Monthly Archives: January 2022

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Movie Review – Cyrano

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joe Wright

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr

Year: 2021

Had Cyrano had no music whatsoever, hadn’t, in fact, been a musical at all, I might have declared it one of the best films of the year.  This musical adaptation of a Broadway musical (which is itself adapted from a play which was adapted from a play; confused yet?) is a triumphant movie from any angle, but not very good vocal theatre.  Does that count as too big a strike to overcome, since the film claims to be a musical and yet fails at musicality?  Maybe, but don’t judge the songs too harshly; they are performed by such earnest actors that they, at times, fail to be important, succeeding only in distracting us from what it otherwise spectacular cinema.

The tale of Cyrano de Bergerac is as classic as love itself; romance in the face of unbeatable odds.  Cyrano is a soldier, a warrior, a killer for his King, but more than that he is a poet, a writer, a wordsmith with the skill to break your heart or make your dreams.  All his life he has loved the fair Roxanne, who is penniless and must marry the dreaded Duke for his money, though she loathes him.  But Cyrano dare not speak; he is small, he thinks he is ugly, and he knows that he is not worthy of her affections.  To make matters worse, Roxanne falls in love with a young solider named Christian, who loves her back more than words can say, literally.  Our hero must speak for Christian in letters to Roxanne, all the while pining for her himself, and knowing that these two beautiful people were meant for each other, just as he was meant to be their bridge.

Cyrano really is one of the best films of the year; engaging, endearing, entertaining, enthralling, and displayed to us with an art, grace, and lavish excellence that can only be found in the very best period pieces.  The actors leave it all on the stage, with sucht honest and loving performances that your breath is near taken away.  Dinklage could win the Oscar, Bennett has never been better, and audiences will swoon for this star-crossed love, even as they know the story from many times before.  Where the movie fails is in its adaptation of the play; not in staging, which is great, not in production, which is opulent, but in music, which simply slumps.  These are not high quality songs, not at all, and while I give a pass to the vocals (which are forgivable, and relateably unpolished & tender), I cannot forgive the music & lyrics, which are basic, uninspired, and not befitting Broadway.  It’s not that I didn’t like the music, I liked it fine, but all finesse was missing, and so was all genius, when musicals dripping with talent are what we’ve come to expect.  Watch Cyrano with an open heart and it will fill you up; let the music pass by you like wind and it will hardly bother you.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Thought – 2022 Oscar Update

Category : Thought

A few 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 Variety ranking of top Academy Award contenders:

  1. Belfast
  2. The Power of the Dog
  3. Dune
  4. West Side Story
  5. Licorice Pizza
  6. CODA
  7. King Richard
  8. The Tragedy of Macbeth
  9. Tick, Tick …BOOM!
  10. No Time to Die
  11. Drive My Car
  12. Don’t Look Up
  13. The Lost Daughter
  14. Nightmare Alley
  15. Being the Ricardos
  16. Spider-Man: No Way Home
  17. Parallel Mothers
  18. C’mon, C’mon
  19. Flee
  20. The Harder They Fall
  21. A Hero
  22. Spencer
  23. House of Gucci
  24. Cyrano
  25. Red Rocket
  26. The French Dispatch
  27. The Tender Bar
  28. The Last Duel
  29. Encanto
  30. Passing

Snubbed: Val, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, Black Widow, Luca, Benedetta, The Green Knight, The Mitchells vs the Machines, Shang-Chi, The Guilty.


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Sports – NFL Picks 2021, Wild Card

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Wild Card Picks

(6-10 last week, 163-108-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Titans, Packers

 

LV @ Cin

NE @ Buf

Phi @ TB

SF @ Dal

Pit @ KC

Ari @ LAR


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Movie Review – King Richard

Category : Movie Review

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring: Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton

Year: 2021

King Richard must be a magical movie, because it held my attention and my interest even though I despised and abhorred its main character.  Or should I say villain, because Richard Williams is not what I would call a hero, not the misunderstood mastermind that this film portrays him as, and not the wonderful father he imagines himself to be.  The Williams Sisters signed off on this story; I can only imagine that they are still brainwashed by their bizarre parents and their insane religion, because this isn’t a show of sports legends, this is a cautionary tale, and we need to see it that way.

Venus & Serena are two of the most accomplished, recognized, and stupendous athletes the world has ever seen; their humble beginning makes their rise to success all the more impressive.  They didn’t have the money for private tennis lessons, they didn’t have the courts and the club and the sponsorship, they didn’t live in a fancy neighborhood; they had their dad, who drove them to succeed, they had Compton, which was not a place to finish growing up in, and they had the desire to be champions, which was undeniably in their future.  This is the story of Richard Williams and how he raised two phenoms, a family going from almost nothing to absolutely everything through the power of determination and relentless hard work.

OK, so there’s a story here.  We know the athletes, the Williams Sisters are incredible, their past makes their rise that much more awesome, and they had a father who would not take no for an answer, who forced them through the barriers that tried to block them, and that’s a compelling tale.  That’s the part that hooked me and that’s why I liked the movie, but there’s a whole second side to the plot that I detested, and that’s Richard himself.  This movie is named for him, yet he was tyrannical, obsessed, belligerent, and a devout follower of a religion that I can’t even begin to denounce; you can research Jehovah’s Witness yourself and come to your own conclusion.  That he’s the hero here boggles my mind; these girls succeeded in spite of what I would call his abusive control, not because of it.  Men are the superior gender in their religion, and that insanity is echoed in this film, with only small nods to their mom, and only trivial mentions of Richard’s bizarre and extremely unholy behavior.  Simply put, we shouldn’t be watching a movie glorifying this man like he’s a god, or, literally, royalty, and the fact that we can like this movie anyway shows that at least someone had talent making it (Reinaldo Green, Zach Baylin), because their subject matter didn’t help, he almost ruined the entire thing.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Encanto

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith

Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo

Year: 2021

Unfortunately, Encanto is not enchanting; it’s a thin version of a dozen stories we’ve seen before, a hundred themes we’ve experienced before, and littered with a handful of very bad songs we’d swear we’ve heard before.  Directed by three people, written by six people (and probably copied from the same number of movies), Encanto is tracing paper laid over better, bolder things, with a few new ideas sprinkled so lightly on top they they fall off as soon as you give the thing a shake.  Not the best Disney has to offer from any angle you look at it, this movie would only get worse it you peered at it too closely, and that’s just sad.

The Madrigal family lives in the village of Encanto in Colombia, protected my mountains all around their little valley and bolstered by a magic that they hardly understand.  Many years before, a candle gave the family special protections from the outside world, and also special powers to use in aid of the villagers and their future generations.  Now, the Madrigals use their gifts to help the community and they are all very proud of their special magic; all except, Mirabel, the only Madrigal to not be given a power.  But when the family & their home begin to break apart, she may be the only one who can glue it back together again.

So many issues, so little time.  First, we are in the Lin-Manuel Miranda era of Disney, as opposed to the Alan Menken age, and that’s OK, that’s change, but I’m having a hard time accepting that basically every Disney film I see will be brought to us from Miranda’s point of view.  What’s worse, every song in Encanto sounds like it came straight from Hamilton, and while that’s a good show, it’s not nearly as good as most people think it is, so that’s a problem, hearing the same tunes copied over & over until it’s just insane.  Also, and simply, this story isn’t very good; powers that are never used, action that never takes place, conflicts that just dissipate, morals that are managed way too fast.  Literally almost nothing of interest happens at any point in the plot; it’s just one long life lesson filled with a few songs, and that’s not good enough.  A meld of Frozen and Coco, with Hamilton songs as the soundtrack, Encanto isn’t strong enough on its own to make much of an impressions.  Like Raya and the Last Dragon (which was at least exciting) it’s thin, it’s weak, it’s not endearing or engaging, and there’s a reason why other animated films, like Mitchells vs Machines and Luca, are the ones we’re still talking about, while this one quickly fades away.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The French Dispatch

Category : Movie Review

Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: Everyone

Year: 2021

Do I even need to say that I love Wes Anderson and that he is my favorite director?  The name of my website is, after all, Archer Avenue, which is a reference to 111 Archer Ave, the address of the Tenenbaum house in The Royal Tenenbaums.  But it’s not just one film, it’s his whole style, mind, and filmography: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, and now French Dispatch.  There are some I like less than others, of course, but the man’s a genius, if one who sometimes (too often) gives into his own overindulgences.  Unfortunately, The French Dispatch is one from that category; an overworked, overindulgent, oddly upheavalous movie about nothing and for no one that I won’t remember very fondly very far down the road.

Stationed in Ennui, France but publishing for Liberty, Kansas (?), the French Dispatch is a newspaper that covers current events and culture, written by an eclectic band of independent journalists, who all found their way into the life of Arthur Howitzer Jr, the editor, for some reason or another.  Immediately shutting down after Howitzer’s death, the paper is distributed in one final issue, with four stories headlining the edition: Herbsaint Sazerac’s tour through the city of Ennui on his bicycle, J.K.L. Berensen’s memories of the artist/prisoner Moses Rosenthaler, Lucinda Krementz’s recounting of a children’s rebellion referred to as the Chessboard Revolution, and Roebuck Wright’s first-hand account of the kidnapping of the son of the Commissaire of Ennui.  Finally, Horowitz’s obituary rounds out the paper, and puts a bow on years of strange work.

Anderson needs to be reined in; that’s a known fact about someone who’s brilliant, of course, but also undeniably bizarre.  When he’s left to simply vent his art into the room, we are overcome with the odor of opulence, and we lose sight of why we came to visit in the first place.  His cinema needs a balance of humor, humanity, silliness, because what he brings to the table is so rich, so decedent, so overpowering.  With French Dispatch, we get too much meal and not enough breaks, too much of what makes him hard to watch and not enough of what makes him fun & free.  Basically, this film is overindulgent, overly boring, and not that great.  But, the movie is saved both by the cast and by one vignette that shines above all the others; the Concrete Masterpiece, which really is a tiny masterwork all its own.  Other than that perfect story, the cast is the only thing to love: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Willem Dafoe, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Fisher Stevens, Anjelica Huston narrating.  Much went right, much went terribly wrong, Anderson’s art is on display, it’s not all pleasant, but it’s always interesting; French Dispatch is a film to experience but not one to enjoy.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2021, Week 18

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 18 Picks

(13-3 last week, 157-99-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

KC @ Den

Dal @ Phi

GB @ Det

Ind @ Jax

Was @ NYG

Chi @ Min

Ten @ Hou

Pit @ Bal

Cin @ Cle

SF @ LAR

Car @ TB

Sea @ Ari

NE @ Mia

NO @ Atl

NYJ @ Buf

LAC @ LV


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Movie Review – Don’t Look Up

Category : Movie Review

Director: Adam McKay

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan

Year: 2021

Don’t Look Up isn’t as bad as Vice and it isn’t as good as the The Big Short.  It’s somewhere in the middle, tipping toward excellent, with perhaps a few too many issues to be called phenomenal.  That’s no bad critique, it’s still one of the best of the year for many reason, but Don’t Look Up had the potential to be maybe the best satirical comedy film of all time, so anything less than that is a bit of a disappointment.  Still, what we do get is one hell of a biting commentary and one meticulously mocking movie, so I guess we shouldn’t complain.  McKay knows what he’s doing, what he’s saying, who he’s poking fun at, and how awful the situation is, making this project a solid attempt at delivering a dire message and allowing us to have fun at Republicans’ expense at the same time; win win.

Two scientists, Randall & Kate, stumble upon the discovery of the century; a new comet heading directly toward Earth.  They quickly do the math, check their numbers, and come to the undeniable conclusion that this comet will be a planet-killer; a direct hit that will destroy all life.  Shockingly, this news isn’t received very well, as the President of the United States thinks it best to sit on the information that we’re all gonna die in six months.  Our scientist heroes begin a campaign to educate the world on the danger, but it mostly falls on deaf ears, and our end draws nearer.  Will comet-deniers stop us from changing course before it’s too late, or can the globe draw together to make real progress in time to save our collective life?

The metaphors are clear, but they weren’t meant to be murky.  This is climate change, this is science vs fake news, this is Republican greed destroying everything good, this is Democrat niceties failing to be enough, this is the end of the world as we know it, and we don’t feel fine.  McKay paints a bleak picture, but that’s OK; it’s the truth, and we need to hear it.  He also makes fun of conservatives/Trumpists/morons relentlessly, which is also OK; they are evil and stupid and not helping us make the Earth better or even, Jesus, livable.  Don’t Look Up is a great watch for those on the left, it won’t be watched at all by those on the right, and doesn’t try to hide the depressing absurdity of its message; that we’re probably all dead.  As far as the style goes, you either like it or you don’t, you either thought Big Short was smart or you didn’t, and you’ll feel the same here, because it settles into that pocket very nicely.  It isn’t his most polished work, but it does sport an excellent and often hilarious cast: DiCaprio, Lawrence, Morgan, Meryl Steep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Himesh Patel, Melania Lynskey.  Watch for the fun, stay for the disaster, revel in the cheap shots, love the low blows, and accept the inevitable; this isn’t feel-good cinema, but sometimes it feels good to be reminded of how much so much sucks.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – C’mon C’mon

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mike Mills

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffman

Year: 2021

As a parent, I often watch movies about parents and wonder if the directors are parents themselves, because no one in their films seems to have any idea what the hell they’re doing or how the fuck to raise kids.  It’s like someone plopped alien babies down in their laps, left them to it, and caught the whole thing on camera; we as parents don’t have all the answers, but you sure pick things up quick, we aren’t still burning the toast and buried in laundry when our children are 9 and 12.  C’mon C’mon avoided that typical pitfall by giving a non-parent control of the story and the decisions, making things believably bumpy instead of unusually stupid, but it couldn’t quite avoid the sense that this was the first time we had ever seen a younger-than-10-year-old in the wild, on camera, ripping apart adult emotions, causing them to both fall in love & lose sleep; c’mon guys, this isn’t our first rodeo.

Uncle Johnny returns to L.A. to see his sister and nephew Jesse, where they are having serious problems with Jesse’s father, who has bipolar disorder.  Johnny is co-creating a series of human interest interviews focusing on children; their hopes, fears, dreams, concerns, visions for the future.  And when his sister asks him to take care of Jesse for a few days while she works through their family issues, he is more than happy to help, using Jesse as his own way to see through a child’s eyes and hear through a child’s ears.  But parenting isn’t easy, and Jesse isn’t an easy child, requiring more than the typical care, and more than the usual attention.  Both Johnny and his nephew will learn about themselves and each other as they travel the US in search of answers to life’s toughest questions, and will find a love for family that is stronger than anything on Earth.

While C’mon C’mon mostly avoids the annoying parent-in-distress cliches, it does still rely upon them heavily, if from a slightly different angle, the uncle-in-distress, and we still feel like Jesse is the first child to ever give anyone a hard time.  Also, the film assumes that we want to watch a troubled, often-bratty kid (neurotypical or not) cause havoc in someone’s otherwise low key life; head’s up, we don’t.  Special as he is, cool as he could be, love him as the characters might, it’s not something that I want to do, watch a kid cause havoc and existential crises for 100 minutes; I’ve got a pair of my own, I know that parenting sucks sometimes.  And that was a major part of the film, along with a love of people and a hope for the future, both of which I don’t share.  So, basically, the whole film was set up against me, and, you know, I still kinda liked it.  Give credit to Joaquin, who is a genius, because I think that anyone else in the role would have made me hate the movie in general, but he was able to save the day with pure talent.  There’s a nice feel, a good atmosphere, some touching moments, I’m not a complete curmudgeon, and I ended up enjoying what I was seeing mostly, if not completely.  I feel like others might love this film much more though, that’s there’s a gem here if you like its sparkle, and that there’s much to applaud, even if I didn’t exactly fall in love.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Being the Ricardos

Category : Movie Review

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, JK Simmons

Year: 2021

I like both Aaron Sorkin and Adam McKay, and I don’t mind what others sometimes find flippant, casual, smarmy, or on-the-nose about their styles, though I do often see their point.  Being the Ricardos happened to bring all of those possible negatives to the forefront, becoming an exhibition of potential problems and directorial flaws instead of an example of how that’s not the case.  It’s hard to defend when you’re confronted with obvious examples, and I feel that Being the Ricardos is that type of movie, one you apologize for even while you’re trying to enjoy.

Once upon a time, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were the hottest duo in entertainment, with a show that combined music & comedy, family & fun, in a way that had perhaps never been seen before, and their popularity told the tale.  But all was not perfect behind the scenes; Lucy was pregnant, Desi was cheating, the McCarthy-era anti-communist campaign was after them, and their legacy seemed in danger.  With all this hanging over their heads, the show had to go on, and go on it did, with Lucy steering the ship with a talent that comes once a generation and is never fully appreciated.

You know Sorkin’s writing (A Few Good Men, Malice, An American President, Sports Night, West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs), we’re beginning to know his directing (Molly’s Game, Chicago 7), and there’s no doubt he’s got genius to spare.  The problem comes when his more annoying traits dominate the screen to the detriment of all his other, wonderful talents; the result is something like Being the Ricardos.  The movie is quip-heavy, too-quick, too on-the-nose, buried under a style that often doesn’t fit, and crammed with themes that simply weren’t present at the time this story takes place.  Sorkin tried to summarize Lucy’s & Desi’s problems, tried to make them modern, but forget to make the plot seem believable, like we were actually watching two famous people be normal people.  We weren’t; we were watching Nicole & Javier pretend to be two famous people vomit dialogue everywhere, moving through years in a matter of seconds, using terms we use now not then, and generally becoming confused by it all.  Not the worst movie of the year, not nearly the best, what we have here is a taking on of too much and a failure to process it correctly; as much as we love Lucy, we can’t love the way this movie makes her life look.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆