movie has some good intentions, good performances by James McAvoy, Robin Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood, and good attention to detail, but its slow-pacing, stagey sets, and limited character development make it feel more like a mundane made-for-TV movie.

5.5/10

extraction-polygon

(Source: Polygon)

Extraction (2020) *watched on April 27* – This was a pleasant birthday surprise! The latest Netflix original movie might be formulaic. However, I found the movie to be brutal as it is engaging. Besides playing Thor in the MCU, Chris Hemsworth likes playing military personnel. In Extraction (produced by Anthony and Joe Russo), he has never been better as Tyler, an Australian mercenary dealing with a rough past, who goes on a dangerous mission in Bangladesh to rescue a kidnapped son of a drug lord. There are parts in this movie that reminded me of the John Wick movies. With its hard-hitting drama and thrilling action, Extraction is nothing short of fun. This movie also contains the first great long-shot of the new decade.

8.5/10

never-rarely-sometimes-always-ew

(Source: Entertainment Weekly)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) *watched on April 28* – If you think of a movie about teenage abortion, it might be seen on Lifetime. However, Never Rarely Sometimes Always shies away from being forced and manipulative. Instead, it becomes something profound, heartbreaking, subtle, and authentic. Eliza Hittman’s third movie, which opened to critical acclaim since its premiere at Sundance, tells the story of a pregnant 17-year-old named Autumn (Sidney Flanagan; someone to look out for in the future), who travels from her Pennsylvania hometown to New York City with her supportive cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to get an abortion. 

After watching this movie the first time, I knew I had to watch it again. The morals of terminating a pregnancy and the dangers of being a teenage girl are well-discovered here. There’s a scene where Autumn is being asked a series of questions by a nurse at a Manhattan abortion clinic (to add more to the authenticity, the nurses are played by actual nurses), and the camera stays on Autumn as she comes to terms of her past. I also love the ambiguity the film offers. Catch it on demand if you can!

10/10

Movie Review: The Invisible Man

invisible-man-cinemablend

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) has the strange feeling she is being watched in Leigh Whannel’s timely yet disappointing rendition of The Invisible Man. (Source: Cinema Blend)

Do you remember the disastrous 2017 version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, was only the beginning of a new cinematic universe?  Do you also remember that the Dark Universe cancelled its other entries after the film’s failure? Do you ALSO remember that Johnny Depp was originally attached to play the titular Invisible Man? 

Now–Universal Studios has decided to reboot their classic monster movies from the 1930s without a hint of the Dark Universe. Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannel, known for writing the screenplays for Saw and Dead Silence, directing Upgrade, and stealing the show as a paranormal investigator in the Insidious movies, has adapted H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. Unlike other adaptations from the past (the original 1933 version and the 2000 film Hollow Man), this latest version of The Invisible Man is a timely allegory of the #MeToo movement. Holding a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.6/10 on IMDb, I am amazed how much people actually liked this movie. I cannot agree any less.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), an architect from San Francisco, escapes from the abuse of her wealthy boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), an optics scientist. She lives with her good friend/police officer James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). One day, she gets news that Adrian has committed suicide, leaving $5 million under her name. However, Cecilia doesn’t believe he died. Because of this, she starts noticing bizarre occurrences of an invisible presence has arrived to terrorize her. Her sanity becomes tested when she is eventually checked into a mental institution. 

It’s clear the movie has similarities to Steven Soderbergh’s 2018 film Unsane, I could write a whole book about it. But–the plot above is more than enough. The first half-hour had promise; the opening scene is fabulous and there are some suspense-filled moments. However, the narrative is riddled with plot holes bigger than the tunnels in Boston, characters making stupid decisions as an excuse to keep the film going, and there are plenty of twists and turns I could see from a mile away. Not to mention, the effects look fine…maybe in the late-1990s. Moss does a rock-solid job, but can we please give her a lead role in a charming, light-hearted romance film for once?

4.5/10

Movie Review: Impractical Jokers: The Movie

impractical-jokers-the-movie

The Impractical Jokers hit the road in their first-ever feature-length adventure. (Source: TV Insider)

I was introduced to the show Impractical Jokers five years ago from someone in high school. The hidden-camera reality show following four 40-somethings from NYC–Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano, James Murray, and Joe Gatto–who partake in challenges where they must do and say whatever they are being told while wearing an earpiece. Whoever loses the most challenges by the end of each episode has to endure in a humiliating punishment without backing out. The surprisingly popular series on truTV has recently reached a milestone–200 episodes over the course of eight years. With every challenge and punishment getting worse over the years, the show never fails to make me laugh.

Being a long-time fan, a feature-length adventure featuring the four Jokers sounds too good to be true. Apparently, Impractical Jokers: The Movie has hit theaters nationwide after a successful run in selected cities; cashing in at over $2 million on its opening weekend. The movie has plenty to offer for massive fans.

In the 1990s, Joe, Sal, Murr, and Q sneak into a concert featuring the one-and-only Paula Abdul (playing a fictional version of herself). Of course, it all goes horribly awry. Years later, they all agree to correct the past by going on a road trip to see her perform in Miami. Here’s the problem: She only has three VIP passes. 

Driving in Q’s old Crown Victoria, they decide to do their usual challenges on their way down–from sharing strangers their horrible eulogies in DC to attempting to get a job with the Atlanta Hawks by doing and saying whatever they are told. Whoever loses the most challenges will not be able to attend the concert.

Impractical Jokers: The Jokers is no Citizen Kane, but it’s never boring to see four man-children mess with each other like the good-ol’ days. The scripted sequences, although funny, feel a little forced at times. There are plenty of callbacks from the show that will get a laugh out of fans. The challenges in this definitely serve their purpose for being too humiliating for television, and they hit it right on the money! I walked out of the theater with my face sore from laughing so much. Who knew Paula Abdul would make an intimidating villain?

8/10

Also, whoever hates the Impractical Jokers, I have one thing to say…

suck-it-gif

SUCK IT! (Source: GIPHY)

Movie Review: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

birdsofprey-whatculture

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) adopts a hyena in her highly-anticipated solo film Birds of Prey. (Source: WhatCulture)

Harley Quinn made her silver-screen debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Although far from good, Margot Robbie easily stole the show with her dark, offbeat humor and her insane nature. She was so good that Warner Brothers and DC decided to make a spin-off. Joker and Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn are the only movies in the DCEU to influence the films of Martin Scorsese. The newest entry in the DCEU is miles better than Suicide Squad, but it comes across as disappointing.

After the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn (Robbie) breaks up with the Joker (good riddance). She takes up roller derby and adopts a pet hyena. Meanwhile, a new crime boss arrives in Gotham City in the form of Roman Sionis a.k.a. The Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who rips faces off of his victims. After putting a target on her back, Harley must join three other vigilantes–Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), The Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to take him down and save a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

The movie isn’t as awful as one would expect. Robbie still gives a lot of her sassy energy with a rougher edge, even though it looks as if she got her wardrobe at Hot Topic or Spencer’s. However, the supporting characters have a lot more backstory than its protagonist. I particularly enjoy Winstead’s Huntress, who is out for vengeance after dealing with a dark past. Whenever a movie is not entirely good, it’s always great to see McGregor having a blast. This movie is no exception.

Birds of Prey has a similar structure to Deadpool, where it doesn’t shy away from its self-awareness. When it overdoes it, the movie comes across as a little awkward (not to mention the abundance of narration). The pacing is all over the place–ranging from a dark mafia film to a quirky, lighthearted action film with cartoonish violence–which worsens the flow of the narrative. Although there are fun action set pieces (including one set inside a prison), the last act feels anticlimactic. It’s a messy film with bright spots here and there.

5.5/10

Movie Review: The Gentlemen

gentlemen-cinemablend

Mickey Pearson pulls a gun in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen. And also, don’t EVER mess with Matthew McConaughey! (Source: Cinema Blend)

Fresh from directing the live-action version of Aladdin, writer-director Guy Ritchie returns to his roots of adult R-rated crime-thrillers. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two from his filmography that have become smash hits in the UK and cult classics in North America. Those films showcase Ritchie as “The British Tarantino”, with his dark wit and unexpected violence. The Gentlemen, his latest film that received modest box-office returns in the U.S., definitely deserves its R-rating, which is laden with profanity, graphic violence, and comedy.

Born in poverty in Texas, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) owns the biggest marijuana empire in London while attending Oxford University. If anyone crosses the line, Mickey might put a bullet in their skull. He decides to sell his business to live a happy life with his wife Rosalind (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, who replaced Kate Beckinsale days after shooting began). This causes a chain of events: from a group of gangsters attempting to get a piece of him to a flamboyant Cockney private detective named Fletcher (a scene-stealing Hugh Grant) investigating the entire situation, typed as a screenplay.

There is plenty to like in Ritchie’s return to adult comic-thrillers. There is enough tension to keep the film afloat. However, the razor-sharp wit and lightning-fast pacing of Ritchie’s writing and directing is what makes The Gentlemen all the more worth it. 

The all-star cast, that also includes Colin Farrell, Henry Golding, and Jeremy Strong, has pitch-perfect timing with humor and being badass. McConaughey (who refuses to play roles with any accent other than his native Texas twang) gives enough suave energy wearing a variety of suits and showing off his violent nature. Charlie Hunnam, who worked with Ritchie in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, has never been better playing Mickey’s right-handed man who does Fletcher a favor of pitching his script. Dockery’s Rosalind is easily the opposite of Lady Mary, who never looked more badass than holding a tiny golden pistol. This movie also serves as a good audition for Golding to potentially be the next James Bond.

The biggest drawback is the conclusion being a mess. Nevertheless, The Gentlemen still has twists, turns, and plenty of dark humor. The constant racial slurs might not be for everyone’s liking, which is understandable. But–there is nothing more than having a good time with a new release so early in the year. I have a feeling this is going to gain a cult following for years to come.

8.5/10

Movie Review: Troop Zero

troopzero-nytimes

Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) tries to make her dreams a reality in Troop Zero, the latest Amazon Prime original film. (Source: The New York Times)

Troop Zero, the sleeper hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, has finally hit the smaller screens of Amazon Prime Video The preview has promised an average family dramedy set in the South after the Civil Rights Movement. The female-writing duo Bert and Bertie adapt their directing debut from the 2010 play Christmas and Jubilee Behold The Meteor Shower, written by Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild). It showcases a timely story of female empowerment, but I wish the movie moved me more than it should have.

Set in Georgia in 1977, Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is a quirky 9-year-old girl obsessed with outer space after the death of her mother. She is offered the opportunity of a lifetime to join the Birdie Scouts Jamboree, a talent show where the winners can have their singing voices be put on a Golden Record to be played on the Voyager spacecraft. As an outsider among her peers, Christmas goes out of her way to create her own troop of misfit kids to get one chance to have her voice heard.

It’s hard not to admire the vintage production design. The attire, the cars, and the architecture are all on-point. The themes involving death are surprisingly handled with maturity. Grace, who has impressed me since the 2017 film Gifted, never ceases to amaze with her charm and energy. She leads a terrific diverse cast including Allison Janney, as Prinicipal Massey who assigns the troop, and Viola Davis as Miss Rayleen, who works for Christmas’ father’s (Jim Gaffigan) law practice in his camper and eventually becomes the head of her troop to earn enough badges in order to compete in the talent show. Its cutesy, sugar-coated nonsense is enough to make up for its flaws.

Although the second act of Troop Zero hits right at home, the uneven tone, awkward attempts at humor, and its familiar narrative all falter a bit. Nevertheless, it’s still a rock-solid movie that families with older kids will find some enjoyment during the winter. Not to mention, the soundtrack is top-notch. There is a scene that pays tribute to the beginning of Reservoir Dogs, where our protagonists walk in slow-motion to George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag”. Also, the use of David Bowie’s music couldn’t be more appropriate.

6.5/10

Movie Review: 1917

1917-military.com

It’s a race against time in Sam Mendes’ latest masterpiece 1917. (Source: Military.com)

There have been plenty of great movies set during World War I. The 1925 classic The Big Parade became one of the finest masterpieces of the silent era. However, it wasn’t until two years later, when Wings became the first film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Over the years, famous filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory) and Steven Spielberg (War Horse) also brought their A-game to capture the horrors and outcomes of the Great War. The 2004 film Joyeux Noel captured an unbelievable story about the British and German troops making an agreement to stop fighting for one day to celebrate Christmas.

None of them compare the brutality and wonder of 1917, the latest collaboration of director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (their first since Skyfall). Using clever filmmaking and editing techniques, the movie makes it look and feel like one seamless, continuous shot through the trenches of France. Fresh from winning a Golden Globe for Best Picture and directing, dethroning Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in the box office last weekend, and receiving 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, this movie is worth all the hype.

The movie opens on April 6, 1917, the same day the U.S. would enter the war. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) enlists two young British soldiers–Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay)–to deliver an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), of the Devonshire Regiment. Here’s the catch: He and his army are across enemy lines planning an attack on the Germans, who have taken refuge at the Hindenburg Line. The two race against time to avoid getting killed and possibly save 1,600 lives.

This isn’t the first movie to use the one-shot effect. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 thriller Rope and the 2014 Best Picture winner Birdman are both wonderful movies that have achieved the effect. Expect some edits, but Deakins is the perfect cinematographer to shoot a movie like this. It makes the audience feel like we are with these two soldiers through the duration of the mission. The camera follows in front of them, behind them, or beside them. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be for the crew to determine which direction the actors have to go. With brilliant editing, there are a lot of shots that will send chills down your spine.

At the film’s core, it’s a story about survival and compassion during the toughest of times. Mendes, who dedicated the film to his late father (who actually fought in World War I), does an outstanding job keeping the stakes and suspense higher than a bald eagle soaring through the sky with his direction and writing. The marvelous cast including British favorites Cumberbatch, Firth, Mark Strong, Richard Madden are given smaller roles than the two unknown actors who have long careers ahead of them. As the two young soldiers, Chapman and MacKay beautifully capture the courage and sympathy on this dangerous mission. The astounding sets and Thomas Newman’s excellent score are also enough to make 1917 a WWI epic for the ages. Sorry, Joker, but this is certainly the film to beat in this year’s Oscars.

10/10