Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Raya and the Last Dragon

Category : Movie Review

Director: Don Hall

Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan

Year: 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon is more Disney Fairy/Tinkerbell/Pixie Hollow than it is Tangled, Frozen, Mulan, Moana, although, my god does it try hard to copy from a dozen Disney flicks you’ve seen before, all at once, all the time, and all for naught.  It’s a recycle more than a rejuvenation, like an old throwback that reused the same animation from another film, but at least those had good stories, good characters, and good music; all that Raya can offer is beautiful set pieces and some fun action.  That might be enough for your average audience, but those who have seen better should know better, and will probably walk away disappointed once again in a company that doesn’t seem to care for content any longer.

There is a land where dragons once thrived and where people once lived in harmony, although all that ended a long time ago.  The dragons had to sacrifice themselves to save the humans, banishing life-altering evil by creating a magic orb that would protect the land.  But people are mistrusting, and soon there are five tribes who all consider themselves enemies, with only one possessing the beautiful sphere.  Years later, and with evil threatening to reemerge, Raya, the last protector of the gem, goes to each kingdom on a quest to unite the power that once protected all, and to awaken dragons once more.

There’s some Tangled, some Frozen, some Mulan, some Moana, even some Boss Baby out of nowhere, which is a different company all together, but it seemed like anything was fair game to writers who didn’t know what to do beyond a clever start and a lovely world.  That was all that was to the good, the base and the visuals; the rest was uninspired and uninteresting.  The morals were murky, the plot was bumpy, the animation looked second-rate, and the voice-overs were incredibly lackluster, leading to a film that felt like it should have gone straight to video.  It was missing music and heart, almost like it was banking on being impressive rather than strong, and it felt like the entire team had rushed to get an idea out instead of making sure that idea worked well first.  Raya is simply second-tier, and it’s missing that wonderful Disney magic that, sadly, is getting harder and harder to find.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Striptease

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andrew Bergman

Starring: Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds, Armand Assante

Year: 1996

Striptease is worse than Wild Things and Showgirls combined, and that’s bad enough to launch it into the territory of Surf Nazis Must Die and The Room, which is not where you want to be.  The 90s was an odd time of ridiculous experimentation,  but it was also a time when creators got less creative, going back to the basic that sex sells.  Get a little neon, some mood music, pull up the stockings, and show off the boobs, maybe even throw in some murder just for fun.  That’s the premise here, and it’s as god-awful as it sounds.

Erin is a stripper just trying to put some money together so she can quit; no really, I promise, she’s actually really smart and hard-working, she’s just going through a rough time right now and needs the cash.  Meanwhile, she’s struttin’ her stuff and swingin’ the pole, with a daughter backstage who Erin is keeping away from a deadbeat husband.  But while she’s up there trying to make a living, she becomes the target of an obsessed Congressman, who must have her as his own, and will pull her into a world of crime and intrigue that’s way above her pay grade.

I should say that in real life I’m sex positive and sexworker positive, but this plot is just stupid.  She’s stripping while she fights for her kid, gets in hot water, and needs bailed out, which is not very original, and simply makes every character included look like an idiot.  The actors, they are idiots, for getting involved in any way with this film, which is as bad as I’ve ever seen.  Demi Moore was hot stuff in the mid-90s, but her career can’t even really be called that, she fizzled before she even really flamed, once people saw her and realized she could hardly pass as a human being on screen.  This was her death throe, and she’s barely worked again, at least not in anything serious, marking the end of a legitimate filmography that lasted a couple seasons.  It wasn’t all her fault, Bergman is a comedy writer who tried his hand at noir/thriller/farce and failed, so that’s on him.  But, any way you look at it, Striptease is a disgusting mess of a movie that should be embarrassed to exist, and it killed at least one big career.

My rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – G.I. Jane

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft

Year: 1997

Why does this movie feel like it was made about 50 years ago, not about 25?  I guess not all kick-ass 90s flicks age the same, but G.I. Jane‘s quality feels much lower than it should, as if it was made in a vacuum that wasn’t sealed very tightly.  Maybe that’s simply because Demi Moore and Viggo Mortensen aren’t good actors, and because Ridley Scott isn’t really a very good director, the result being a film that could only make a splash, now withstand the time.  And still, all that being said, there’s still a pull when it comes to this story and this genre, because it’s at the heart of why we go to the movies, which is probably the only thing that Scott can be said to do well on a regular basis; put our butts in seats, whether the product is actually worth it or not.

The Navy is toying with the idea of opening up combat training positions to women, as the politicians haggle and deal, and as real lives are considered nothing by publicity stunts.  But, at the heart of the issue, there is something greater, something truer; the fair treatment of women in a world unfairly dominated by men.  One woman, Jordan O’Neill, is up the challenge, both physically and emotionally, and she’s here to prove that she’s no one’s pawn in any game, that she’s a soldier first and a teammate second, that nothing comes between her and the mission.  Navy SEAL training is the roughest in the world, but G.I. Jane is going to make it to the end, not only to prove that women can do the work, but to show everyone that, to heroes, quitting is not an option.

Ridley Scott knows how to cheese up the moment to the point that audience swoon, but it’s almost like, if you resist the knockout gas for long enough, you’re conscious to see when shit really hits the fan, and that’s not pretty.  Scott’s movies are mostly messes, with larger-than-life themes that bludgeon us over the head until we cry “great”, but only because we can’t see straight.  G.I. Jane is like that, a giddy gauntlet of entertaining aspects, but not really a fully functional film that can operate in a bubble.  Hence the broken vacuum, I guess, and why the movie smells funny in general.  And again, part of that is lack of talent, because no one here knows what they’re doing, or simply can’t do it well, and that’s something we maybe forgave them for at the time, but it’s pretty obvious now.  Moore & Mort are shoddy, the action scenes are downright stupid, and the only real reason we hang on is because we love the idea of basic training, mostly because we’re afraid of ever having to go through it.  So, enough works to get the film to the finish line, and I guess it deserves a little forgiveness for age, but don’t peer too closely at the finer details, because you’ll find that they, unfortunately, are missing.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Sixth Sense

Category : Movie Review

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette

Year: 1999

Sixth Sense was Shyamalan’s big break into the industry, and launched him toward being a household name.  For four films in a row, he was the King of Suspense and the Master of Twists, but either his magic wore out or the gimmick ran thin, because the hits stopped coming.  We can argue whether or not he’s now bounced back, but there’s no fighting over the fact that his original quartet are some of the finest scary movies we’ve ever seen.  And it started with Sixth Sense, a deceptively simple story with hardly any real frights, but wow is it still creepy, creepy cinema.

Malcolm Crowe is a child psychiatrist and an expert in his field.  But when a patient who he failed returns to his life to enact some twisted form of vengeance, Crowe’s bright future is significantly dimmed.  Now many months later, Crowe attempts to help another boy who reminds him of his old patient, the one he couldn’t save, while he also attempts to save his marriage, which started to collapse soon after the violent incident.  This new child, Cole Sear, is in a constant state of fright and paranoia, and claims to have a secret that no one will believe.  When he finally opens up, Cole tells Malcolm something that will change both their lives; he sees dead people.

Obviously this is an early attempt by Shyamalan at a genre that he later nearly perfected, and you can tell that, watching it now; Sixth Sense is imperfect, perhaps a bit unpolished, and could have used a better leading man, someone who didn’t come off like a cop trying to pretend to be a therapist.  But, if you didn’t experience this film when it came out, all I can tell you is this; it didn’t feel amateur at the time.  It felt goddamned scary, and the twist was shocking, the story unfolding piece by piece and sucking us in all the way.  Watching it now, sure it isn’t flawless, and you already know the trick, so it can’t feel the exact same, and some of the problems shout a little louder, which makes total sense.  But in 1999 this movie was masterful, and because Shyamalan would continue from here we give him extra credit for the film that started it all.  Collette is awesome, Osment is brilliant, Willis is silly, but the cast upholds the promise of the plot, and the movie works on many levels, even when we know what’s coming.  This is a project that I refuse to let grow stale or dated or overworked, because I can see how it could be viewed that way; I simply don’t want that to happen because I think it deserves better.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – All My Friends Are Dead

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jan Belci

Starring: Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz, Mateusz Wieclawek, Monika Krzywkowska

Year: 2020

American Pie, but where everyone dies?  Not a movie that most of us want to see, but it’s on Netflix anyway, which brings up the question I’ve been asking too often, so I won’t go deep into it right now; is the ability to stream a million movies a day killing the quality of our content?  I’m not an elitist, and crappy movies always existed, believe me, I just think crappy movies are more easily accessible right now, and that’s leading to, perhaps, a forgiveness for bad cinema because we’re becoming numb to it.  Well, get ready for a shocker, because while All My Friends Are Dead is no good, it’s also not palatable, and probably shouldn’t have even been thought up.

At a New Years party in Poland, a group of friends gather together to hang out, drink up, and celebrate the season.  Some know each other, some are strangers, some are lovers, some want to be, but they are all connected and all in search of connections, both physical and emotional.  Sounds good, should have been fun, but somehow it turned deadly, as the cops discover the next day.  How it went from enjoyable to murderous is an odd story, filled with accidents and anger, sex and silliness, a tale to be told from the beginning, with a bloody end already decided.

Like many good ideas, the movie starts out just fine, but quickly devolves into madness.  What’s extra here though is how insane the action becomes, how bad the film gets; it’s normal to have trouble finishing strong, but not often do you see this level of complete, abysmal failure.  It beings funny and ends with someone’s fake boob exploding; if that doesn’t raise a red flag I don’t know what does.  Obviously, the director wasn’t ready to make this romp, Netflix shouldn’t have allowed it to appear, and everyone involved in it is at fault for projecting something this ridiculously dumb onto our minds.

My rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – I Care a Lot

Category : Movie Review

Director: J Blakeson

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest

Year: 2020

Maybe we should rethink the idea of letting anyone with a camcorder direct a movie, letting any studio with a bit of cash stream it, letting audience consume cheap content at a cheap rate just because they can and it’s there.  I hate to be elitist, I don’t consider myself that at all, and I don’t think only Scorsese should be allowed to direct pictures.  But I do think quality can suffer by ramming through features on streaming services that aren’t well-directed, well-written, or well-planned.  We’re in a weird time in cinema right now, a time of easy releases, and I Care a Lot is a good example of how bad that can be.

Marla Grayson is a guardian for the elderly; that is, when an elderly person can no longer make their own decisions, the court might appoint a liaison to help them transition to a care facility, and help manage the responsibilities they leave behind.  In this way, Marla was in control of the estates of dozens of strangers, and she paid herself a fee from the sale of their personal items, including their homes and savings.  Taking it one step further, Marla had a doctor write off on the fiction that a wealthy woman named Jennifer Peterson had dementia, which allowed Marla to take her money and treat her like an invalid.  Only, Peterson wasn’t just a random little old lady, she was the mother of an extremely dangerous man, a villain who wouldn’t like what was being done to his mom.

I don’t have chips in the game, I don’t care if Netflix and Prime and Hulu want to deliver a hundred new movies a week; I’ll watch, it’s fun, sometimes there’s a gem.  But also, much of the time, there’s a load of crap, and that’s simply a byproduct of not caring about quality as much as quantity.  It’s the way things are, directors can get things through right now, and while that might mean more opportunity for people who didn’t have it (which is good) it can also mean more awful attempts at random movies (which is sucky).  I Care a Lot is a cool idea from a questionable director that doesn’t seem thought out to the end; it starts interestingly enough, but no one planned it out, or if they did they didn’t know that we’d hate their god-awful plan.  It’s maybe a crime/comedy, but peopled by terrible characters who you’ll hate to watch, until there’s really no advantage for having a rooting interest in anyone.  It’s like they forgot that we needed a reason to stay tuned, like they thought streaming it was simply enough, that we would complete blank out and somehow enjoy watching evil people try to kill each other for two hours.  Not my idea of fun, and while the actors were fine, their roles weren’t, and the film quickly devolved into a worthless experience, devoid of any redeeming characteristics.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – One Night in Miami

Category : Movie Review

Director: Regina King

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom, Aldis Hodge

Year: 2020

Regina King’s directorial debut mostly draws upon the work of others, which is not the worst thing an amateur can decide to do when the world is watching your first time.  One Night in Miami is a play by Kemp Powers, and Powers adapted his own work for the screen, and four actors took on the bulk of the plot; sitting in a room, talking about the world, portraying four icons.  Maybe it was simply a great way for a director to get their feet wet, because the material was already there, the adaptation was delivered, and the cast pulled off the ploy, handing audiences a film that felt like theatre but lost nothing important in the translation.

On the evening of Cassius Clay’s title fight, he and three friends gather to celebrate his victory and his success, to celebrate all that each of them has accomplished on a road to fame that has not been easy.  Sam Cooke has taken gospel music and made it appealing to the white masses, turning himself into a rich man in the process.  Jim Brown has become the greatest football player the world has ever seen, setting records and making himself a household name.  And Malcolm X, outspoken figurehead for the Nation of Islam in America, has the entire country listening to his every word.  But the friends are not simply gathering for a drink after a bout, they are spearheading a fight against problems that Black people encounter on a daily basis in a fluid United States, using their wealth, power, and voices to somehow make a change that will somewhat last.

The theatrical aspect of this film is obvious and paramount; the best parts are in the hotel room with each character challenging the other, getting heated and passionate about the subject of saving lives.  It’s an incredible narrative, and you feel like you are sitting in the front row, watching events play out of stage.  The other parts, any time they step outside, that gets silly, it’s not strong, but luckily it’s not very much of the movie.  Most of the conversations are brilliant, and well-acted all around; they will set your heart pounding with a desire to do something now.  King can’t exactly be rewarded for setting this all into motion, the film was a vehicle all its own, with four excellent performances propelling it forward, but, again, she can’t be blamed for letting it run either.  She’s an amateur, she did the right thing, and the movie worked; that’s all we should ask of her for now.  Ben-Adir led an incredible, tense 110 minutes, pushing us to the edge and giving us insight into this historical figure.  And just because this is a fictional account, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have true substance, and that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best films of this past year.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Age of Uprising

Category : Movie Review

Director: Arnaud des Pallieres

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen

Year: 2013

The legend of Mads Mikkelsen is growing to the point that even the casual movie-goer should have learned to love him by now; if not, there’s still time for you to jump on his bandwagon.  He’s a unique talent and a forceful presence, making his spirit known in every film he enters, even minimally, because his talent is simply that great.  There’s a mystique and a danger about his that allows his to be a villain with ease, but he can play the flawed hero just as well, simply by choosing to allow us to enter a little deeper.  It’s time to say that we can watch Mads in anything and we can be assured of greatness, at least from him, and Age of Uprising is no exception.

Based on the groundbreaking 1810 novel, which itself was based on true events of the 16th century, Age of Uprising tells us the story of Michael Kohlhaas, a French horse trader who prospered under fair laws and hard work, raising in family in moderate wealth and treating those who worked for him with dignity.  When a local baron demanded an unlawful toll and took two horses to hold against the fee, events were set into motion that would shake the entire countryside.  The horses were ill-treated, a servant was attacked, and Kohlhaas sought justice, first within the law and then by taking the law into his own hands, creating an infamous rebellion that impacted so many innocent lives.

Mads is a miracle: Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising, A Royal Affair, The Hunt, The Salvation, Doctor Strange, Rouge One, Arctic, Another Round.  He’s an actor whose fame has mounted slowly, but each performance he gives holds so much power that an eruption must have always been inevitable.  I can think of no one else who could have pulled off this role in this film, especially because the movie itself was a bit too sleepy for its own good.  It was almost like there was another movie of cut scenes that we weren’t allowed to watch, like we were only seeing half of the story, and maybe the one with too little music, motivating, and drama.  The story is great, the acting is wonderful, the raw brutality is impressive, but I would gladly have watched for another two hours had there been a companion to all the things I liked, because without that second installment I was left a little bored.  Watch for artistic direction and solid characters, but know that you’ll miss a little regularity; a small amount of convention would have gone a long way.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Defiance

Category : Movie Review

Director: Edward Zwick,

Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell

Year: 2008

Based on a book and a true story, Defiance is another example of courage in the face of Nazi evil, and the will to survive inherent in us all.  You’d think that we’d have had enough of WWII tales: the drama of the war, the horror of the Holocaust, the soldiers, the guns, the heartbreak, the death.  But I’m of the opinion that we need always remember what happened, to the Jews and others, to the world, and that we owe it to future generations to never forget.  That might sound like a cliche, like “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, but it’s not necessarily that over-dramatic or that complicated; it comes down to trying to remember something awful because it’s the right thing to do.  Defiance might not be the perfect film, it might be largely too Hollywood, but it does keep the message going through the generations, and that’s not a trivial thing.

In the Belarus region in 1941, the Germans began their eastward advancement toward Russia, turning on their ally and opening up an Eastern Front.  In their way and targeted to be eliminated were the Slavic people, many of whm were Jews.  In so many towns, ghettos were formed, families were separated, innocent people were killed, and the Nazi war machine pushed forward.  After losing their parents and their home, the Bielski brothers, Tuvia, Zus, Asael, & Aron, fled to the woods to hide, taking with them other Jews who were on the run.  Soon, a community gathered in the forest, over a thousand strong, with a group of them, led by Tuvia, forming a partisan group to fight against the German invaders.  Survival was hard, death seemed inevitable, but they survived, even loved, and showed that, by living, they would refuse to accept extinction.

2001’s Enemy at the Gates is so much better than Defiance; better music, better acting, better intensity, better all around.  Both are about Russians vs Germans, Jews fighting alongside after their lives have been torn apart, survival against all odds, true stories that need to be told.  But the former works on multiple levels at once, as a piece of fiction and a piece of history, while the latter struggles to keep all its balls in the air while it’s attempting to juggle in very tricky patterns.  Again, it deserves credit just for telling the truth, for teaching us about these men, for showing us their bravery, and that’s worth a lot just on its own.  Then the cinematic part comes into play, and that’s a bit more messy.  The accents are questionable, the action is repetitive, the casting choices are odd, the group is almost too full of names: Craig, Schreiber, Bell, Alexa Davalos, Mark Feuerstein, Jodhi May, Iben Hjejle, George McKay, Mia Wasikowska, Sam Spruell.  In the end, this is a film that had a purpose, works fine on that level, but won’t ever be able to stand up on its own, because it’s simply too flimsily built.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Alexander

Category : Movie Review

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto

Anthony Hopkins, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Year: 2004

It’s hard to explain why Troy is so lovely and Alexander so hideous; they were both made the same year, as pairs of films often are, the former came out first, but the latter was the obvious failure.  Critics will say that Troy is silly and overdone, and I don’t exactly disagree, but I love it for its audacity and vigor, for going full force in our faces, with stars galore and blood aplenty.  Alexander seems to attempt the same, with a little more history behind it, but it also tries to be clever, and that’s where it meets its demise.  Actually, demise was around more corners than that; just hearing the actors speak is enough to send audiences running for the hills before their brains explode, and that’s not something you want from a drama, nor are ugly action sequences what you want from a war movie.  Alexander is a combination of reality & myth, but melded so sloppily that you’d have to imagine everyone involved would ask for a do-over, if only the gods would honor their guilty request.

Philip, the King of Macedonia, takes a barbarian wife, and she bears him a beautiful son named Alexander.  Once Philip conquers the rest of the Greeks, he turns his attention to the East, to Persia, the greatest empire in the world.  But before he can begin his dream quest, Philip is assassinated, and Alexander takes the throne.  Driven by dreams of global dominance and an urge to see the ends of the Earth, this great leader takes his armies into the heart of Persia, conquering, discovering, annihilating, and leaving home behind.  Alexander would become Great on this journey, by these bloody quests, but the price was high; a life of loneliness, a constant state of paranoia, a near-tyrannical hold on hundreds of thousands of lives, and, ultimately, an early death.  Like his hero Achilles, Alexander chose glory over old age, fame over luxury, and burned like a fire for the briefest of periods so that he could be remembered far longer.

It’s hilarious that they simply made all Macedonians speak with an Irish accent so that they would all sound like Colin Farrell.  Angelina Jolie did some sort of Russian variant, Rosario Dawson did maybe a Gypsy, and no one else did anything even recognizable enough to be labelled.  Alexander might be the worst accent job I’ve ever witnessed, a complete mess of voices and sounds that only served to make the movie even worse than it was destined to be anyway.  I know Braveheart isn’t perfect as far as accents go, you could say that Troy is problematic too, but this film takes the cake, and it doesn’t stop there, oh no, it keeps going in the ‘wrong’ department.  Oliver Stone exhibited about as much deft workmanship as a giant, square lump of gray clay, wielding direction and editing like they were weapons, not tools, giving us a pile of crappy pieces, not a whole, enjoyable experience.  The filming, the editing, the music, the trippy stuff, the breadth; bad, bad, bad, so bad, and bad again.  It was like he was intentionally doing something to hurt us, and so were the actors; everyone involved should be embarrassed.  They tried with the history, I’ll give them that, they tried to make us understand the size of what happened, the significance of the battles, the toll that time took on those who should have been heroes to some, murderers to others.  But overall, Alexander failed to be cinema, becoming sensation instead, and only in an undesirable way.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆