film

Quarantine 2020 Catch-Up — Rapid Fire Reviews #4 Netflix Gems

This latest edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews focuses on an extremely diverse selection of movies that debuted on Netflix. Included are a couple action movies, there are some films about filmmaking, several dramas about life and the complexity of modernity, hell, there’s even a thriller and one surprisingly effective horror movie. Since everyone’s been quarantining for the last few months you may already have come across these titles- but if you haven’t hopefully there’s a few flicks here to fill the void. We’ve all got the time now, right?

Shirkers

“Shirkers” is a documentary made by Sandi Tan and her close friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique. The story is about the 16 mm indie film that the three friends made as young creatives in Singapore in the early 1990’s. Well, it’s more than that in truth, the film was the culmination of Sandi Tan’s obsession with films, creating, and generally being a weird kid with her friends. The hook comes when the three friends’ film is stolen by their friend and fellow collaborator George Cardona, an older man of mysterious origin and intent. This was a charming and encouraging story about a group of friends pouring everything into their film to only have it ripped out of their hands for more than twenty years. The unraveling of their pasts and careers afterwards was truly a story worth being told and I personally love the fact that Netflix picked this one up.

Recommendation: The mystery of the theft and how it traumatized, enraged, and brought together these young woman was a fascinating journey and one that I highly recommend! If stories about filmmaking are your thing, you’ll likely enjoy this delightful doc.

Dolemite is my name

Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed by Craig Brewer, “Dolemite is My Name” is the comedic biography of Rudy Ray Moore and his character called “Dolemite”. Eddie Murphy stars in this comeback role as Moore, an overly ambitious entertainer who wants nothing more than to be a success in the spotlight. Set during the 1970’s right before the height of the ‘Blaxploitation’ era of genre filmmaking, Moore worked at a record shop and club as the weekly MC. One day when a regular purveyor of the streets, Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), walks in to tell his stories and make a bit of money, Moore is made to walk the older homeless man out, but the story being told catches Moore’s ear and his imagination. Ricco’s modern myth of magnanimous proportions inspires Moore to utilize the title of “Dolemite” and mold it into his own character brimming with confidence and extremely lewd sexual conquests. Once he takes “Dolemite” and gives him voice, a costume, and a lyrical tune to the performance, Moore takes the character on stage during his duties as the Master of Ceremonies and turns it into a rousing success. From there Rudy Ray Moore took Dolemite and started selling out local theaters until he put together a few comedy albums which truly catapulted Moore to cult character status. After taking the character through as many highs as possible in the comedic business Moore has the realization that if he can put Dolemite on the silver screen, he can transcend the cultural boundaries of the time and become truly unforgettable. This leads Moore to his most infamous phase as Dolemite in which he gathers a production crew and makes the Dolemite Movie! It’s a hilarious gut-busting third of the film and it is firmly anchored by Eddie Murphy’s enigmatic and electric performance as the foul-mouthed entertainer.

Recommendation: If you can stand the extremely sexual and low brow humor, this one may be for you. It’s incredibly subjective for this one though. The supporting cast is packed to the rim with famous black entertainers and actors that layer the film wall to wall with charming and hilarious characters and performances. I had a great time with this one.

1922

Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, “1922” is the story of a marriage in dire straits in the heartland of Nebraska. The film begins with Wilfred “Wilf” James, played with a stony gristle by Thomas Jane, as he espouses his life’s mantra. Namely that in 1922, a man’s pride is with his land. It is through the work put into that land that a man can be free, his identity begins and ends with his plot of land and occupation on it. However his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), does not share this philosophy of life. Arlette had inherited much of the land the James family farm now consisted of, and she wanted to sell that land and move to Omaha to live in the city. Caught between the two is Henry (Dylan Schmid), their fourteen year old son who’s been dating the daughter of the farmer living nearby. I won’t give away the plot to this one, but it is one mostly concerned with the consequences of prideful actions.

Recommendation: This was a really fun horror movie! No jump-scares, and the degradation of the characters is an effective slow burn. Thomas Jane’s performance as the scornful husband was thoroughly brooding and maddening, one of his best performances in my opinion! This is a dark and chilling tale with a lean story that’s rife with tension and malice. If you enjoy Stephen King adaptions, this is one of the better ones, definitely one I recommend.

Marriage Story

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story” is about Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), and their emotional journey through a coast-to-coast divorce. Charlie is a successful New York Theatre Director and Nicole’s a former Teen Movie actress that now stars in his plays. The film begins with the two of them in counseling where they each describe what they appreciate about the other, but Nicole doesn’t particularly feel like sharing hers even though we the audience are privy to those thoughts through narration. The two are attempting to amicably traverse their divorce in the best way possible for their boy, Henry (Azhy Robertson), they’re each represented as kind, considerate, and compassionate individuals that don’t want to ruin the other’s life while still pressing forward with their own goals and struggles. Things begin to escalate after Nicole moves back to California with Henry to stay with her family. Charlie’s play gets accepted for Broadway and he’s awarded the MacArthur grant to fund that transition so he stays in New York, he also considers himself and his family as a “New York Family”. This complicates things after Nicole gets a lawyer played by Laura Dern with all the pomp, poise, and sleaze that would make any lobbyist or car salesman proud. When Charlie comes to California to see Henry and visit Nicole’s family, as he’s still very much accepted by Nicole’s mother and sister, he’s taken aback by Nicole’s choice to get lawyers involved. So, Charlie decides to get a lawyer as well, even though he detests the idea. First he goes to an expensive and ferocious lawyer played by Ray Liotta, but Charlie doesn’t want to attack Nicole’s character in order to see his son. Thus he opts for the more blasé, yet compassionate, lawyer played by Alan Alda. The supporting cast in this film truly fills out the edges and compounds the heartbreak between Nicole and Charlie in intelligent and narratively sharp fashion. The conflict gets heated and heart-wrenching at times, when the two are pushed to their emotional breaking points from the cumulative stress due to the inclusion of bureaucracy.

Recommendation: I’ve had this film on my ‘Watch List’ for months and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. Noah Baumbach has a knack for humanistic drama, so I knew I’d be in for some good familial drama as I’ve come to know his work. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson further prove their indie cred and acting chops in this one. The performances that are pulled out of these two actors, both of which are involved with the biggest top dollar blockbuster series in the world, are emotionally intelligent and realistically crushing. This is a film that prioritizes performance above all else, so if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned drama, this is for you!

Extraction

Written by Joe Russo and directed by Sam Hargrave, “Extraction” is a lean and mean action flick starring Chris Hemsworth as an Australian Mercenary hired for a job in Bangladesh. This is a very simple and effective action movie, our lead is the broken hero Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) who takes the extraction job when offered, he’s played in muted fashion with ferocious action. The target is the son of a jailed international crime lord who’s been kidnapped by a bigger and badder warlord. There’s not an extreme amount of plotting or character work here, but what is given to round out Hemsworth’s Rake is subtle and appreciated given the action to dialogue ratio. David Harbour is also in the film as a fun supporting character around halfway through the film. There’s some fun camera work throughout the action sequences, but nothing mind-blowing. There’s a lot of intense shootouts that seem to be heavily influenced by the choreography of the John Wick movies paired with the immediacy of that first Bourne film- though mercifully without the shaky cam. Can’t say that much more about this one, it’s a perfectly fine and well executed action film.

Recommendation: This film’s probably been seen by most viewers with a Netflix account by now, but if you haven’t seen it yet and are looking for a fun way to kill a couple hours, this is a fine way to do just that. It you enjoy your action movies with a tinge of darkness, then I’d recommend it

6 Underground

Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese and directed by Michael Bay, “6 Underground” is Bay’s return to form within the Action (with a Capital A!) genre. This film hits hard and fast. If you longed for the era of Michael Bay’s filmography before his time with those transforming robots- this movie will likely satisfy that urge. The premise is simple- until it isn’t. A group of extremely skilled individuals have all been recruited by Ryan Reynolds’ as a Billionaire organizing a small elite squad of people that are “dead”, given new identities, and set to jet around the world doing the kind bad-guy-killing that most governments can not, or will not, take part in. Every member is given a number, 1 through 6, and each has a very specific skillset that they utilize in any given mission. The opening set-piece in Florence Italy is the epitome of Michael Bay’s directorial skills. There’s fast cars, bright and over-saturated colors everywhere possible, bullets flying through the air, and a surprising amount of violence. There’s even a parkour scene from atop the famous Florence Cathedral- because of course there is. It’s loud, there’s an active disregard for human life, and it’s exactly what everyone in the 1990’s would describe as Cool. The majority of the plot follows the team as they decide to de-throne an ‘evil’ dictator in Turgistan (a fictional country), and install his brother, a believer in the benevolence of Deomcracy, as the new leader. The only real complaints I have with the film is that the second act gets lost in time jumps back and forth between the group’s beginnings and ‘The Present’. There’s just not enough focus there in my opinion. The first and third acts anchor the flippant middle act though. The other point being that while Ryan Reynolds is entertaining as an actor- it seems as though “Deadpool” has seemingly wormed his way into every role Reynolds has taken on since then. He doesn’t seem to be able to distance himself from the foul-mouthed mercenary entirely.

Recommendation: Overall the film is peak ‘Bayhem’ and a lot of fun. If you enjoyed his “Bad Boys” movies, you’ll likely find some fun here as well. However, if you really can’t stand Michael Bay, avert your eyes- this will not be for you. I recommend it if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, buy the ticket, and take the ride.

The King

Written by Joel Edgerton and David Michôd, and directed by Michôd, “The King” is an adaption of several Shakespeare plays surrounding the last days of King Henry IV and the ascension of his son King Henry V. Timothée Chalamet stars as Henry V, or “Hal” as his close friends call him, who begins the tale as a drunk that spends more time with women of the night than on anything related to his father’s realm. He’s uninterested and derisive of his father’s iron fisted rule. By his side in his jesting and drinking is John Falstaff, played with a warm and worldly wisdom by Joel Edgerton. Besides the relationship between Hal and his father, his companionship with Falstaff is the most important of the film, and given the most emotional weight. If you’re unfamiliar with this tale, it follows Hal as he reluctantly dons the crown, which is only necessary after his brother is killed in battle as his dying father resents his eldest son’s ways. After Henry IV dies and Hal is crowned King, the young monarch attempts to sweep the civil unrest and vile deeds of his father’s Kingdom under the rug and make those enemies new partners. These peace seeking methods are unfortunately seen by others as weak and garner unwanted attention from the French. After the French King sends an assassin, Hal feels the need to invade and made sure they would not underestimate him again. From there the film follows from the Siege of Harfleur to the Battle of Agincourt as Hal is met with Kingly duties, manipulation, bravery, and a pretty good war speech at Agincourt. The film was well acted, had excellent production among its sets, costumes, and the cinematography was well executed though not in any flashy or innovative ways.

Recommendation: “The King” was a fine retelling of Shakespeare’s several plays on the subject meshed into one. It’s a bit longer at two hours and twenty minutes, but the time is well spent and fairly engaging. Robert Pattinson also has a role here as ‘The Dauphin’ and it was a fun small role, further proving the actor’s recent excellent choice of roles. If you enjoy a good old historical epic about Kings and Knights and battles in the mud with a tinge of moral awareness and more violence than (I personally) expected, you may enjoy this one. I had fun with it!

Okja

Written by Jon Ronson and Bong Joon Ho, and directed by Bong Joon Ho, “Okja” is a charming story about a young South Korean girl, Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) and her genetically created “Superpig” called Okja. The film begins with Tilda Swinson (in one of two incredibly fun and ‘animated’ roles) as Lucy Mirando, the new CEO of Mirando corp, as she presents the beginnings of a new ten year program designed to solve world hunger by biologically formed “Superpigs”. Granted, she presents the program as “Non-GMO” and consumer friendly, void of all guilt etc. She explains that there are twenty-six pigs that will be sent to reputable and well respected farmers around the world and in ten years, the biggest “Superpig” will be brought to New York City to celebrate when they announce the existence of the “Superpigs” to the world. Naturally, there’s a lot more to it than that. Ten years later we find ourselves with Mija, who is about twelve or so, and lives with her grandfather and Okja in the mountains of South Korea. The first act establishes Mija’s connection with Okja as they wander through the forest, catch some fish, and they’re even put in a bit of peril on the walk home as Okja saves Mija from falling off the cliffside. The film’s pace picks up when the Mirando representatives come to check Okja’s status as the final contestant. As you may have expected, Okja is the largest and healthiest “Superpig”, and while Mija was under the impression from her grandfather that they had purchased Okja from the Mirando corporation, this was not the case. Thus Mija, a pure and straightforward character composed of heart and grit- literally chases down the Mirando truck transporting Okja. From there Mija finds herself in the midst of diverging animal activism and corporate greed as the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) attempts to free Okja on route to America, Mija becomes an international star due to her riding Okja through a mall in South Korea, and eventually everything culminates in New York City with every character returning in significant ways. This was a charming and lovely humanistic film about animal food production, opportunists, and capitalism (in more subtle ways).

Recommendation: I actually highly recommend “Okja”. I was fairly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, the film is unafraid to confront “difficult” aspects of food production, factory farming, the morality of food and where it comes from, I was impressed by that. The cast is also really damn good. Paul Dano was great as the head of the ALF, like a spy of animal activism. Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, and Giancarlo Esposito fill out the cast of supporting characters with considerable poise and skill. That and the movie is worth a watch purely for Jake Gyllenhaal’s voice work as Animal Celebrity Johnny Wilcox.

Private Life

Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, “Private Life” is a drama surrounding a middle-aged couple living in New York City who have been trying to have a child by any means necessary. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as Richard and Rachel, both successful creatives in theater and writing, who have had nothing but bad luck with their attempts at conception. They tried having a surrogate mother, that didn’t pan out. They attempted every three letter acronym associated with childbirth possible many times. They even tried a last minute $10,000 medical procedure so as not to miss Rachel’s cycle. Eventually things evolve when a close family member decides to help them have their child, but it comes with lots of familial baggage too. This was a well acted and hopeful drama about the trials and expenses of difficulty with childbirth. At times, it can be melancholic and full of regret, but, at other times it allows for a chance at hope. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for. This one wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I did appreciate the story for what it was.

Recommendation: “Private Life” was an interesting watch because it covered a part of adulthood that is seldom portrayed onscreen, and they made an engaging story out of it. This rite of passage is one where the issues and problems that can be paired with it aren’t always discussed. If you’re looking to feel a little sad, this one might be for you. Though I would recommend “Marriage Story” over this film for that outcome.

Hold The Dark

Written by Macon Blair and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, “Hold the Dark” is a supernatural thriller surrounding the mystery of a child taken by wolves in Alaska. Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), a writer whose studied Wolf behavior, is summoned by Medora Slone (Riley Keough), the mother of the missing boy. Russell answers her letter and flies out to her small village near the mountains to see if he can find the wolf that killed her boy. From there the film takes many unexpected turns, and I don’t want to ruin the experience for any newcomers to this film- but not everything is answered, and not everything makes sense in the end. In fact, the film greatly benefits from the performances of the actors, the lingering brooding atmosphere, and the undulating score all assist when the story elements lack here and there. Be forewarned, this one is a bit violent, though not to an unsettling degree.

Recommendation: “Hold the Dark” wasn’t what I expected, and due to that it was rather engaging. The mystery that the story weaves keeps you guessing, and while sometimes you don’t get the answers you want, or any answers for that matter- the film is a decent enough watch and fine way to kill a few hours. I do recommend it, but I would enter the film with measured expectations.

NEXT TIME ON RAPID FIRE REVIEWS:

Recently the Criterion Collection had another tantalizing sale so I picked up several films by Yasujiro Ozu. Specifically these films come from the end of his career, widely regarded as his “Old Master” phase. There will be six films, all in color, and I’ll dive into those at length. Until next time!

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Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a new mystery/horror film currently available to stream on Netflix. Dan Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rene Russo all reunite after the stellar film that was “Nightcrawler” in 2014. Just as “Nightcrawler” satirized the “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality of local news stations’ greedy pursuit of more eyeballs on their network- Buzzsaw tackles a similarly dark, almost comedic, satire of the Los Angeles art scene in all of its pretentious nature. Once we’re introduced to all of the major players of the story things get rolling after Josephina (Zawe Ashton) discovers the dead body of one of her neighbors in her building. She quickly discovers that the recently deceased was an undiscovered, and brilliant, artist. Being the young, green, aspiring art agent that she is, Josephina takes her discoveries home- only to be discovered later by her boss, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), a ruthless and successful art collector and distributor.

Once the word is out, it isn’t long until Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) catches wind of the discovery- he frequents the events that Rhodora hosts and is romantically involved with Josephina as well. Gyllenhaal portrays Morf as an ostentatious and glib-lipped art critic, he’s seen as a god among his peers- his opinions can make or break the bank of an art gallery or installation. Gyllenhaal is clearly, having a ball with the character and he was one of the best parts of the film. The cast as a whole had a lot of moving pieces and nearly every major speaking part had a role to play in moving the plot forward. Tom Sturridge and Toni Collete equally chew the scenery when given the chance as Jon Dondon and Gretchen, fellow competitors with Rhodora in the world of gallery owners and art distributors. John Malkovich also appears to be having a good time as Piers, a once promising artist who’s been considered washed-up since ridding himself of alcoholism. Even Natalia Dyer’s got a fun role as the sheepish secretary, Coco, who ends up working for all of the major art collectors in the story once things start to get bloody.

(Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal appear in Velvet Buzzsaw by Dan Gilroy, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Claudette Barius. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.)

Which brings me to the hook of the story, there’s something weird about the artwork of Dease (Josephina’s deceased neighbor). It seems to have supernatural properties and works to kill those who profit from displaying the artwork. It’s a silly premise indeed, but the actors deliver such passionate performances within that premise that make it delightfully fun. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy the tagline of “Pretentious art critics brutally attacked by the art they critique“? If you’ve got the time and enjoy a good genre flick, I’d recommend it.

Final Score: Thousands of Dease pieces

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Review: Roma

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” follows a family through a tumultuous year in early 1970’s Mexico City. Specifically it is the story of Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), one of two maids that live with the family they clean and care for. While we follow the arc of the family’s overall storyline as the film develops, we see most things through Cleo’s perspective. She works with Adela (Nancy García García) cleaning the floors, preparing food, and watching over Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) four children Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf), and Sofi (Daniela Demesa).

I won’t divulge too many details, as I believe this small film benefits from a less-is-more attitude upon first viewing. The emotional core of the film lies in the parallel storylines of Cleo and Sofia, both of whom experience cycles of neglect and trauma. The first half of the film is cleverly benign. It explores the intimacy of small moments between various characters, forcing a closeness between the audience and the family onscreen so that when the dramatic events unfold, the twisting of the narrative knife is that much more painful. In an article for Variety the director speaks about the sensation of memory, about how the film isn’t meant to be a direct representation of the time and place, but informed by how he remembers it. “[Jorge Luis] Borges talks about how memory is an opaque, shattered mirror, but I see it more as a crack in the wall. The crack is whatever pain happened in the past. We tend to put several coats of paint over it, trying to cover that crack. But it’s still there.” -Alfonso Cuarón.

With “Roma”, Alfonso Cuarón demonstrates his deft handiwork and skill behind the camera, which firmly reminds us of his place in cinematic history. This passion project of Cuarón’s has his fingerprints in nearly every department of production. Not only did he write and direct the first Best Picture nominee for Netflix, but he was also behind the camera as the cinematographer and edited the film himself too! Informed by his own childhood growing up in Mexico City, Cuarón’s semi autobiographical work is dedicated to the real Cleo of his childhood, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez. Though in a fun sidenote, there’s even a nod to the director’s other works when the family goes to the cinema to see “Marooned”- an inspiration for his own sci-fi film in the shape of “Gravity” years later.

Cuarón’s cinematography makes everyday life seem like a spectacle to behold. This works wonders in the latter half of the film when the narrative starts to weigh more, for both the audience and the characters involved. If “Roma” doesn’t sweep the Oscars with its ten nominations then it should at the very least get the cinematography award. Though admittedly, it would be a shame if Yalitza Aparicio didn’t get the Best Actress- her performance was grounded, warm, tragic and outstanding. I haven’t seen as many of the Oscar nominations as I normally do this time of year, but I’d have a hard time considering others over this performance, and the film as a whole truthfully.

What I loved most about this film was that it captured the breadth and depth of life’s circumstances. It asks how we’re supposed to wade through the vague and swirling confusion of psychological and emotional trauma that is life when we’re supposed to go about our lives and do things that are required of us, like work and the accumulation of wealth. In my humble opinion, good art makes you question life and your place in it. Really great art reaches you on a previously unseen level and makes an impact on you- but the best stuff burrows inside your mind, and it becomes a part of you, it makes you live in ITS space. Any great novel, painting, orchestra, or film can accomplish this- and it is different for everyone, but Roma was all of these things for me after the end credits had rolled.

Final Score: 4 kids, 2 maids, and 1 Borras

Check out this article (mentioned earlier in the review) about the film and the director’s complex relationship with the material from Variety: https://variety.com/2018/film/news/roma-alfonso-cuaron-netflix-libo-rodriguez-1202988695/

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Review: Mute

Written by Michael Robert Johnson and Duncan Jones and directed by Jones, “Mute” is a futuristic sci-fi neo-noir that follows Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) a mute Amish man living in Berlin some forty years in the future as he searches for his missing girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). This is Jones’ fourth feature, but his first to be released through Netflix, which gives me even less of a good reason to have missed it until now. However, that being said, the film seemed to have been mired in a quagmire of sour reviews upon its release and I was perplexed by this given the enticing trailers. The film looked to be a unique take on the Blade Runner format with a few twists and turns of its own. After giving it a watch, I can see where some complaints make sense, but overall I enjoyed the film as a whole.

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There are several aspects of the film that stand out to me and what save it from getting too bogged down for its own good. The casting was a unique array of actors but the most worrisome of the bunch was Paul Rudd and whether or not he’d be able to deliver a compelling, and convincing, villain. A villainous turn may have seemed antithetical to most of Rudd’s past work, but his role as Cactus Bill turned out to be my favorite part of the movie. He portrays a nasty, rude, and entitled American soldier that went A.W.O.L. after a recent war in Berlin. Cactus Bill is volatile and unsettling at moments, but he’s also a father figure throughout the movie carting around his young daughter as he goes about trying to illegally obtain new passports and IDs to get out of town. His partner in crime is Justin Theroux’s ‘Duck’ the inverse of Cactus Bill. Duck speaks softly and wears outdated professor-marketed wool sweaters, but he too shares a darker identity that becomes more visible as the film goes on. Both are former military surgeons that work in tandem with Russian (I assume) mafia figures needing to be stitched up. These two garner a hefty amount of the plot and a lot of the attention away from Skarsgård’s Leo, luckily they earn their screentime.

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Speaking of Leo, his anchor in this story is formed based on his upbringing and the beliefs of his family that led to his muteness. After a tragic boating accident that shredded his vocal chords, Leo’s mother declined surgery citing that Only God can help him now, and thus we have our voiceless hero. Fast forward to Leo’s adult life as a bartender in a shady club run by criminals and we see the different shades of his life folding in on one another. Naadirah also works at the club where we witness Leo’s righteous wrath on several patrons after they crudely harass her. His stoicism and height lend to this handling of justice, however his occupation does not. Put on the bench by his superiors Leo steps back as tries to keep his life with Naadirah safe. Therefore, she disappears a few scenes later and Leo kickstarts his detective storyline as he desperately tries to track her down. The other idea in the story that stayed with me after the movie was the idea of an Amish man living in the futuristic world of Neo Berlin. The film did a good job of making his life in this world feel authentic, his apartment and his mannerisms play into that idea efficiently.

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There are some rough edges to this film though. The meshing of storylines between Leo’s quest to find Naadirah and Cactus Bill’s journey to escape Berlin isn’t always smooth. Ultimately the two storylines end up being far more linked than expected, but the atmosphere and feel of them isn’t as cohesive as it could have been. There’s also a scene in the third act that’s built up as something that could be more than what it ends up being, and it’s simply anticlimactic, which is a bit of a bummer. The film also goes on for about twenty minutes, or so, longer than I feel it needs to. It lingers longer than is needed and somewhat overstays its welcome because of this. Though if you’ve seen Duncan Jones’ first film “Moon” there are several entertaining cameos by Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell on Television in the background of some scenes, there’s even a few recurring graffiti images of Bell throughout Berlin’s streets.

“Mute” is a good time in the end, even with a few uneven sides. It’s nowhere near as bad as the majority of reviews seem to have deemed it, I suggest giving it a watch if only to see Paul Rudd’s rare villainous appearance.

Final Score: 2 criminal surgeons and 1 good ole fashioned Amish beat down 

“Mute” is currently available on Netflix.

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Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

There Will be spoilers in this article, as it would be difficult to discuss the film without acknowledging them. You have been warned.

On Sunday during the Super Bowl a trailer was revealed for the newest film in the evolving Cloverfield series titled “The Cloverfield Paradox”. An intriguing and quick snippet marketed the latest installment as a sci-fi horror with mysterious ongoings, but more importantly- the film would be available immediately after the Super Bowl on Netflix. So, I thought I’d give it a shot, I adored the initial Cloverfield film and the secret sequel in “10 Cloverfield Lane” was a nice little surprise when it was released- why not give this flick a watch? Written by Oren Uziel and directed by Julius Onah, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a science-fiction thriller set on an international space station in a future timeline where the Earth is embroiled in a dire energy crisis that threatens to throw the nations of the world into world war three.

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First let’s discuss the best part of the film, the cast. The crew of the Shepard consists of seven experts from different fields of study and different countries of origin. They include our lead, Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) from Britain, Kiel (David Oyelowo) the commander of the Shepard and an American, Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) an Irishman and the comedic relief, Monk (John Ortiz) the doctor aboard the ship and resident representative of the faithful alongside Oyelowo’s American Kiel. Next up are Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) the German electrician and Tam (Ziyi Zhang) the Chinese scientist who together are the only relationship on the Shepard while, curiously, Tam is the only specialist that speaks her country’s language. The last member of the Shepard is Volkov (Aksel Hennie) the Russian navigator that ironically instigates the others into fisticuffs and arguments.

The movie opens during a blackout in Britain before the Shepard takes flight. We’re introduced to Hamilton and Michael (Roger Davies) a doctor in London, and her husband. They discuss her options between staying on Earth and helping as best as practically possible while getting over their shared grief, or to secure her position on the Shepard and use her skills to the greater betterment of humanity. Ultimately, we know the choice that she will make, which leads me to one of the issues I have with the film. While I did enjoy my time with this film, and I’d be doing a disservice to myself and this review by saying otherwise, the movie does telegraph a lot of the the film’s ideas in play a smidge too much for me, which clashes a bit with the mystery box style so beloved by the properties that J.J. Abrams has had a hand in producing. To it’s credit though there are some excellent moments and scenes that fully encapsulate the “What the hell just happened and how do we deal with this?” aesthetic, such as the earth disappearing from view after the particle accelerator is turned on, and the mysterious woman that the crew finds in the walls of the ship.

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Eventually the crew discovers the Earth on the opposite side of the sun. They can receive signals but they cannot transmit any, thus during their celebration they discover that the Earth is in the midst of a forty month war across Europe as the energy crisis has erupted into a full blown world war. They also see a newsflash of their ship, now called The Cloverfield in pieces floating in the ocean. They quickly realize that they aren’t in some future or past, but rather they are in another dimension. One where the Particle accelerator blew up the space station instead of transporting it across dimensions.

So, here I’d like to take the time to discuss the confusing response to the film’s release and what I enjoyed about the film overall before getting into my own theory on what happened across all of these films. I was quite taken aback by the anger and vitriol thrown at this movie from all corners of the internet after it’s release. Some called it a comedy, while others trash the film as somehow tricking moviegoers into watching a movie, and even a few seemed to outright hate this film and conveyed feelings of betrayal. I’m not sure how so many people came to despise this movie when nobody had to even pay for it, with the exception of the monthly Netflix fee. It’s not a truly horrible film, nor is it a pillar of exceptional science fiction filmmaking. It’s just fine. I would argue that it’s the perfect sort of film to get a streaming release as it did because it can be enjoyed at the viewers’ leisure without undue costs.

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I really enjoyed my time with this film. It wasn’t the best film I’ve seen, or even the greatest film I’ve seen recently (that award goes to you Shape of Water!), but it certainly wasn’t awful either. There was some good tension among the various crew members with alliances known and unknown that, paired with the quick pace of the film, helped to keep me engaged. The film had a good production design, the special effects were handled efficiently, and we got some deliciously gross body horror involving space worms! Hell, we even got a bit of space espionage to boot. While the film can be a bit predictable at times there was enough positive aspects to the film that they outweighed the negatives for me.

In fact, I personally believe the film gave another layer of intrigue to the Cloverfield series. If you factor in the multiverse theory, I think this film does help to explain more of what happened with the film series. First let’s simplify things with labels. Let’s call the first film in the Cloverfield series Earth 1, the Shepard crew’s Earth as Earth 2, and the Earth that they travel to in Paradox as Earth 3. I’m not sure if the events in “10 Cloverfield Lane” exist on their own separate Earth or if that was just a smaller story taking place on Earth 1 later in the timeline. For now, let’s say it happens on Earth 1 for clarity.  The Shepard’s particle accelerator malfunction at the beginning of Paradox is the inciting incident that triggers a wave of effects throughout the multiverse resulting in untold horrors of monsters and aliens being catapulted across space-time and colliding with various Earths. This is doubly proven when Hamilton crash lands back on her own Earth and a noticeably larger Cloverfield monster bursts through the clouds while her husband Michael screams into his phone “Tell them not to come back! Tell them!” After which I had a hearty laugh and then scrolled around Netflix to see what’s next..

Final Score: Two Earths and an infinite amount of Cloverfield Aliens

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Review: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, “The Meyerowitz Stories (new and selected)” is a Netflix original movie about the inherent drama in family life and how it can be both tragic and at times, hilarious. There is a plot at hand prodding characters into rooms with each other, but the film is mostly concerned with how each of these family members interact with each other rather than involving any sort of macguffin to pursue. After months of devouring films soaked in science fiction and battered in fantasy laced with imagination, this was quite the reprieve from my more genre based consumption and I really did enjoy it quite a lot actually. Speaking of which, barring any all-encompassing Holiday errands I’ll be trying to get into showings of both “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, but back to the film at hand. As the film is divided into sections with title cards, I’ll mirror that and give each major character their due diligence.

 

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                                        -Danny-

The film begins with a title card, “Danny” and the briefest of introductions in a second card which began the film with “Danny Meyerowitz was trying to park”. The scene plays out in much the same way that Danny’s own life has, trying to find a spot, but always missing the opportunity. He desperately tries to fit in, but never quite makes it. Adam Sandler finds in Danny Meyerowitz a similar well of history and emotion to draw from that he’s occasionally brought to the odds and ends of his film work, his work here is evocative of his “Punch Drunk Love” character in his quietly building rage and incandescent sadness. Danny is the closest we come to a protagonist in the film, the first third of the story is predicated by bringing his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten) to his father’s house in New York the night before she’s to begin college. In a brief scene with Eliza and Danny playing and singing at the piano of house Meyerowitz we see a caring father who was once a musician with potential. In the following scenes we get to understand the inner workings of the family Meyerowitz in how Danny reveals past neglect from his father Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Harold was a sculptor turned academic that was never discovered and therefore never truly obtaining the royal treatment from the intellectual crowd that he so desires. There are years of conflict buried in the way Harold dominates conversation with his sons. He’s a character so self absorbed by his own projects and failures that he could have been a real monster if portrayed by another, but Hoffman plays Harold with enough shades of brevity and aloofness that it never slides into blatant cruelty. A perfect example of this happens when Danny and Harold go to an art show that Harold’s far more successful friend L.J. (Judd Hirsch) was hosting in which Harold tries to share a moment with L.J. but is seemingly forgotten by the crowd of New York Elites clamoring to meet L.J. We even get the briefest of cameos by Sigoruney Weaver as herself as L.J. introduces her to Harold, but she seems to question this introduction as if saying “Who is this person you’ve introduced me to L.J. and why?” Though she does this without malice or scorn. Danny seems to be the only one that listens in the Meyerowitz family, but even he has his outbursts, a tool for Sandler that allows for character moments to shine through his shlubby shouting. Danny really is the heart of the family, and of the film.

 

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                                        -Matthew-

Matthew had just arrived on the red-eye from LA, as we’re told with another brief vignette opener. The youngest child of Harold’s and the most successful of the Meyerowitz clan, Matthew’s relationship with his father has a far more antagonistic trait weaved into it. He’s removed himself from the weight of Harold’s expectations by physically living on the opposite side of the country, but also in his career choice. He’s a financial accountant for creative artists that don’t quite know how to handle their money. In Matthew’s introduction we’re greeted by a quick cameo of Adam Driver as the musician/artist/entertainer that’s having building renovations done. Stiller’s Matthew talks Driver down from needing a saltwater pool in his two floors of renovations showcasing his ability to negotiate and play to the off-kilter, quirky, personalities that embody the world of artists. Though he doesn’t look forward to his interactions with his father because of their constant competitive nature being at odds with each other, Harold does heap most of his adoration onto Matthew, the son that wants and needs it least. This second vignette of the film ends with Matthew yelling “I beat you! I beat you and you know it!” at his father as he drives off into the Manhattan night. Love in a family this dysfunctional doesn’t always look or feel correct, but there’s enough done by Noah Baumbach’s direction and the cut of the edit to show that there is connection there, even if it’s not the healthiest of relationships.

 

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                              -The Group Show-

The disparate family eventually comes together after they all learn of Harold falling and hitting his head, forcing a long gestating hospital visit. The rest of the film is devoted to all of Harold’s family working together to take notes from the various doctors and specialists they’re flung back and forth to while sharing shifts at Harold’s bedside. This shutdown of Harold’s incessant chatter allows his children to assess their relationships with him and how to best move forward in life rather than holding onto the past. Just as the film nearly forgets about Harold’s third child Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) at times, I mustn’t neglect her presence as well. Jean’s the forgotten child, She and Danny came from Harold’s second marriage, and Matthew the third. Quite the opposite from Marvel’s previous roles in “House of Cards” and “Homeland”, Jean is the quiet and most awkward of the three, but even her presence being shadowed by her brothers is ingrained in her story and is relevant to her progression later as she helps Danny’s daughter Eliza by starring in her college films-which I might add are quite the homage to the overly sexualized youth of college age film-making wannabes, but the family treats it as a creative outlet all the same, no matter how much nudity and sexual obscurity fly off the screen when they check-in on her. It would be remiss of me to forgetting to mention Emma Thompson’s performance of Maureen, Harold’s fourth and current wife. Maureen’s a mixture of meshing in with the artistic and elite intellectual crowds through her 1960’s clothing to her drunkenly making Shark soup.

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” turned out to be a fairly funny dive into familial dysfunction with enough nuance to keep the characters grounded and relatable. The relationships of each family member evolve based on reactions of other actors inputting their knowledge of our cast and the choices they made or the way they lived their lives, thereby informing us where the main characters may not have been the most reliably honest keepers of their own histories. It’s a fairly solid movie in a similar vein to Woody Allen’s films, so if you have the time or the curiosity, give this film a shot. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” is currently on Netflix at the time of this review.

Final Score: 1 Artistic Patriarch and a Poodle named Bruno