Monthly Archives: December 2019

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Movie Review – Knives Out

Category : Uncategorized

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans

Year: 2019

Rian Johnson’s whodunit is a modern day Agatha Christie success, a slap in the face to cliches like Murder on the Orient Express, and a recipe for directors to follow moving forward, if, you know, they’re interested in making something good.  Is Rian Johnson a better director than Kenneth Branagh by default now, especially with a Star Wars movie under his belt as well?  Maybe, at least a better creator of movies for the now, as opposed to classics come to life, with Knives Out proving that he can craft something clever and yet not too clever, fresh but still grounded in tradition.  Basically, this film is one of the best murder mysteries you’ll ever watch, a fabulous blend of horror and comedy, blood and bloodlines, absurd and understandable.  2019 might see some better overall features, but perhaps none so fun, and that’s no insult.

Harlan Thrombey, the elderly author of a famous crime novel series, has died, and every one of his family members is a suspect.  They were all at the Thrombey mansion for Harlan’s birthday party, and it seems that he took advantage of their presence to give each one of them a piece of bad news.  Being greedy and spoiled, his children and grandchildren all took the telling off terribly, and so each has a motive.  Enter the enigmatic super sleuth Benoit Blanc, who suspects foul play, although the death has been ruled a suicide.  He tasks young family nurse Marta Cabrera with acting as his trusty sidekick, being convinced of her innocence, and relying on her knowledge of the household and tendency to always tell the truth.  But there are more twists in the plot than might first appear, and much more work to be done by Mr. Blanc before the real killer is caught.

If audiences are looking for a good time this awards season, when heavy dramas might weight holiday spirits down, they would be well-advised to find the nearest showing of Knives Out; it’s two hours you will be happy to spend.  It’s almost audacious that a film like this would come out at this time of year, and legitimately compete for Best Picture among the giants of serious topics and dramatics.  We just don’t see the like very often, especially not this month, which makes it all the more refreshing and wonderful.  Knives Out really is a fully immersive and enveloping murder mystery extravaganza, one that we voluntarily throw ourselves into and forget about whatever else might be going on in our lives.  Johnson allows us to dive in completely because he never lets off the gas, the action is always pumping, the clues are always mounting, and we want to know all the details, we must know all the details, that’s how much an actual part of the fractured family we feel by the end.

It might be surprising to those who have seen this cast list to know that Ana de Armas is the absolute star of the film, since she’s one of the lesser known names, though not at all one of the lesser talents.  She leads the way perfectly, and those who don’t know her well will need to keep their eyes peeled, because she’s only trending upward.  Craig as Blanc was another key character, leading the plot along with his deductions, but adding humor in as well when times got tense.  The comedy was incredibly balance throughout, complimenting the crime element amazingly well, and everyone in the cast pitched in, even the weakest actors among the group, no one misstepped: Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell.  Katherine Langford from 13 Reasons Why might have been the only noticeable flaw, but her part was small, as were all the family parts really; de Armas & Craig were the clear leads and boy did they lead.  I cared about where the story was going, I cared about how it ended, and I had no problems with the way it was wrapped up, which is rare, that’s hard to do, but Knives Out just proves that it’s not impossible to make a magical murder mystery; let’s just hope we see more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 15

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 15 Picks

(8-8 last week, 124-83-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

NYJ @ Bal

NE @ Cin

TB @ Det

Hou @ Ten

Den @ KC

Mia @ NYG

Phi @ Was

Sea @ Car

Chi @ GB

Min @ LAC

Jax @ Oak

Cle @ Ari

LAR @ Dal

Atl @ SF

Buf @ Pit

Ind @ NO

 


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Movie Review – Motherless Brooklyn

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ed Norton

Starring: Ed Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe

Year: 2019

It’s been a long time since Keeping the Faith and the year 2000, but Ed Norton is back directing again, this time with a slightly different approach, and minus Jenna Elfman.  Norton hasn’t been too busy acting lately either, becoming picky as he hits 50, opting for voice work more often than screen work, but I guess he’s earned it, the guy can do what he wants.  Some of us will never forget the amazing things he has done in the past, and understand that he’s just as elite as names that get thrown around more often; Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio.  Norton is a legend and a professional, I have watched and will watch him in anything, and I support his comeback, if that’s what you want to call it, as he attempts to get back in the director’s chair.  And it is more of an attempt than a smash success, unfortunately, as Motherless Brooklyn cruises by at a low speed and with a low ceiling, not creating much of a wake.

New York City in the 1950s is a town divided between the wealthy who are enjoying the country’s success and the poor who are too often considered half human.  The titans of industry plow straight ahead while America has money to spend, while black and brown folk get out of the way before they are crushed beneath the wheel of progress.  At the head of the bulldozer is Moses Randolph, a man leading too many city committees to count, a bulldog with no oversight and no scruples.  In his way is activist Laura Rose, fighting for the people and making some noise, for all the good it will do.  And in between the action is private eye Lionel Essrog, whose former boss Frank Minna was killed uncovering some dangerous secrets, a mission Lionel now sees as his personal responsibility, as well as solving Minna’s murder, all while trying to stay alive himself.

Norton is fantastic in everything, he’s just so special, and this role, with Lionel having OCD and tics, reminds me of the part he plays in The Score, which is a highly underrated movie.  I think that character was supposed to have palsy, I don’t mean to say that this role is exactly the same, I only mention it because I think that Norton might be the only actor I’d trust to play something so physical without making it demeaning.  He can direct, sculpt, star, and inhabit a complicated protagonist all at the same time, all at a high level, and not too many in the industry can say that.  But, dropping the other shoe, the film itself isn’t exactly special, more good than great, and that’s a disappointment.  The cast isn’t the problem: Norton, Mbatha-Raw, Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Bobby Cannavale, Dallas Roberts, Fisher Stevens.  And the music, costumes, and plot all work smoothly together, no issues there.  It’s just that there’s something missing, an x-factor, as frustratingly unclear as that term is, a spark to pull audiences deeper, something vague but necessary, and that keeps the film from reaching the next level.  Maybe it’s the noir vibe, which is hard to love, maybe it’s the adaptation from the novel, which is hard to execute, or maybe Norton was attempting to wear too many hats.  Whatever is was, Motherless Brooklyn won’t be at the top of most lists, but I’m sure glad Ed Norton is back on the scene, and I hope he keeps producing content, because I’m here for it all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Marriage Story

Category : Movie Review

Director: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson

Year: 2019

The best film of the year is here, and it’s not even surprising.  Combining what Noah Baumbach can do behind the camera with what Adam Driver can do on screen was a guaranteed power move, and the result is special; duh.  The pair have worked together before, but not like this, not this intimately, and not in front of such a perfect backdrop of supporting actors and emotional story arc.  Marriage Story is a construction of so many wonderful components into a creation that is equally lovely, a movie that only gets better when you pick apart the pieces, but also stands alone as a beautiful, singular work of art.  Destined to be nominated for Best Picture, and hopefully with the chance to win over some much bigger dogs, this film spoke directly to my heart, worked all the right angles, and should be considered not just one of the tops of 2019, but of the decade.

Charlie and Nicole are getting a divorce, and it’s not going to be pretty.  They live in New York City, they have a son named Henry, they are very much in love, but things just haven’t worked out as they planned, and that’s nobody’s fault.  So the separation begins amicably, both of them sad but aware; Charlie knows that the passion is gone, Nicole knows that she needs her own life for once.  Charlie is a theatre director, a genius, but Nicole has always been in his shadow, despite early fame on the silver screen.  Now she wants to move to L.A., make her own mark, and raise Henry there, which begins the downward spiral toward eventual contention and extreme anger.  So sets the stage for a love story that ends a tragedy, featuring two confused souls who don’t know how to fight for what they want, and aren’t sure what it is that will make them truly happy.

Marriage Story should be on the short list for Best Picture nominees, but Adam Driver might be the #1 contender for Best Actor; it’s in large part his performance that makes this film magical.  The strength is there from the director, the stage was set for success early; the city, the couple, some funny moments, some utter heartbreak.  But Driver picked up the project and put it in rarified air, his performance is among the best you will ever see, and I can’t wait to watch this movie again and again and again.  Charlie is so broken, so sad, and has such magnificent subtlety to show us; just watching movies by himself (Money Pit and Legend, if you can catch them, which spoke to me perfectly, since those 80s flicks are among my classic favorites) or singing Sondheim with his friends (my favorite playwright) or screaming at the top of his lungs in frustration (in a scene that you have to feel to believe).  Those moments were so powerful, so honest, that audiences will be swept away, and might forget that what they’re seeing isn’t real life.  It is for some I guess, it was for me when my parents were divorced, which only helped me feel more connected and invested.

And I haven’t even mentioned Scarlett Johansson, who was great herself, as was the rest of the Cool Cameo Cast: Merritt Wever, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Wallace Shawn, Alan Alda.  Driver stood out, but everyone pitched in, was funny, and helped us process the pain by providing a caricature to juxtapose with the harsh reality of the central situation.  Marriage Story is a Noah Baumbach/Wes Anderson, NYC drama, without whimsy, with high emotion, painted for us in a beautiful light, and told from start to finish with no apologies for the heartache is causes us.  You might find yourself in tears by the end, but you will also feel flushed of whatever was clogged up inside you brain, like a splash of cold water that wakes you up from a bad dream.  With awards season admittedly not over, this film finds itself at the very top of my list, and I’m not sure any other movie has the power to displace it.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Judy

Category : Movie Review

Director: Rupert Goold

Starring: Renee Zellweger

Year: 2019

I guess being a washed-up actress who has destroyed her own face with surgical procedures has a silver lining; you get to play a washed up actress who has destroyed her own face with surgical procedures.  And maybe win an Oscar while you’re at it, so hey, maybe method acting isn’t a bad way to go after all; it works for Daniel Day-Lewis.  I obviously don’t know who had which work done on what, none of my business, but Zellweger has made some questionable choices at the latter stage of her career, choices that might accidentally lead her to an Academy Award for playing another woman who had her own problems, so I guess maybe you could say it all worked out.  Either way, Renee will be in the awards conversation when the time comes, and most of it is warranted, if not exactly comfortable.

We all know Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz, but her voice and character are legendary as well, and she kept grinding on stage until her untimely death in London in 1969, at the age of 47.  This is the story of her final shows and final days, shipped away from her friends and family to England, where the public still clamored to see her perform.  Penniless and homeless, losing her children and her way, Judy headed across the pond to make another go at keeping the fame alive and the money rolling in, knowing that it might be her last shot.  What followed was a series of legendary shows; some famous for their grandeur and some for their disaster.  But it was all Judy, all her amazing voice and unique personality, even when her addiction to drugs began battling with her love of the audience, battling and winning.

Judy could sing, you can say that, and so can Renee, who does her own vocals and does a smashing good job in this film.  Her embodiment of the character is impressive, almost to an uncomfortable degree sometimes, and Zellwegger’s own decline and poor choices stand out as she plays a woman who ran headlong into the same snare.  Learning more about Judy’s past and ill-treatment is heart-breaking, it’s such a sad, sad story, so you’ll have no trouble empathizing for this women who has been used so badly over the years, until there’s not much left to her life but her voice.  But I never felt the same love for Renee, who gave this character her all, but never fully won me over, perhaps because of her own strange choices, strange appearance, and acting style which can easily be called one-level.  Garland is already an icon to many; if that’s you then this movie will speak to you directly.  If not, you have the chance to learn and understand her life, and Zellweger’s portrayal is definitely attention-grabbing, but sometimes for the wrong reasons.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Thought – 2020 Oscar Update

Category : Thought

Three months ago I posted a list of 30 potential Best Picture Oscar contenders, plus a list of snubbed films that deserved consideration.  Since then, I’ve updated the list with reviews as I’ve seen the movies, including any personal favorites that hadn’t previously made the list.  As the Academy Awards draw closer, let’s take a look at an updated watchlist, a list that has taken into consideration those undervalued films that have risen up the ranks and those over-hyped movies that have taken a tumble.

This is the AwardsCircuit.com

ranking of top possible Academy Award contenders:

  1. 1917
  2. The Irishman
  3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  4. Parasite
  5. The Two Popes
  6. Marriage Story
  7. Ford v Ferrari
  8. Joker
  9. The Farewell
  10. Bombshell
  11. Jojo Rabbit
  12. Rocketman
  13. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  14. Richard Jewell
  15. Little Women
  16. Just Mercy
  17. Judy
  18. A Hidden Life
  19. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  20. Harriet
  21. Waves
  22. Honey Boy
  23. Avengers: Endgame
  24. Us
  25. Knives Out
  26. Dolemite Is My Name
  27. The Report
  28. Booksmart
  29. Hustlers
  30. Motherless Brooklyn

Snubbed: Midsommar, Light of My Life, Downton Abbey, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Ready or Not, The Invisibles, Lady J, Arctic, The King, High Life, I Am Mother, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Shazam!, The Nightingale, Long Shot, Toy Story 4, Good Boys, Frozen II, Abominable.

Bumped Off: Cats, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Queen & Slim, Ad Astra, The Goldfinch, Ordinary Love, Pain & Glory, Clemency.


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 14

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 14 Picks

(9-7 last week, 116-75-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

Dal @ Chi

Car @ Atl

Ind @ TB

Mia @ NYJ

SF @ NO

Det @ Min

Den @ Hou

Bal @ Buf

Cin @ Cle

Was @ GB

LAC @ Jax

Pit @ Ari

Ten @ Oak

KC @ NE

Sea @ LAR

NYG @ Phi

 


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Movie Review – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Category : Movie Review

Director: Marielle Heller

Starring: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson

Year: 2019

Marielle Heller is a rising star who was handed a guaranteed success that starred Tom Hanks as the most beloved man in the history of the world; if you didn’t see magic coming in the form of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a hundred miles away, then you need …glasses.  Heller follows Can You Ever Forgive Me? with another true story, Hanks plays Mr. Rodgers in the prime of his wisdom, and audiences are left to gather together the pieces of their shattered hearts after an experience that will make the most stalwart cry a river.  I do think Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was the better film, more honesty and more heart, but this newest version of the show we all loved still packs a powerful emotional punch, and still deserves our fervent applause.

Journalist Lloyd Vogel is tasked with interviewing Fred Rogers for a piece about heroes for Esquire magazine; the problem is, he stopped believing in heroes a long time ago.  Haunted by his own family problems, including the death of his mother and abandonment from his father, and attempting to gather together his current life, with a loving wife and a brand new baby boy, Lloyd finds no room for the infernal optimism of Mr. Rodgers and his Land of Make Believe.  But just because Lloyd doesn’t believe in the magic of love and forgiveness, that doesn’t mean that the universe doesn’t believe in him, or in his ability to change.  Facing his father once again and beginning a friendship with a TV personality who just might be as openhearted as he appears on television, Lloyd finally learns the truth about looking back, moving forward, and being OK with what you’ve been handed.

I did like the documentary of Mr. Rodgers better than this dramatization, but this is a true story as well, so no fault found there, and what they were able to do with this tale was pretty incredible.  Heller took a real friendship and a lesson, turned it into a biography, but lost none of the spirit in the transfer, so hats off to a fine director who is only getting stronger as she becomes more experienced.  Matthew Rhys was only fine as Lloyd; what we really came to see is Tom Hanks as Fred Rodgers, and he did not disappoint.  Also, shout out to Susan Kelechi Watson, who is so incredible and so beautiful, and also to Chris Cooper, who has never let me down.  To make this slightly more than a typical biopic, there were some imaginative elements added, some dreams and some nightmares, which only made the delivery more unique and captivating.  I don’t know if A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will ultimately win Oscars, but I don’t know how much that matters really; it’s won our smiles, which might be cheesy, but is also enough.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Hustlers

Category : Movie Review

Director: Lorena Scafaria

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez

Year: 2019

Eventually people will understand that Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) isn’t a good actor; right now they’re too excited about her being a champion of representation in the industry to see that.  Also, after over a decade of writing, producing, and directing, we might need to admit that Lorena Scafaria isn’t a good director either; she’s never helped create anything more than ‘fine’.  Just because we want women and POC to succeed doesn’t mean that we have to stop being honest with our own taste levels; there needs to be a middle ground where we can say, “wow, I’m so glad BLANK is getting a chance to work in film, I’m so happy to see BLANK finally get their shot, but as a critic I must also mention that this product isn’t high-quality.  I hope it can be, let’s keep watching and cheering, but we’re a ways off.  Good luck in the future.  One star.”

Turns out, being a stripper isn’t all that glamorous or lucrative, unless you’re willing to go that extra mile, and no I don’t mean favors in the VIP room.  Destiny (not her real name) is living in NYC and trying to make some money as a dancer to support herself and her grandmother, but it’s harder than it looks.  You gotta compete with the other girls, you gotta know how to push the buttons of the guys, and you gotta basically sell yourself, which feels inhuman, but is a necessary evil of the trade.  What’s worse, when the money runs out, you gotta be willing to step across the legal line that separates dance from hustle, and there’s no going back.  Destiny teams up with Ramona to take from Wall Street what Wall Street has taken from their dignity, and damn does it feel good to get over on asshole clients for a change, instead of the other way around.

Constance Wu is no good, Lorena Scafaria is no good, and Julia Stiles is definitely no good; what the hell are/were people thinking?  Hustlers is The Big Short (Adam McKay connection) but told from the view point of strippers, and without any of the talented actors who can make an unusual story work.  Wu couldn’t handle the burden herself, she’s terrible, and I don’t understand how more people don’t see this.  What I did see was JLo save the day, slap some sense into audiences, and say you’re welcome; she was dominant in this film.  Still, she’s not an actress either, she’s a performer, so nothing really ever worked like it was supposed to, because it never honestly had the chance to.  The interviews were AWFUL, the characters were dumb, the crimes were strange, it was a true story so there’s that, but otherwise I couldn’t possibly care less and couldn’t possibly watch any more.  The only reason I held on by my fingertips to the end was because Lopez is compelling, engaging, and hot; I’m not really sure why else anyone would watch.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Irishman

Category : Movie Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Year: 2019

The first hour of The Irishman is basically bad, if that’s not so sacrilegious to say that the cinema gods will strike me down on the spot.  What’s more, that cowering opinion isn’t too radical, it seems to be a consensus among those who know film, which means you have to assume that even Scorsese knows that the first part of his 3 & 1/2 hour mobster epic is no good, which prompts you to wonder, why wasn’t it fixed?  It’s Scorsese, it’s an Oscar-contender, it’s the most hyped audiences have ever been over a Netflix original, it’s a feature that we will all remember.  So why isn’t it more perfect?  The only explanation I can think of is that Marty put us exactly where he wanted us at the beginning, knocked himself down a peg, and then started rebuilding for the rest of the film.  He had plenty of time to do it, he pulled it off, by the end of movie you’ll feel completely stunned, but I’ll always be nagged by the fact that The Irishman has obvious problems, and I’ll always wonder why they weren’t addressed.

Frank Sheeran used to deliver meat, but now he paints houses, and while the first job is exactly what it sounds like, the second is a euphemism in the mafia world; Frank is a hit man.  He works for Russell Bufalino, who heads an important crime family in Philadelphia, and is one of the few non-Italians that Russell trusts, Frank’s Irish blood not being held against him on account of his steadfast loyalty and willingness to kill anyone anytime anywhere.  He rises quickly in the underworld, and is soon a personal associate to Jimmy Hoffa, the well-connected president of the Teamsters union.  Jimmy loans money to mobsters from the union’s pension fund, which is how Las Vegas was funded and built, so he’s an important man with fingers in many illegal pies.  Frank is his right hand man, but he’s also indebted to Russell, and when the two interests collide, he will have to choose between friendship and business.

Back to the first part of the film, which, again, isn’t just my random feeling, it’s a generally accepted fact; the beginning is no good.  It’s slow, there are so many characters, it feels transient, and the de-aging technology they use on the actors is incredible off-putting.  It doesn’t exactly look awful, it just freezes the faces so no emotion comes across, and that’s a big problem.  When we get over that hurdle, when the story moves on, the movie becomes one of the best that Scorsese has ever created, and that’s saying something.  Maybe he did it on purpose, maybe it was just business he had to get through to get us ready for what was coming next, I don’t know, but I guess it doesn’t matter, because the result, taken as a whole, was special.  The Irishman is bitter, it’s melancholy, it’s reflective, and it’s also pure mafia violence, mixed together in such a way that the humor and despair become one single tidal wave that audiences have no choice but to sit back and absorb.  The cast is great: De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons.  Two additional shout outs: one to Stephen Graham who was exceptional, and one to Anna Paquin, who was abysmal.  She might have been as bad as the anti-wrinkle technology, which is saying something, but happily those hiccups were in the minority.  The rest of the film was awesome, literally, and ended so smoothly, which shows the talent of its creator.  The Irishman will be nominated for Best Picture and it will deserve it, and Netflix can hold its head high knowing they were along for this wonderful ride.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆