Quiet Regrets (The Irishman, 2019)

The_Irishman_PosterMartin Scorsese has given us countless cinematic classics. It stunned the world of film when it was announced his next film, the Irishman, would be a Netflix original.

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran, a mid level mafia type who…well, when all is said and done, loses the important things in his dedication to the empty life being offered by the family.

Like Goodfellas or Casino, we see lives of toxic masculine bravado and the damage it does to families. But this time, Scorsese opts for a more quiet and lamenting approach. Less focused on the brutality, this film is about a man who tries hard to not acknowledge his faults. It ruins his relationship with his daughters, yet he is unwilling to truly take the steps to fix the situation. He has regrets, but not the will to become a truly responsible man.

With a three and half hour runtime, I suspect that it may not be as effective for casual viewers.  This is a good film, though not Scorsese’s best.  It boasts strong performances, with this being one of Joe Pesci’s finest moments of his career.

The film makes big use of de-aging technology.  When characters are sitting around? It is really good. Screen shots look fine. But when there is action and a lot of movement required…well, it may *look* like 35 year old De Niro…but he moves like 76 year old De Niro and that is hard to ignore.

As I said, this is good, but not a great Scorsese film.  I am glad he made it, I liked it.  But outside of Scorsese die hards, I am not sure this film will garner near the appreciation.

Life of a Neighbor (a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019)

ABDITN_PosterLloyd Vogel is an investigative journalist known for exposing the truths people would rather not have exposed about themselves. He is a new father. His relationship with his own father seems damaged beyond repair. Lloyd is shocked when he is given a puff piece by his editor for Mr. Rogers in an upcoming Esquire issue dedicated to heroes.

Lloyd is caught off guard when he learns Mr. Rogers was the only person that would even consent to an interview with him. And early on, Lloyd finds himself skeptical of Mr. Rogers and especially his seemingly unending decency and kindness (this prompts his wife Andrea to ask him not to ruin her childhood with his story).

A fictional account inspired by the real life article written by Tom Junod, there is not a real Lloyd Vogel.  Junod notes that Lloyd shares a lot of his life, but they are not simply the same guy and plenty of the events are fabricated.  This realization could have worked against the film…made it seem fake. And yet, it effectively reaches for the heart strings.

This is not a film about Mister Rogers.  It is about how he impacted people that came into his orbit. Or rather those whose orbit he came into.  In spite of having no resemblance Mister Rogers, Hanks fully embodies him.  The kindness…the generosity and the love that seemed to be so much the core of him is fully embodied in Hanks’ performance.

Director Marielle Heller and writers Micah Fizterman-Blue and Noah Harpster frame the story as an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which, for those who grew up with the show instantly bring back those childhood memories. The visual transitions of the film are beautiful model creations inspired by the models from the introduction of the old show, and they even use the 4×3 screen format. This is a brilliant bit that helps the film stand out.

The is a childlike innocence to the score by Nate Heller that works beautifully.

The one critique I have of the film, as it really does not give Lloyd the  proper recognition that he is justified in his resistance to his father’s attempts to come back into his life. His father was terrible, but the film almost feels like it believes Lloyd is wrong to refuse to connect back with his father.  I am not saying that the film following a redemptive path is bad or wrong.  But Lloyd’s feelings and anger are fully justified.

However, I still feel a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a powerful and worthwhile film.  It overcomes it’s flaw with heart and soul in it’s performances.

 

 

Oh the Horror! (Cats, 2019)

Cats_PosterCats has a scene where Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzips her fur to reveal more fur and a costume and she eats cockroaches with human heads.

This is a nightmare.  And I do not know where the responsibility all is falling too.  The story is pretty odd and nonsensical. And the film never really justifies the nonsense. The visual effects work against the film as they are largely creepy and sometimes feel incomplete.  I don’t blame the effects artists…they were over worked and trying to deliver for an incomplete vision. The cast is amazing and practically the only person who seems to care is Ian McKellan, like everyone feels as if they are in a different movie.

I really cannot think of anything I liked.  I mean, some of the songs were enjoyable?

Cats is already going the Rocky Picture route, so maybe see one of the Cats Rowdy Screenings at an Alamo Drafthouse? I mean, I would consider watching it again there.

Losing Together (The Farewell, 2019)

The_Farewell_PosterThe Farewell is the story of Billi, whose parents moved to the United States from China when she was young. While she has remained in contact with the family, she is feeling disconnected to them.

When she discovers that her Grandmother has cancer and that her parents kept it from her and were not bringing her on a trip to visit her Nai Nai, she is heartbroken. It does look cold, but the truth is, nobody has informed her Grandmother of her illness and they feel that Billi could not hide this. But Billi decides to to make the trip anyways and surprise her family.

As her uncle explains, they are keeping her condition from Nai Nai to carry the burden for her. In a heartbreaking moment, he suggests that Billi wants to tell Nai Nai the truth because it will make things easier for Billi.

The film really captures the entire family struggle, as Billi is less alone than she realizes. Her father and mother, her uncle, her cousin…all are struggling with the reality and putting on the brave faces for Nai Nai.

But the Farewell is not all sadness.  In fact, it is also sweet and funny.  Lulu Wang is exploring grief, but also what it means to be a part of a family. Honestly, it is a beautiful film and worth watching.

Also, not nominating Awkwafina for an acting Oscar is a crime.

My Favorite Films of 2019 (Favorites, 2019)

So, I decided to go with a list of fifteen films on my list of favorite films for the year. I missed Parasite in theaters and so have not yet gotten to see it and I have not seen 1917 since it does not go into wide release until Friday.

  1. Knives Out
    Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was the most fun I had in the theater this year. I loved this movie. Original characters in a story that pays homage to classic whodunnits, it is filled with nothing but terrific performances with some fun twists. Johnson has announced a new Benoit Blanc mystery and I am excited.
  2. Jojo Rabbit
    You could never make Blazing Saddles today.  Comedy is too hard in today’s woke environment said Joker director Todd Phillips. Boo hoo, folks. Taika Waititi tells the tale of a young boy so dedicated to the Nazi cause, his imaginary best friend is Hitler.  A surprisingly funny and touching film, Jojo Rabbit is a gem.
  3. Little Women
    I have never read the book, nor seen any of the prior adaptions. But this movie worked so well. Gerwig and her cast weave together a beautifully engaging film.
  4. Uncut Gems
    Adam Sandler’s best performance since Punch Drunk Love, the Safdie Brothers give an intense story of human greed and misery.
  5. Midsommar
    Ari Aster does it again. Where Hereditary was full of darkness, Midsommar attempts the rare choice of a well lit horror. Tense, unnerving and a tad goofy, this film is terrific.
  6. A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
    While not flawless, this film is a beautiful exploration of love and forgiveness through the eyes of a heartbroken cynic who meets the beloved Mr. Rogers. Marielle Heller makes some beautiful choices (such as imitating the television show’s models for transitions).
  7. Dolemite Is My Name
    Eddie Murphy gives a great performance here.  The movie itself manages to be a crass love letter to Rudy Ray Moore, a man determined to make it against a world that seems to not be interested in his success.
  8. Ford vs Ferrari
    Really enjoyed this supposed “Dad Movie”.  Genius in the face of corporate roadblocks push the drama here.  The racing scenes are exciting and the film is inspirational.
  9. The Lighthouse
    I still do not know what to make of the film, but it is so visually beautiful, I still think about it.
  10. Us
    Some people got really hung up on the “how does it work” aspect. But honestly, Jordan Peele’s followup to Get Out had my attention from the beginning and just never lost me.
  11. Avengers Endgame
    Technically, I think Infinity War was the better movie…but this one was so much more satisfying.
  12. the Irishman
    While I think this has some great performances, I was not nearly as pulled into this one as I hoped. It was good, but was not my favorite Scorsese film. I know a lot of people praised this as a great triumph, but honestly, part of me feels like those folks felt obligated to really hype the film over the silly Scorsese/Marvel brouhaha.
  13. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Fun film from Tarantino, not his greatest film, but entertaining and great performances.
  14. John Wick 3: Parabellum
    The weakest of the three films, but still an amazing feat of action choreography and enjoyable performances.
  15. Ad Astra
    A thoughtful Sci-Fi film with Brad Pitt as a detached astronaut on a mission to discover if his presumed dead father may still be alive. Beautiful visuals and a quiet pace make this a solid sci-fi film.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

Doctor Sleep- I am almost tempted to switch out John Wick 3 for this one.  Doctor Sleep was a real surprise.

Ready or Not- This was just a fun and ridiculous horror film.

Spider-Man: Far From Home- I enjoyed this one a lot. Mysterio was a cool villain and it was nice to see a villain we had not seen before. Plus, the mid credit scene.

Klaus- A beautiful little animated film.

Godzilla: King of Monsters- I had a blast with this one.

Shazam!- This is a fun movie. I had a great time.

Shine On (The Shining, 1980)

The_Shining_PosterThe Torrence family is struggling. Jack is trying to stay sober and be a better husband and father, Wendy does not trust her husband and their son Danny seems to be having trouble coping with reality.

To this end, Jack, a hopeful author takes a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel.  He and his family will live there, alone with no access to alcohol or people. Jack is informed that a previous caretaker, Grady, went nuts and butchered his family and killed himself. But several months with little to do but write his great American novel is too good to pass up.  And so he takes the job and the family arrives on the day everyone else leaves.

It is here that we the audience learn that Danny is a special child, in a way his doctors could not understand.  During their tour, they are introduced to Hallorann. He instantly senses a connection to Danny and the two are able to communicate telepathically. He warns Danny to stay out of certain places.  Especially Room 237.

As the winter progresses, Wendy and Danny are trying their best to make the world they are in work out as normal as can be. But Jack seems to be struggling.  As he seems to face insurmountable writers block, the stress begins to wear on him.  And that is when the ghosts start to reach out.

From the opening shot of the film, as we fly through mountains looking down on the road leading to the overlook, Kubrick infuses his shots with a slight discomfort early on.  There is a presence, even in the early times, a menace, in how the film looks, the angles, the perspective, the motion.

As Nicholson’s Jack Torrance devolves into a madness he is seduced by the ghosts of the Overlook, who seem intent on destroying Jack, Wendy and little Danny. Wendy on the other hand is trying to hold it together, but starts to realizing she may not be able to save her entire family from the darkness around them.

The Shining is a terrific film that has earned its status as one of the great horror films. However… it is not without flaws.

There are times when Danny Llloyd’s scared face gets almost comical.  But more so, as an adaption of the King novel?  It is a failure. King’s book is about a man trying to to be a good father, he is not a scary man…he is broken and trying to put it all back together. He loves Wendy and Danny and wants to do right by them.  This is what makes it so tragic when he is consumed by the hotel.  Wendy is a strong woman who is able to confront Jack. In the film? She is meek and so scared of conflict.

But more so? Nicholson’s Jack Torrance is a little over the edge on day one. When we meet him, he seems like the switch has already flipped…before the Overlook ever has him. It works in the film. But it is not the Shining I read and loved. It is something else entirely.  And so, If I view it as an adaption of that story? I think I kind of hate it. But if I just view it as a Kubrick film? Well, it is amazing.

Friendship is Magic (Jojo Dancer, 2019)

Jojo_Rabbit_PosterJojo is a young boy living in Hitler’s Germany.  He aspires to be a great Nazi, to the point that the ten year old’s imaginary best friend is Adolf Hitler. After getting wounded at a Nazi gathering for Hitler Youth, these hopes are dashed. Instead, Jojo has to stay behind and support the Nazis through canvasing with propaganda.

But his life takes an even bigger turn when he discovers his mother is helping hide a young jewish woman named Elsa in their house.

Jojo Rabbit is a fascinating film.  It delivers lots of laughs, of course, in part due to the fact that it falls into a long history of presenting the Nazis as buffoons. Sam Rockwell is the disillusioned military man who has lost his faith in the cause of the Nazi regime. Rebel Wilson is the more devoted but goofy (at one point telling the kids at camp she has had eight babies for Germany).

Scarlett Johansson turns in a solid performance as the rebellious mother of Jojo, who hides her activities from Jojo to protect both him and herself.  She loves her son deeply, and hopes to turn him from his being a Nazi back to her son…a little boy.

Taika Waititi plays Hitler.  And he pulls off a stunning transformation. Early in the film, he is funny and almost sweet. When Jojo is humiliated by some older boys at Nazi Camp-giving him the Rabbit Nickname- Adolf tells him what a brave and noble animal a rabbit is. But as a friendship with Elsa grows, Hitler starts to become more menacing. He is really the dark ideology Jojo clings to, and as Jojo finds himself questioning it, the poison festers and fights to maintain dominance.

Roman Griffin Davis gives a great performance as young Jojo.  He has a sweetness that seems to conflict with his belief in the Nazi ideology, and ultimately, that nature starts to assert dominance. He also has a wonderful chemistry with Thomasin McKenzie. At first, she is abrasive with him as a survival tactic, but more and more their walls break down for each other.

Truthfully, the trailers did not prepare me at all for the film.  Because, yes, it is funny. And it challenges the viewer with uncomfortable moments. But it also is heartfelt and hopeful. And Heartbreaking. There are gut punch moments I was not anticipating. The film is unafraid to acknowledge the horror and evil of the Nazis, even while laughing at them.  And, maybe that is how it should be?

While Todd Phillips complains that comedy is too hard in today’s environment… Taika Waititi on the other hand makes a film that has laughs and heart. It has moments of raw and painful emotion that gets at the center of our conflicts and growing past our ills. Jojo Rabbit looks at us at our darkest and dares to call for hope. It calls on us to dance.

Sanity and the Sea (The Lighthouse, 2019)

The_Lighthouse_PosterAs the lights went up, I overheard a guy say to his friend “I really enjoyed it, but I could not tell you what it was f*****g about.”

I honestly feel like this film should not work. It is in black and white. It is in a very uncommon aspect ration. The audio is mono.  It is just two guys being belligerent on screen for almost two hours. And yet? I was hooked in from the first few moments.

I cannot image this film being as visually striking if it had been in color.  The black and white picture creates a feel of something from another time. A story of old maritime myth and superstition.  The light and shadow perform an engaging dance as the storms (both nature and between the men) rage in front of us.

I don’t know if I can tell you what it was f******g about”…but it was quite an experience.

The Cruelest Joke (Joker, 2019)

Joker_Movie_PosterThis review is going to focus on the movie itself…the final product.  I will be including a post soon that gets into the controversies.  But most of my issues with the Joker are, in fact, not with the film itself.  They are with the director and how he has reacted to the controversies with the movie.

The Joker is a character with a long history, both in print and film. He is, really, nearly as popular as his great nemesis Batman.  Of all of the comic book villains, it was always likely that he would get the movie treatment as “the star”.

Enter Todd Phillips, of Old School and the Hangover fame and Joaquin Phoenix with a decidedly retro take. Set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, Arthur Fleck is a man who is struggling with his own darkness and delusions.  He wants to believe he is here to bring joy and happiness, but every day pushes him further into believing this world is too far gone.  It has lost its way and people treat each other terribly, society favors the rich and the rich don’t care about the rest of us. And yet, at times, this just seems like a cover that Fleck uses to fool himself.

It is after committing an act of self defense that sets off the city pitting the citizens against each other that he starts to just give up and tumble towards the darkness.  And it is indeed a dark tale.  The Joker becomes a cult hero to the oppressed citizens of Gotham, used to fight back against economic injustice.  Citizens wear clown masks and paint their faces in solidarity with the mysterious “vigilante” who stood up to the 1%.

The cinematography of the film is amazing.  There are so many beautifully dark and unnerving shots framed in this film.  It all feels very late 70’s Scorcese grit.  It is hard to turn away.  And yet, at times, you really want to.  Phoenix gives an impressive performance as Fleck.  He is constantly unnerving (much like the best moments of Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight). There are scene that are shocking and scenes that are genuinely scary.

While Phoenix carries the film, The Joker has an excellent supporting cast as well. While largely a stand alone, a few of the moments that kind of bring the film down a little are connections to Batman.  It is not the mere presence of the Wayne family, but rather certain ways they are used.

The film is also struggling at times with how it wants us to perceive the Joker.  He is clearly dangerous, and flat out commits murder, but he also is treated as an anti-hero.

Overall, however, this is a very good movie.  It is not as groundbreaking as some want to make it out to be (It is literally “what if Scorcese made Taxi Driver, but with the Joker, instead of Travis Bickle). But the cinematography and the performances definitely make for  a challenging but engaging watch.

Working Out Your Issues (Ad Astra, 2019)

Ad_Astra_PosterFifteen years ago, Clifford McBride left earth to find intelligent life in the universe, leaving a wife and son behind.  At some point, the mission was lost. McBride’s son has followed in his fathers footsteps and now works as part of a space station/satellite.  After he survives a massive accident Roy McBride discovers that his father may yet be alive and that his experiments may be what caused the accident. See, the accident was due to a massive surge from space that has impacted the planet.

Roy is recruited to go on a mission to see if he can convince his father to stop the experiments. Much of the film is focused on Pitt’s Roy McBride’s trip and emotional journey.  It is established early on that Roy is in a rather remarkable sense of self control. He is aware that this is detrimental to his relationships and that he is pretty distant from his own life. He even comments that he might be lying to everyone, even himself.

This tends to work really well, as Pitt keeps his performance largely detached and emotionless until you near the end of the film. Only as he sees possible closure do his emotions start to creep to the surface.

The film really rides almost completely on Pitt’s performance, as most characters pass in and out of the story very quickly. But Pitt is up to the task.  The film is not terribly deep, it is about fathers and sons and letting go of personal pain.  And the film is very much surface level. But I appreciated that the film does not get so lost in meandering philosophy (and it could have) that it feels like a solid resolution and hope for Roy by the closing minutes of the film.

The other thing I appreciated a lot in this film is the atmosphere and the world building. Set in the vague “near future” we have space stations on the moon and Mars, but nothing feels implausible.  The tech feels like logical extensions from current tech. The moon is established as a borderless zone, full of tourists and threats.  In the safety of America’s Moon-base you have fast food restaurants, families taking their pictures with mascots and hotel chains. but leaving there, you run into human threats.

Ad Astra is thoughtful sci-fi without being too esoteric for mainstream viewers. It is amazing to look at and Pitt gives a simple but interesting performance.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑