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Showing posts with label written. Show all posts
Showing posts with label written. Show all posts

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) [Short Review]

I’m sorry, but this one kinda made me angry. So, here’s some quick thoughts. 

The good:
Dom (Cedric Joe) and all the video game design stuff directly related to him was interesting. Hopefully it encourages some people to get into design.
Some extras and animators got to dress up as or work on characters they love, so hopefully they had a fun time.
Some jokes work, and the ball playing has some freshness to it when the awful script allows it. The NBA Street series, last checked, has been dormant for a while. Maybe this’ll change that.

The bad:
The overall writing is just exposition, clichés, and WB trumpeting.
The crossovers are pointless and wasted to the point where it makes me wish DC and other WB subsidiaries were independent entities. 

His performance is ok, but it’s upsetting how the charisma is sucked out of Don Cheadle. It’s replaced with Al-G Rhythm's senseless motivation | Copyright 2021 WB

A comic with Batman (DC) and the Ninja Turtles (IDW) proves that not everything has to be under one roof for a crossover to work to at least some degree. With iron-clad ownership, a segment like Bugs and Batman fails in every respect because, in this case,  it's part of such an overstuffed project and they don't develop any real screen time together.

Something similar happens with Lola (Zendaya) this is interesting. She's just kind of there. That's better than how she was treated in the original movie...but then why cast such a phenomenal actor for a nearly do-nothing role

Just about everyone involved should be ashamed, and those without shame should be blackballed from filmmaking

2/5

If you already have HBO Max, watch this after you've exhausted the extensive library HBO Max Space Jam: A New Legacy is pushing on you. 
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Friday, July 2, 2021

America: The Motion Picture (2021) [Short Review]

From Netflix, "a chainsaw-wielding George Washington teams with beer-loving bro Sam Adams to take down the Brits in a [raunchy,] tongue-in cheek riff on the American Revolution." It has a strong cast, as noted below, it's written by Dave Callaham, directed by Matt Thompson, and two of the producers are Phil Lord and Chris Miller. One of the actors in it is Bobby Moynihan. Unfortunately, I misspelled his name when modifying the poster. Sorry, Bobby. 

 
Impressive credentials | Copyright 2021 Netflix, but modified by me using Inpaint and Gimp

This could've been really good, if it was a series of shorts, or if the humor and world stuck to some ground rules. The running gags could've been a great start to that, since they were some of the funniest parts of the movie. This is overselling it, but the use of Bible verses is best explained as inspired. 

If the jokes and story were as scattershot as the movie's world, this would be an unsalvageable, non-sensical mess. Instead, the whole movie can be sized up in the first couple minutes. Simply put, it's very dumb fun that should be watched after a really crappy day. To say more could potentially spoil some jokes.

The animation is by Combo Estúdio. It's worth bringing up, since this is a Floyd County production, and I was wondering if it was the same studio that animates Archer. It's not, that's Fox Television Animation and Radical Axis, but these guys have also done Super Drags for Netflix. Standing still, the art style looks a little blocky and reminds me of Venture Brothers or the new Batman: The Long Halloween. It moves pretty smoothly though, and this is the kind of movie where an unappealing art style might've been on the table during production. Even if the characters ended up not looking quite right, America still gives us Imperial Walkers that look like double-decker buses, and you can't beat that. 

2.5/5, and 3/5 if this attracts a wide conservative audience. They may see something in America: The Motion Picture that speaks to them, and, if it happens, I'd love to know what that is. Also this most likely has no sequel plans, but it's set up for an equally enjoyable second round.

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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Cruella (2021)

Cruella by Jansumalla
From Disney+, "Emma Stone stars in Disney's Cruella, which explores the rebellious early days of one of cinema's most notorious - and notoriously fashionable - villains, Cruella de Vil...The movie follows a young grifter named Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella." The movie co-stars Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It is directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya). Based on the book by Dodie Smith and Disney classic by Bill Peet, the winding road of events that change Estella was plotted out by Aline Brosch McKenna, and Kelly Marcel & Steve Zissis, and it was transformed into a script by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. After watching the movie, that must've been a journey in its own right.

Matt Neglia, of the Next Best Picture Podcast, said it pretty well when talking about Cruella. When Disney just takes a few characters and lets them do their own thing, these remakes and new origin stories are able to breathe and come out better. That's what happens, after a lot of references are painfully front-loaded into the film. Estella/Cruella (Emma Stone, and Billie Gadsdon and Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a kid and pre-teen, respectively) is born with her signature hair color, teased for it, and she, naturally, retaliates. The many, many marks on her grade school permanent record that are caused by that and other acts of rebellion, create a dalmatian pattern. Luckily, she quickly changes schools. It's absolutely an eye-rolling intro, and I have a bit more to say about why later, but Seifert-Cleveland is doing great work with what she's given, while Gadsdon has, unfortunately, just has one of those front-loading scenes. Cruella's brilliance is quickly shown through Seifert-Cleveland's brilliance, as the early indications of artistic talent and brawling street smarts are mixed with a lot of heart and some deeply buried sorrow. The whole cast really is fantastic. 

Cruella by jansumalla
Cruella, by Jansumalla

A lot of people are saying that if the Golden Globes were airing next awards season, there's a good chance we'd see Emma Stone accepting an award for her performance. I couldn't agree more, as she commands the screen with a blend of wit, energy, and versatility that was quite unexpected. It's not unexpected because of Stone herself. She's always been great, and actions like taking a business card with her teeth shows that she's up for anything, but because of that winding road the movie takes. Her stealing from her boss's private stash before going on a "fashion bender," and later celebrating a victory over a rival designer, The Baroness (Emma Thompson), with a few notes of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" were a few of my favorite moments because they're a couple of the smaller ones in the movie. Stone, the cast, and the crew are able to be a little more loose, although this is always Gillespie's vision.

Emma Thompson's performance benefits the most from that winding road I keep mentioning. The comparisons between The Baroness and Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada aren't cut-and-dry. As the movie goes on, and plots change, Thompson is asked to tap into her own range and become more of a monster than expected. If she started out as a complete cartoon, a large chunk of the movie would fall apart. Instead, she begins as just the right amount of cut-throat. When she accidentally nicks Estella when altering one of Estella's designs, she asks fabrics if that red is a possibility. Maybe it's the paper cuts and hangnails I was suffering from that week because of filing, but it instantly sold me on the character.

A few other people of note are Cruella's henchmen Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), and The Baroness' right-hand man, John (Mark Strong).  Paul Walter Hauser stole the show in I,Tonya as  Shawn Eckhardt, the "mastermind" who baselessly claimed to be working in counter-terrorism and kept re-parking his car to appear less suspicious to people. Give that character a lot more brains and compassion, but keep a tiny pinch of the self-interest, and you've got one of the best comrades around. Fry also plays a great friend, and I look forward to checking out his other work. The romantic angle between him and Stone is handled really well, as it can be explored down the line in a number of ways that all work. Plus, he doesn't have that pinch of self-interest, and that creates a great dynamic between him and Hauser. Actually a completely different movie where one is the henchmen for the other would be a lot of fun. Mark Strong is an odd case. He's given very little to do outside of delivering some exposition. Because his role is so small, it seems like he was miscast, and he stuck out in the crowd. I really just wish he was given more to do. There are plenty of opportunities, as the story evolves. 

Cruella is a long movie, at about 135 minutes, and to sustain that runtime, it changes plots a couple times. It's a heist movie twice, and it's The Devil Wears Prada once. Now, each change is clear and makes complete sense, but a lot of unexplored character gets sidelined because of it. Some have even said that it's a huge problem because it means that Cruella's mental health isn't properly addressed. I wouldn't go that far. To me, she's just temporarily overtaken by a combo of grief, guilt, and obsession. The reasons why are clear in the opening. I don't think there's anything wrong with what's being said about her, it's just that not a lot is being said in general. For all the great character work, and just work, Cruella is more, but not all, style over substance. That's a real shame. On this subject though, a character named Artie (John McCrea) is under some scrutiny for being an attempt by Disney to pat themselves on the back for being inclusive. McCrea's role is basically to be Cruella's stereotypical gay best friend. McCrea is great in the role, but considering that Disney should've caught up by now and moved past a cookie-cutter portrayal already, it's two steps forward and one step back. Artie runs a second-hand boutique and helps Cruella with her designs. Speaking of designs...

Costumes were designed by Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road and Room with a View), cinematography was by Nicolas Karakatsanis, and hair & makeup was designed by Nadia Stacey. With Gillespie, they all work together to build one hell of a picture, over and over again. Cruella is intensely beautiful, and, naturally, it's at its best when a signature outfit is on display. Most of these '70s-inspired ensembles are worn by Stone, while some that go back to the '60s, according to Beavan, adorn Thompson and were chosen to show her slightly aging instincts. It's those small details that keep the movie freshly in-mind nearly a week after a first viewing.  Hopefully, Beavan's is rewarded with more than only award recognition, since, according to VarietyDisney is officially licensing a Cruella collection with her designs without additionally compensating her. Even smaller details are the ways the camera moves, like when it follows one of the dogs, Wink, as he's exiting a bus. It's such a tight shot, that it seems like it couldn't have been easy to film. The effort was appreciated, as long as the dog had a good time, of course. Plus, there are grander versions of this kind of movement throughout the film. Tatiana S. Reigel assembles these pieces pretty well as the movie's editor, overlooking a couple of hiccups. 

That opening sequence, again, is one of them. The moment young Estella, Horace, and Jasper meet is just very choppy as it just quickly cuts to whatever lines will finally get us onto the real show. This sequence is capped off with a transition to the present that was done much better in Sam Levinson's Euphoria. The shot has purpose, but that's not enough to sell an, excuse the excessive harshness and on-the-nose term for a second, a knockoff. 

The other hiccup in editing is the use of newspaper text and headlines filling the frames in a couple of sequences. It looks good, but there isn't a whole lot of new or necessary info being delivered. It has no real purpose, the shots already look great without them, and time and money possibly could've been put into other parts of the film. That's the unfortunate thing about the movie as whole, it doesn't say much because of the pieces it's cut into.

Each plot and each heist, or heist-like plan, could be an entire incredible movie, and I'd like to see each of them because of the depth that the writers and Gillespie are only able to hint at with a line or short scene. The The Devil Wears Prada part of the movie could stand on its own thanks to Stone, Thompson, and the fresh setting of '70s London. Maybe Disney could remedy that? Fox made The Devil Wears Prada, and Disney bought them, so maybe they could at least arrange a round-table with Stone, Thompson, and Streep, in-character and out, and with some other costume designers and creatives from both movies? At least it's a nice thing to think about and maybe create some fan-fiction around. Cruella will definitely open up some minds that way. It worked on me.... 

Made after watching Birds of Prey and DC's Harley Quinn (Season 1 and Season 2)

Re-skinned after watching Cruella. The morning star was also made along with the original two. Does anyone else want Emma Stone to play an alt-universe Harley?

3.5/5 +.25 for the artistic inspiration it gave me and has given others. Please scroll up and take another look at those depictions of the character by Jansumalla. She's selling prints of it, by the way. While the audience of kids in my theatre got remarkably quiet after the previews started playing, it wouldn't be a surprise to find out years from now that a fashion designer, or hair or makeup artist, maybe one of them, was sparked by Cruella, and that's all that really matters.

Dog Cane
Last one. This was kinda quickly put together after the review was written. The materials are from BlenderKit, and the head is part of a full, rigged model by pomilecrown

One last thing, the soundtrack. I have it. I tried to put it on my phone when I left the theatre but didn't have wi-fi. I tried to stop somewhere with wi-fi on my way home but instead had to drive back in silence. It's great. It may overwhelm some people, but the songs were just right for me. The worst song choice, the last one, isn't on there, so there's no risk of reliving that moment. Instead, for example, you're treated to Ike & Tina Turner's "Whole Lotta Love." The power of it, to someone who grew up on classic rock, cannot be overstated. Stone's celebratory rendition of "I Want To Be Your Dog" comes after a different John McCrea's full performance, and it's literally a showstopper. Nicholas Britell's score doesn't get equal treatment, but the times it's allowed to shine, like when Estella's making her first dress for the Baroness, give the movie a little more grounding. 

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Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)

The best thing I heard about Mitchells vs The Machines when previews and posters started coming out is that it looked like it wasn't going to go all-in on technology being evil. I'm happy to report that that's true. Instead, Mitchells vs The Machines goes all-in on the visuals, and that's surprisingly not always a great thing, no matter how masterfully it's done. 

From the official Netflix summary, "A robot apocalypse put the brakes on their cross-country road trip. Now it's up to the Mitchells - the world's weirdest family - to save the human race." The trip was to give the family one last bonding experience before Katie (Abbi Jacobson, from Broad City) goes off to film school, as she's anxious to get away from her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), who just doesn't fully understand her passions or how society at large has become so screen-centered. The three other big parts of the family are matriarch Linda (Maya Rudolph), younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda), and pug Monchi (Doug The Pug, linked for convenience).

The movie is written and directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe (both writers on Gravity Falls and Disenchantment), produced by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht, and it was set to be a Sony Animation/Columbia Pictures release before Covid-19 made them sell the distribution rights to Netflix. So, Sony Animation, Lord, and Miller, that's why this movie is as off-the-wall and colorful as it is. However, this is quite different in its look and feel.

It's incredibly fast-paced, and it very rarely sits and breathes. For a movie with a smartphone focus, it makes a lot of sense to occasionally cut to a semi-random YouTube video as quickly as we go to them just because something popped into our heads. It's not a kid to adult thing, it's a generational and tech shift that we're all adjusting to. And we always will, as each shift and advancement is leaps and bounds greater than the one before, and it always comes with new communication skills to adapt to. I'm in my (late) 20s and don't fully understand how my younger cousins use some of the apps that they enjoy, but the point is being open to those new things and learning from my family. That's what this movie is about. So with the big lesson out of the way, let's talk about why it works so wonderfully, the characters and the humor.

Stylized Columbia Pictures Logo
It's always a good early sign when this lady gets funky | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

Katie is the best kind of film student and (future) auteur. She loves learning about the process and technical aspects, she uses her shorts to speak from the heart, and has no fear. And Rick is kinda the best kind of concerned parent, when it comes to this. He doesn't fully understand her videos, the industry or those technical aspects, but he does understand it's competitive as hell and a tough way to make a living, especially in a major city. As someone who crashed and burned a year into studying animation, switched to business, and just does film stuff for fun, Rick is right to be concerned. The difference between my situation and Katie's isn't that Katie can draw and will be a few steps ahead of her classmates, but it's that my parents were aware that failing in early adulthood is okay and there's plenty of room to pivot. He thinks a setback could be catastrophic, and her experiencing that scares him because he's a pretty awesome dad. That's not something I thought I'd say about a character voiced by Danny McBride. Before getting to him, it's worth noting this movie has an even-handed say on film school. Very simply, take it or leave it, depending on the person and what they want to specialize in. Film school is if you want to be on-set and learn how to collaborate, and self-teaching is for people like me who don't get involved in production.

From early previews, it looked like Rick would go full-Ron Swanson and be voiced by Nick Offerman. And they can do that without those characters being overly similar, but it'd still probably be distracting. Instead McBride is pretty unrecognizable. It's not just that Rick is sweet, but it's a complete change, as his accent largely drops, he's more timid in intimidating situations, and any trace of something like bravado is reserved for mountain-man and dad joke moments. Those moments are great. I hope he, or some piece of the cast, at least gets an Annie nomination for creating this incredibly lived-in family dynamic. Hopefully it's revealed that a lot of the recordings were done at the same time. 

The humor kind of reminds me of watching Storks, and that reminded me of 2010s Cartoon Network. What I said then is "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation," as they handle everything from technology, to representation, to millennial culture, and more. Sony Animation can be added to that list; they put a huge emphasis on making jokes character-driven. One of my favorite little ones is the justification of the slow-motion walk after an explosion. Being like Katie, and having a camera, is all the justification you need...and how many opportunities are there to do that with other people. It's much more badass with a group. The explosion, surprisingly is one of the visually restrained moments of the movie, unlike when Sony and Warner Brothers had two stunning ones in Storks. Efforts were put into a million little moments instead of a few big ones, and the payoff is much larger...possibly too large. 

Painstaking efforts were put into making Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse look and move like a comic book. So this has to be made clear, those same painstaking efforts were put into making Mitchells look like a cross between a phone screen, that's opened to Instagram or Snapchat, and a lightly done anime. Filters and social media stickers are used a lot in this movie. It's not like it's just for fourth-wall breaking moments, but it's stitched right into the movie. Since so much of that is 2D, it really pops, sometimes more than the computer-animated components. That's what Spider-Verse had going for it but a bit more scaled back.

This is on top of the break-neck speed Sony Animation has become known for, so the results can be quite taxing to the eyes, especially during the action-packed climax. At nearly two hours, cutting ten or twenty minutes would've helped with late-stage burnout, but in a movie like this there's no telling what could've been incidentally lost.  

Re-watching the movie for this review, and pausing let the details really sink in, like a lot of the movies that inspire Katie being part of the K Collection. I'd like to think that it's personally made for her, or it's this universe's version of the Criterion Collection, similar to how they also have a store named Good Get. Sony itself seems to lack a knockoff when it comes to their headphones and cameras, of course. 

Sony Product Placement 1Sony Product Placement 2
Creativity and a great story in exchange for some bill-paying product placement can be a pretty fair trade | Copyright 2021 Sony & Netflix

This is an odd way to recommend the movie, but I think one of the best ways to test it out is to watch the first ten minutes or so, and if the visuals are straining, consider turning your screen off and just listening to it with the movie's audio-description settings for the blind. If the viewing experience is too nontraditional, try reading the script because the story is very well-written. While better together, every element of the movie stands on its own. 

One last thing, seriously, say please and thank you to your Alexas/Siris/Cortanas. It sounds ridiculous, but it reinforces our P&Qs, and it's a good way to teach manners and basic behaviors to children. The fact that that never happens in this movie, even after meeting good machines, is a major knock against the movie and a weird oversight. It's a disconnect in the movie formerly titled Connected.

4/5

Note: I highly recommend listening to Mike Rianda's interview with the Next Best Picture's Matt Neglia. What struck me is when Rianda talked about how the visual style directly relates to Katie's filmmaking style. Without spoiling the interview, stuff like that adds a lot both to the movie itself, its development, and what we can expect from Rianda and, possibly, Rowe next. NBP's review of the movie can be found here. I really look up to these guys, and they put Promising Young Woman on my radar like a year before it even came out, so this is the least I can do as a fan who wanted to return that favor. CinemaWins did a fantastic video on the movie, too.

Finally, if you are like Katie, please look into film school and the free filmmaking resources available to you. Even if you want to teach yourself, a school's curriculum can provide a helpful learning path. Katie taught herself Photoshop, and you can learn free programs like Gimp (free Photoshop), Openshot (video editing) and Blender (animation and video editing). Finding the right beginner tutorial or starting point is tough because everyone learns differently, but once you find it, you'll pick these tools up in no time. 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Coming 2 America (2021) [Short Review]

That was a lot of fun! It's amazing seeing Eddie Murphy, along with the rest of the cast, firing on all cylinders. Dolemite is My Name quickly shot up the watchlist because of him. The plot in this movie is a little too standard, but everyone happily does everything they can to elevate it.

For people around my age and younger, you "can" go into Coming 2 America without seeing the first one, but are you really going to dismiss a classic? Honestly, that's probably why I liked it so much. I remember just enough that I recalled a few jokes but wasn't anywhere close to disappointed with this satisfying sequel. 

Coming 2 America Promo Poster
Coming 2 America Promo Poster | Property of Amazon and Paramount/ViacomCBS

Also, the soundtrack is now on my phone and will be part of my long drive to Syracuse tomorrow to get my 2nd vaccine shot. The main thing I'll be listening to is the Norse Mythology audiobook by Neil Gaiman.

3/5
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Monday, March 8, 2021

Lava (2021)

In Lava, "Deborah, a lonely tattoo artist, endeavors to save herself and her town from an alien invasion. The aliens come in the form of large cats, cackling witches, and never-ending snakes; what's more, these dangerous invaders have harnessed the media as a means to hypnotize humanity into submission. Deborah must learn to resist their control and convince others to do the same" (Rock Salt Releasing). The movie is directed by Ayar Blasco, it is co-written by Ayar Blasco and Nicolas Britos, and it stars, among others, Janeane Garofalo and Cedric Williams. It is based on a comic by Salvador Sanz.

So, I had to dig a little into Lava to review it, which is something I try not to do. It's just one of those ones where it's hard to pull much out of it apart from the art style. So, let's start there. It's a very flat and simple style. The animation can be a little stiff, but movement is far from lifeless. Little touches, like the secondary motion of hair moving/reacting, give the feeling that as much care as possible was put into the animation and world, it just had to be allocated as best as possible. I really appreciated how this shined through in the background environments, and a few other places. A full-body blush of embarrassment isn't something you see in cartoons these days, so it's sweet to see something like that brought into contemporary adult animation. Along with some funny logos and titles, like Gain of Clones, that reminded me of the comic Sex Criminals, there were also WinRAR and VLC logos on a character's computer. The people who made this movie know and live the culture they are talking about, Generation X-ish geeks/nerds who are in their 20s-30s. Overall, they're very-well portrayed, but that really just comes out when the when the movie occasionally picks up steam. We'll get to that in a minute. 

Lava makes me less scared to get a tattoo, and that's an accomplishment. The sound design is a big part of that, and just shows that a lot of thought went into crafting a lot of what's on-screen, although the "why" of everything is something we'll get to.

Lava

Lucy Daughter of the Devil
The art style that Lava (Above) reminds me of is Lucy, Daughter of the Devil's (Below) | Above is Property of Warner Media. Below is Property of Rock Salt Releasing.

The look also is similar to a lot of classic flash videos. Where Lava falls short of even them though is in the lip syncing, but that's probably because it was re-dubbed in English. It just looks a little too exaggerated when lines don't match up, but that also positively lends itself to the ridiculous feel of the film.

At under 75 minutes, this should feel like a quick watch, but it wasn't. Lava, unfortunately, flows about as slowly as the real thing typically does. There seems to be two big problems with Lava. First, character interactions and relationships rarely have a lot of weight to them. Second, the film's editing is incredibly dry and static. The best scene in the movie is one where all cards are on the table and we know where Deborah (Garofalo), her roommate Nadia, and Samuel, who's into Deborah, are in relation to each other, as far as who is/isn't interested in whom. I think it stood out because it was more drawn out than most of the quick chats in the movie. It leads to something great later in the movie, where Deborah and Nadia's relationship grows. The movie has a solid LGTB+ moment, but how people react to them explicitly highlighting the moment may annoy some people. Lava's editing in between sequences is to cut to black and just stop for a second. Once or twice music bridged the gap, but it just felt so lacking that it had to be brought up. That's, apparently, a very tricky cut to pull off right. Luckily, there are some things about the movie that are nailed incredibly.

With that solid grasp of, as mentioned, "Generation X-ish geeks/nerds who are in their 20s-30s" comes a solid grasp of the crap they put up with. The takes some solid jabs at the business side of the entertainment industry, and it's through more than a tattoo of Mickey Deborah does for a client. Employee burnout is shown and how various types of studios and production studios can wreck someone's creativity is shown too. Knowing when to walk away from that kind of environment is a rough analogy, or metaphor(?),  that can be pulled out of Lava, but it's rough because it's also walking away from a probable apocalypse. It doesn't work when trying to apply the message to something like current politics, but the relatively small-scale of Lava doesn't make that a lasting issue. All-in-all, it's incredibly rough, but with it's choice moments. For every silent cut to black, there's an interesting tattoo scene or blink-or-you'll-miss-it reference. 

3.25/5

It's certainly not for everyone, but people who love this style, or at least grew up around it, will find something to enjoy. That's actually a similar conclusion I arrived to with a movie called Unicorn Store, but its feel was more 2000s to mid 2010s quirky/indie. Just wanted to throw that comparion out there because the return to simplicity, in any and all aspects right now, is a welcome one. It's a knock against the Lava to say try to view it in chunks, but it may warm a few extra people up to it. And try the comic, too. I haven't yet, but this really feels like it plays a lot better as a book. 

A screener of this movie was provided to me by TriCoast and Rock Salt Releasing. Original reports of Rock Salt picking up the movie come from Variety. I was not compensated for this review. 

Lava Promo Poster
Promotional Poster | Property of Rock Salt Releasing 
Rock Salt Releasing will release Lava onto various digital streaming platforms for pre-sale on 2/22 and on 3/15/2021 (Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, Google Play, DirecTV, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, FANDANGO) in both English & Spanish.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Malcolm & Marie (2021)

This film is an acute study of...Malcolm and Marie, and from there it branches out to cover the bases of relationships, film criticism, filmmaking, the "woke" versions of film criticism and filmmaking, and everything under the sun. It would be exhausting to write about this kind of movie "properly," according to Malcolm, but it was very interesting to watch...even if watching itself is exhausting. So the best way I can write about it is probably in a disjointed fashion. The synopsis, as always, is still a strong start.

Malcolm and Marie

The title characters, played by John David Washington and Zendaya | Copyright 2021 Netflix

Direct from Netflix's menu of endless browsing, "As a filmmaker (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home from his movie premiere, smoldering tensions and painful relations push them toward a romantic reckoning." It is written and directed by Sam Levinson, and he is also behind the HBO show Euphoria, which also stars Zendaya, and the movie Assassination Nation. I'm probably never going to do a full write up of Euphoria, so let's give it a few words here, since I already promised something disjointed. 

Euphoria is about high schoolers navigating their everyday life. Everything is a little bit heightened and exaggerated, but it comes from a very real place of millennials and younger struggling in a world designed to disenfranchise and drive them to vices. The best way to make extreme vices palatable, especially when their part of a self-destructive path, is to make the visuals and colors pop. It gave Euphoria a beauty and identity that drew people in to the little details of the characters' lives, while the big picture was sometimes given through narration. Malcolm & Marie is in black and white, and it makes a lot of sense, in the context of the show, because it's all about slowly discovering the intricacies of these two characters...That's just me reading into things though, and we'll get back to that.

John David Washington's performance is pretty great, as he makes an insufferable, and at times cruel and downright abusive, character fun to watch. It helps that the opening of the movie is him dancing, singing, and doing everything he can to set himself apart from his father. His energy is positively infectious. Unfortunately, it's not always channeled well, but that's not John David Washington's fault. When Malcolm is presenting some of his arguments about film criticism to Marie, the ratcheting up to eleven makes him come off like a cartoon character. This is also because Levinson writes him as some kind of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" libertarian. He spouts occasional crap about hard work, not realizing that his work would be a lot easier, and possibly better, if he collaborated with people more. I think a conversation of different men comparing themselves to Malcolm could be incredibly eye-opening. With all that said, Malcolm's commitment to his point-of-view and learning more about what makes him tick made his insufferable and cruel moments, and his narcissistic personality, and the overall movie, more engaging, personally.

Zendaya gives one of the best performances of the year. It pains me to say that as someone who was absolutely floored by Promising Young Woman and Carey Mulligan. Speaking of which, to hear more about that movie and Mulligan, please check out the site Next Best Picture. They did a great podcast episode on it...I was too intimidated by the movie to review it, but it's one of my favorites of the year.

Back to this, Zendaya had a more "showy" performance and role, but there are plenty of smaller moments in it that stood out, too. It's in the ways she tilts her head and has to take on the form of a statuesque goddess for Marie to keep, or stop, wrapping Malcolm up in knots throughout the night. It's in the toe tapping to Dionne Warwick's "Get Rid of Him," which is just one of a few great music cues. She's also very funny. Her imaginary trajectory of her boyfriend's career paints a real picture of how people like me consume and talk about media, for better and worse. There's a lot of moments like that from both of them, but at least she's tongue-in-cheek about it instead of taking the stick-up-ass approach.

Between the two, Levinson is even-handed enough with everything he's trying to say, which is pretty much a stream of consciousness put onscreen...and on stream, since it's Netflix. And it's mostly just to get people talking in general, and I like that approach...or I miss talking to people about this stuff in-person. Either way works. As good as time as any to mention this was made, start to finish, during the pandemic.

So, the problem with reading into things is it's not how a movie is supposed to be reviewed, maybe? At least according to Malcolm, context and different directions the filmmaker could've gone with aren't supposed to be brought up, just what is presented should be. I haven't looked into it yet, but the movie is getting a lot of heat for a pretentious view of critics. Levinson, luckily, may not share these views. He said in an interview with Landmark Theatres that it's about presenting all sides of a subject or argument through Malcolm and Marie. If he keeps in mind that he can't control the discourse after the movie is out, then we're good.

He also said black and white was chosen because a lot of the visual references he and his cinematographer, Marcell Rév, used were from black and white movies, but "by the time black actors got the opportunity to be leads in film, black and white had sort of fallen out of fashion," and this was a way to immortalize these characters in a piece of that era, even if the movie takes place around now.  

The third major player in the movie, apart from Levinson, would be the film's composer Labrinth. His score is very jazzy and fits this 40s-era look incredibly well. Also, it makes the romance, and just general connection, between the two characters feel earned, in the moments where it plays. 

A few little touches that add to the look and sound are that it was shot on 35mm film and has the full set of credits at the beginning of the movie. There's so much about it that screams classic, and I just love that. No surprise here if Netflix sent screeners of this and Mank as a double-feature for critics and award voters. 

4/5 but certainly not for everyone Still, I especially hope those guys share their thoughts on the film.

Finally, three little things are what put it over 3.5 for me. The first, was a little reference to BlacKkKlansman that extends to Sorry to Bother You (reviewed here). The second is this idea, does having a character you can point to as going through the same struggles as you rob you of your story? Is there a point where deep, personal relatability becomes a problem? The last was this line, "Thank you for being a drug addict. Thank you for being clean." The way it was said, that's the sign of a better world, and it's just one of a million little things people may get out of this movie. So, definitely write your own review of this one because we're all going to have to work together to touch on everything in it.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

White Lie (2021)

White Lie is about a student who fakes a cancer diagnosis for the attention and financial gain, and then struggles to keep up with that lie. It stars, among others, Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan, Thomas Olajide, Connor Jessup, and Sharon Lewis. It is written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, and Thomas also acted as cinematographer. The music is by Lev Lewis, and that's as good a place as any to start things. 

After an opening of Katie Arenson (Rohl) shaving her head and giving the audience an idea of what this movie might be, the music kicks things off with a quick pace that mostly confirms it. That pace is accompanied by the opening credits and Katie hugging students, accepting donations, and living the lie with ease and grace. Within that all that though, there are this drum beat and guitar riff hinting at the pressure of maintaining everything. That, maintaining everything, and Katie's character is where the movie could fall apart at a moment's notice, but it remarkably doesn't. 

White Lie's greatest strength, aside from an exceptional cast, is in its script. Lewis and Thomas have thought of every aspect of what goes into not just performing fraud like this, but also how many different parties it can involve, all the costs, the different avenues it can take, and most importantly the best way to confront someone who's faking an illness and how someone's who's faking can deflect that confrontation. So, an as example, Katie has a medical resident, Dr. Jabari Jordan (Olajide)  help her forge medical records from the ground up, so a complete medical history starting from her diagnosis is necessary. In most movies, this stops at "what kind of cancer do you have?" White Lie keeps this moment going, "what type of melanoma do you have?" And they use someone else's actual records that can match up with the chemotherapy regimen she told people she had. 

Still from White Lie
Crowdfunding and cash donations each play a significant role in maintaining the illusion | Property of Rock Salt Releasing

Lewis and Thomas were interviewed by Karen Benardello at the Toronto International Film Festival during the film's release. They said "When you start doing research into people who fake cancer, a lot of the stories are pretty carbon copy...We did do a lot of research with lawyers and doctors, to help make the story feel real..." Even with a clear roadmap, it's not an easy thing to depict in a movie, especially one that doesn't show that roadmap ahead of time and has the audience as in-the-moment as the main character. 

Keeping scenes going a little longer than expected and keeping everything in the moment are a very naturalistic approach to filmmaking and letting this story unfold, and that's what really stuck with me during the movie. An example of this would be how someone who doubts the story comes into play. It's the big third act bombshell in front of a crowd or even a couple people. It's a Facebook post on the fundraiser/event page. As true to life as it gets, with all the right follow-through to a plot like that.  A result of this is there's so much we don't know because the filmmakers don't waste their runtime or want to force exposition dumps on us or their actors. This leads to some notable moments like when Katie's father, Doug (Martin Donovan), gets the name of Katie's partner, Jennifer (Amber Anderson), wrong and is quickly corrected. It may have been intentional, it may have been something that just worked out on-screen, but either way it works and fits this tone. There's only one moment when the movie isn't like this, and it's more noticeable than it would be in any other film. It's just one cut during a "pivotal reveal." It seems like a better take just had to be used, but if the camera was still rolling, maybe that didn't have to be the case? It was just oddly jarring because of everything onscreen before and since. 

Jennifer (Amber Anderson) | Property of Rock Salt Releasing

Finally, I want to talk about the character of Katie herself. She is where it's easy to step away from the technical aspects of the movie and get into something more. It seems like the filmmakers researched people as thoroughly as the intricacies of their actions. At least up to a point, I didn't not feel forced to judge her, and that's a surprising feeling others may encounter, too. There's sympathy somewhere in her story, and it is what sets the movie apart from anything else like it, although it's possible, based on a different interview "no one had made a film about faking cancer for personal gain." That's as far as they know. So that's another reason why research was key. Something everyone involved really seemed to nail is how people react to this pressure. Katie is able to deflect, project, and think fast, but in the end there's are still some signs, still some missteps. It was something I heard on a podcast. Now please, please take this with a grain of salt because everyone is different, and this is highly subjective. It just happens to fit this piece of fiction well. When accused, those who are telling the truth get angry, and the liars will cry and double down with these "convincing statements." She's not a master manipulator, she just is lucky that a lot of people need to hold on to what they believe. It's all incredibly well shown through Rohl, as she portrays confidence, that in this situation hints at someone mentally and/or emotionally unbalanced. It's a really tough role to pull off, especially with the genuine warmth trapped behind the lie.  

So, with all that said, this is an incredibly engaging film. Please give it a shot. 
 
4/5

A screener of this movie was provided to me by TriCoast and Rock Salt Releasing. I was not compensated for this review. 

White Lie will be available for pre-order on 12/20 and Rock Salt Releasing will release it on various digital streaming platforms on 1/5/2021 (DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango & Google Play).
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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Harley Quinn: Season 2 (2020)

One complaint I had about the first season of Harley Quinn is that "some episode endings seemed a little rushed so that they could save pieces of an arc for the rest of the season." With the show established that's no longer an issue, and it's able to go into the second season expanding on what it does best. Story arcs are written tighter, many characters from the year before are given additional depth, some new ones are given fantastic introductions, and the jokes just keep coming. Unfortunately, some characters feel sidelined at best, and at worst others are just painfully underwritten. The action and animation is still largely the same and feels like it's on the lower-end, but that's not a real problem. It's a mixed bag, if you dig through it too much, but odds are you're going to really like what you see. 

This season is cleanly divided into a couple neat stories. There's Harley (Kayley Cuoco) taking control of a divided Gotham, one villain-controlled territory at a time, and then there's the fallout from the volatile shifts in power. The first part is pretty clear roadmap to get people back into the swing of things, as each villain takedown gets an episode. Personally, I really needed this since binging shows can leave the details of the previous season a little fuzzy. A season recap, even as a bonus extra on the show page, would've been even better, but we're all just counting our blessings this year.

Harley Quinn Season 2 Promo Image
Harley's Progress (Season 2 Promo Image) | Copyright 2020 Warner Media

Old characters are fleshed out, new ones get proper intros, and the show is able to experiment even more with just about everyone. It's not everyday that Nora Fries (Rachel Dratch) is given the opportunity to have character outside of her husband (Alfred Molina), let alone...move or talk. In fact, the "additional story," in Arkham Knight may be the only other example. Other great examples include Christopher Meloni's Jim Gordon. As much as I loved him last season "flipping the Bat Signal on-and-off [for emotional support]," seeing him actually get some of that support through his daughter (Brianna Cuoco, Kayley's sister) was even better. He even cleans himself up, albeit too quickly, "in a montage where we skip past the hard parts of beating an alcohol addiction." Taking a little more time with Jim's journey would've been great, but still, it honestly was unexpected either way, since characters outside of the main ensemble are not treated seriously all that much in the first place. It may be growth from the creators, and it holds a lot of promise of things to come. I still believe this particular Gordon and Batman (Diedrich Bader) should have more time to shine, but Harley Quinn isn't the place for it. Some characters have a long way to go, in this regard. This version of Two Face (Andy Daly) is a serious letdown, thanks to shallow characterization in a mostly filler episode. 

This is my main black mark on the season. "All the Best Inmates Have Daddy Issues" is midway through the season, and it's about Harley's time in Arkham as a psychiatrist, and it does something I had a problem with in Solo: A Star Wars Story. "Some of these references unnecessarily setup the original trilogy, or foreshadow it in a way that's more like fortune-telling." And with characters many know very well already from other media, it just doesn't feel like it's doing anything really new with them. All these interpretations may have just backed the writers into a corner, and that's understandable, but in that case a less-is-more approach would've done the trick. Joker, who is very well-crafted by Alan Tudyk, asks "You wanna know how I got these emotional scars?" It'll make people either chuckle or groan, but at least it's just one line. This unscarred Harvey Dent constantly refers to the citizens of Gotham as voters, and it gets old quick. Making him one dimensional is one thing, but at least give him some kind of creativity to go along with it. It's like that acid also kicked the vocabulary section of his brain into action, too. On the bright side, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) revealing why she thinks so little of humanity does a lot for her as a character and propels her, Harley, and the show to a fantastic rest of the season. 

The action and animation could still use a touchup, and that might've actually happened in the last couple episodes. Starting out though, there's just stupid little errors I noticed, like someone drinking something, but then the same amount is in the glass in the next shot. Toward the end though, there are some fun arena-type fights. The GCPD taking on Darkseid's (Michael Ironside) parademons, for this show, is a matchup made in heaven. The highlight, however, has to be Batman getting his own version of Tony Stark's Extremis armor, complete with his own J.A.R.V.I. S-like companion. First, it gives Alfred (Tom Hollander...so, so close) a much-needed break from Bruce's shenanigans. Second, it leads to a fight with Bane (James Adomian) and some thugs that includes flight and lightning punches, and those are always great things. Still, even if that flash was throughout the season, it wouldn't compete with the show's humor. 

Harley and Ivy looking like regular people
Remember, they both had to put a ton of makeup on to achieve this look. It's a great detail | Copyright 2020 Warner Media

For last season, I said "the jokes had a certain South Park quality to them, and that's not just due to the MA rating of the series. It's in the little things, too." That actually might just be strong sitcom humor in general, since I ran across Josh Weinstein's study of Simpsons jokes, recently. Whatever the case, for me, that off-the-cuff clean humor feels like Harley's secret weapon. Stuff like Bane going for one of the open cushy office chairs, now that other villains are incapacitated, and then being shut down for "honorary purposes" and forced to sit on a crappy folding chair. Last time, I said it was just a good way to break up the more mature material. This time, with that joke sowing the seeds of Bane's rivalry with other villains, I'm calling it character-building. This quickly found its identity. With it knowing exactly what it is, and a confirmation of a third season, it feels like it can run straight ahead into what's next. There's just some tiny bumps along the way to smooth out. 

So, there's a lot that's not being covered in this review for plot reasons. Look forward to the shakeups that'll be explored further in the future.  Instead of that, and because the basic circumstances leading to this review. There's just a couple little things to add as a wrap-up. This character, and her associates, was one of the major pieces of fiction I kept coming back to during this horrible fucking year. There's three other posts here (1, also linked above) (2) (3), plus a little something just two paragraphs down. Maybe it's because of the (almost) guaranteed humor, because Birds of Prey might've been the last thing I saw in an (indoor) theatre, or because that movie helped me grow as a hobbyist video editor? It could be a combo of these things, but whatever the case, she and her cronies helped a lot. Knowing that this review is how I may have wanted to cap off 2020 was something to hold onto through quarantine and recovering from fucking heart surgery (valve replacement in March). 

So, with all that said, I'm giving this season a 4/5.

Similar to last time, HBO Max may still be doing some kind of free trial or starting discount to help promote Wonder Woman 1984. So if you can watch the season, and Zendaya's show Euphoria because I just want to throw that out there, without a major financial commitment, definitely go for it. Finally, there's one last thing. Doing a full write up on it is a little tough because I have trouble smoothly jumping back and forth between all these interpretations of the characters sometimes, and reconciling them with each other, but if you love the character in general, please check out the graphic novel Harleen by Stjepan Sejic. This is a version of Dr. Quinzel, emphasis on doctor, and the clown you've probably never seen before, and the slow burn approach to Harley's transformation builds upon the wonderful introduction from character creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Hearing Harley in your head without the resonance of Cuoco, Strong, Sorkin, or Robbie may not sound "right," but I promise you the voice Sejic gives her is a long time in coming, and it doesn't take away from those wonderful portrayals in the slightest.

Harleen Graphic Novel
Harleen Cover | Copyright 2019-2020 Warner Media

And give Sejic's other work a shot too, but just keep in mind it's usually made with a mature audience in mind, and discretion is advised. 

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Young Adult (2011)


The first time I watched Young Adult, the ending was so frustrating that I went back to the box office to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a palate cleanser. While taking in a second show certainly wasn't a mistake, discounting more than Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt's phenomenal performances and the careful depiction of a disorder called Trichotillomania in Young Adult was.

It's better if this starts with what Trichotillomania (Trich) is because it's what prompted this review. So, Trich is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. Other BFRBs include skin picking (Dermatillomania), nail biting (Onychophagia), lip and cheek biting, compulsive nose picking, compulsive hair cutting and shaving (Trichotemnomania), and hair eating (Trichophagia), among others. It's often triggered, as depicted in this movie, by stress or anxiety, but some people with Trich pull without realizing they're doing it. It's believed that 2-3% of people have it, and a significant percentage of those people are women. How that affects Young Adult's main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is more prominent than I even remember, but it's still subtle. Trich is clearly something that she has, not who she is. I'll go more into that toward the end.

The movie's summary from Vudu is "Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a 37-year old former prom queen, and current writer of young adult novels, who returns home to relive her glory days and win back her now-married high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). When she finds her homecoming more challenging than expected, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), and both must face the harsh realities of growing up in this brilliant and bittersweet story." It is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diabolo Cody.

I'm not sure there's anything that can be added about Theron and Oswalt that hasn't already been said. Still, on rewatch, what did stick out to me is the moments Theron has of vulnerability and clearheadedness as Mavis. In a way that works and feels rewarding, those moments feel so different from the character we get to know. So, when they quickly vanish toward the end of the movie, you may want to shout at the screen or, like I did, reach for silver-screen-colored mouthwash. That didn't happen this time around, and I may know why.

Anti-hero led tv shows are huge now, and it's not just The Sopranos anymore. The best comparison I can make to Mavis is Bojack Horseman. The worst comparison is to other YA authors, so let's get that out of the way first. YA is a diverse genre full of more than high school drama and romance, and even if it wasn't, and these writers have to become part of that world, a lot of them still know how to "turn it off" when it comes to business and just interacting with people. This movie reminded me of a video (here) about Twilight's Stephanie Meyers, and how she is in fact an adult, treats fans and non-fans with respect, is the exact opposite of Fifty Shades of Grey's E.L James and Harry Potter's J.K Rowling in that regard, and should at the bare minimum be recognized for not being a narcissist. Mavis, especially as a ghostwriter of a declining series, falls into this mix on a sliding scale. While she's an adult, she tends to slip down as she struggles at times to maintain that role. She's the type that would stir the pot if Twitter had been as prolific in 2011 as it is now.

Back to the Bojack comparisons, whenever he tries to make big changes all at once, he backslides hard. Mavis is kind of the same way; a long week in her hometown isn't going to do much, if anything, as far making substantial changes. Plus, this isn't a Lifetime movie where the hometown is full of the nicest souls in the world. Mercury, Minnesota is just a regular, albeit fictitious, town. Which brings us to Buddy Slade, a regular guy in this regular town.

Patrick Wilson has gotten better with age and is sinking into more exciting roles, like Ocean Master in Aquaman. At the time though, he was taking these love interest roles that, to me, didn't seem right and needed an actor who was a little more eccentric in some way. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl in Watchmen is kind of in-between because it's about finding that spark again. Anyway, Wilson is a great fit as Buddy Slade, playing the stable husband and new father perfectly. And it's not like it's a boring role either. It's easy to imagine him getting his dad jokes ready for after the baby's first words. His wife even has the drum set and rimshot he needs. The only issue with Buddy is that he seems a little too civil to Mavis and allows her to take her plans for him a little too far. He doesn't lead her on whatsoever, but he brushes off her reminiscing and going into intimate recollections a little too easily and often. She may be the same person, but he's not, and there are things I've seen floating around social media now that make that topic perfect to bring up.

One small thing about Oswalt's character that gets better with age is how they handle his high school bullying since the U.S. is taking bullying much more seriously these days. Honestly, the whole movie gets better with age, much like Matt's home-brewed bourbon. This is still Oswalt's best performance. He said that he consulted with an acting coach and physical therapist for the role, and it shows in more than just how his character walks. Here's hoping he returns to more dramatic roles, or at least collaborations with Theron, Reitman, or Cody, soon.

The recent expression online is something like "if you knew me in high school, no you didn't." Mavis didn't grow up, but most people around her did, at least to some extent. Matt may make action figures as a hobby, but he also does bookkeeping and accounts payable work for a bar. Meanwhile, Mavis is an author who regularly blows off her publisher.

Actions like that, social media in general, and the concept of "adulting" make Young Adult perfect for now. Although it’s not exactly social media, Mavis is borrowing lines she overhears from people in stores and restaurants and parroting them as dialogue and thoughts for characters in her book. And as far as "adulting" goes, she lives like a recent college grad who's just scraping by, and honestly there's nothing wrong with that even for a 37-year-old. It happens, especially in the real world in 2020. The problem is that she doesn’t have the emotional maturity she should at that age.

As I mentioned, Mercury is a fictional town, but it's very far from an unbelievable one. It's a place that's just starting to get some big name restaurants and stores, and Reitman and Cody's way of showing that is similar to how Theron is shown. Some people don't change, they just appear to change. The same thing goes for some old, rural towns. The place doesn't look great, but it's not supposed to. So, strictly visually, the best visuals come from the awesome opening credits and seeing the inner workings of a cassette player. Anyway, getting a combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut isn't a real milestone (although it's a first lesson in corporate consolidation) if the school mascot is still a Native American and the school team is still called The Indians. Although, the movie does note that it's a step up from Injun, and that's true, and this was 2011. Baby steps can still be steps. And this movie was a big step forward when it comes to Trichotillomania.

Young Adult, Example of Trichotillomania from Mavis
Mavis (Charlize Theron), a fellow Tricher, and her parents, who are well-intentioned but uninformed on Trich | Copyright 2011 ViacomCBS 

When looking for other writers who covered that angle of the movie, there wasn't a lot, unfortunately, but something interesting did stick out. Mavis is the first character in a mainstream movie, that I've seen, to clearly have Trich. Based on what I’ve seen on forums, like here and here, some people in the BFRB community take issue with that because they think others will think only people like her have it or that you can't recover from it. It's very clear though, that she just pulls when stressed or anxious, and it's separate from who she is. It's also clear from the clip-on hairpieces and hairstyles she wears that people involved in that aspect of the movie either did their research or have first-hand experience (we have no way of knowing which).

The first time I saw her pull and the glimpse of a bald spot felt like real milestones on their own. I’m a man, so I saw myself represented by someone who doesn’t look like me, and the impact of that is unexplainable. The moment her parents (Jill Eikenberry and Richard Bekins) brought up her pulling really brought it home. This is the clip, and it is EXACTLY what so many uninformed parents, close friends, significant others, or even teachers (who are some of the worst triggers just, at best, because of the nature of school and test taking) have said to so many kids and others with Trich and other BFRBs. "You're not still pulling it are you?" and "it's just that your hair is so beautiful." That scene is brief, but just imagine it over eighteen years, or a lifetime. Even people, usually men, who don't mind being bald, hear it sometimes, and they just want the constant badgering, guilt, and shame to stop. Add wanting to feel beautiful and being a woman on top of that, and it's unimaginable. So for a better perspective on that, I have some recommendations to share.

My friend Abby Andrew has a YouTube channel where she talks about, among other things, alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. She's done some videos about how bald women are represented in popular media. Please check her stuff out, too. For more information on BFRBs, please go to The TLC Foundation for BFRBs and The Canadian BFRB Support Network. For Trichotillomania specifically, there are a lot of YouTubers out there now who are talking about it openly, and they're just a quick search away. There is also a wonderful documentary called Trichster on Amazon Prime and VHX. It is directed by Jillian Corsie and features one of the more prominent YouTubers with Trich, Rebecca Brown.

As for Young Adult itself, 5/5! Even someone who's not approaching the movie that personally can find a lot to appreciate about it.

Note: This review was edited by Laura A. Barton of the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN).








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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Devil All The Time (2020) [Short Review]

The Devil All The Time is by Antonio and Paulo Campos, and IMDB’s summary of it is “Sinister characters converge around a young man (Tom Holland) devoted time protecting those he lives in a postwar backwoods town teeming with corruption and brutality.”

That’s really just one of several stories being told, actually. It’s great that everyone gets a complete follow-through, but if I was to write a headline for a (longer) review it’d be like “Choose your own adventure, and stick with your favorite.” This movie may have better presented as a miniseries. Every story and character reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it still doesn't feel like enough either. 

I liked the multifaceted takes on religion, good, bad, and ugly. The bad has a lot of dimensions, as we have people who are just misguided by their strong faith, and they’re much more than simply using God to fulfill acts of greed and lust. Some of that is present too, but seeing them all together keeps the movie’s voice at least somewhat new. That, along with the setting, gave me a There Will Be Blood vibe, in a good way. It probably helps that There Will Be Blood is actually (finally!) a recent watch.

The cast was very good. Robert Pattinson, of course, stood out. Sebastian Stan did too. Tom Holland was great, but Marvel is just really hard to shake off. This doesn’t help, but he’ll be fantastic in an “Alien Costume” adaptation, when the time comes. The biggest surprise is Harry Melling (Dudley in Harry Potter) as one of the preachers. His energy, similar to Pattinson’s in this, is absolutely infectious.

Since some of us are starved for the theatre experience, that definitely is influencing things. I put this on without hesitation because I just turned in my laptop for repairs. This is being typed out on a goddamn phone. Still, The Devil All The Time will keep audiences engrossed in its story, as it seamlessly jumps back and forth in time, and I will be looking forward to the next project from The Campos.

3.75/5, and at least 4 if it was a miniseries.

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Addams Family (2019)

When I reviewed Storks I said, "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation." To add to that, almost no one gets joke-a-second animation like MGM. Sony's Pictures Animation would be one of the other studios that gets this, since it animated Storks for WB, and they do the Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies from start to finish. While the stretchiness and exaggerated expressions of those characters aren't in this, the spirit of the jokes, and movie as a whole, is a mix of 90s Addams Family and cartoons like Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood.

The movie's plot is as standard as it gets, but it was used to deliver some great humor, so let's get into it. Summarized by IMDB, "The eccentrically macabre family moves to a bland suburb where Wednesday Addams' (Chloë Grace Moretz) friendship with the [normal] daughter (Elsie Fisher) of a hostile and conformist [HGTV-like personality (Allison Janney)] exacerbates conflict between [Wednesday and her mother Morticia (Charlize Theron)." Also, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) is preparing Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) for his rite of passage ceremony, The Mazurka, which will be attended by their extended family. So, of course, it's parents letting kids be themselves and kids compromising. It's basic stuff. This plot, luckily, is elevated by a screenplay from Matt Lieberman, and Sausage Party directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, who plays Lurch as well. 

Speaking of Sausage Party, their animation team at Nitrogen Studios was notably exploited. Nitrogen was acquired by Cinesite, and Cinesite's the credited animation studio on this project, so hopefully, the acquisition led to a change in corporate culture and better working conditions. What is clear is that the animation in The Addams Family is a lot more polished, even if there's a step backward in some design choices. The final shots in Sausage Party didn't look final but more like lighting and rendering were still being tested. It's not bad by any means, but there's certain student film feel to it that is just off the mark from the Pixar aesthetic they wanted. 

The Addams Family is brighter and prettier for the most part, but also that "bland suburb" lives up to its name and The Mazurka doesn't look as much fun as The Mamushka of the 90s. So, the townspeople look like stock characters from an Illumination movie. No actual offense intended toward Illumination's visuals, they're okay. It's just that creepiness and kookiness that Cinesite developed for the main characters, by very faithfully capturing how they've looked in comic strips, should've extended to the background characters a little bit. It would've made up for the suburbia plot being something of a rehash of the first Hotel Transylvania. A lot of effort did go into these visuals, but that $24m budget possibly stopped them from going all the way with it. Another possible example of this limitation is with the Mazurka itself. It has a spotlight lighting style like the big circus number in Madagascar 3, but it's not nearly as big as that, partly for story reasons, and it feels like a mismatch. Seeing more of the spectators throughout the whole thing may have helped. Mazurka to Mamushka, by the way, is going to be the only real point of direct comparison because it is the one place where this update should have been superior. 

Speaking of direct comparisons, all characters are brought to life well by the cast, but there's a surprising few who are worth mentioning: Pugsley, Grandmama (Bette Midler), Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), and Fester (Nick Kroll). Short and sweet, Pugsley and Grandmama are given a lot of personality that I haven't seen before in past interpretations, and it really gave the movie a reason to...well...exist. Janney has played a character like Needler before, as the kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who, but she's a lot less insufferable this time around. So, that's an improvement. I expected the worst from Kroll's Fester because Kroll has, with exceptions, a disgusting and crass filmography, but he was pretty restrained in this and the character had some great jokes. Gomez, Morticia, and Wednesday are as perfectly cast and played as expected, of course.

Finally, to wrap things up, I'm just going to pick out a couple of jokes that I liked. The opposite day dialogue and stuff that's been part of Addams Family can be confusing and hit-or-miss, and it is in this movie too, but the delight of newlywed Gomez and Morticia saying "we hit something" after crashing into Lurch with their car set a solid tone for the remaining eighty-ish minutes of movie left. Most of the humor won't be dated, except for the It joke in the trailer, and those that are still may bring a chuckle, like a devil character lighting his head on fire before proclaiming that the Mazurka is "gonna be lit." The Mazurka wasn't as lit as I wanted it to be, but the entire movie was more fun than I thought it would be. 

3.5/5 

By default, that makes the 90s version and the sequel at least 4/5

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Filth (2013)

I want to say that a while ago I saw a big article, or message board post, about if it's okay to write a protagonist who doesn't change. The most immediate thought that works was that as long as the surrounding characters do change, go for it. There's a version of Filth that's an improvement if it followed this, in a way similar to how Bojack Horseman characters evolve, or don't, over the series. An ensemble makes a movie like Filth, and the cast is there, but the screen-time isn't.

Filth, from the movie's official site, is about "Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a scheming, manipulative, misanthropic man who spends his time indulging in drugs, alcohol, sexually abusive relationships, and 'the games' – [manipulating] his coworkers and friends. While working on the murder case of a Japanese student, he starts coming unhinged, slowly losing his grip on reality and suffering from a series of increasingly severe hallucinations as he desperately tries to hold his life together." It is written and directed by Jon S. Baird, based on the Irvine Welsh novel. 

In my Babysitter review, I said that I'm pretty easy and a movie hitting hard personally starts it out at like 5/5, and a cover of Creep, in this case by Clint Mansell, definitely qualifies as hard-hitting. That and Jim Broadbent's performance as Robertson's psychiatrist, Verme Rossi, are what's been rattling around in my head since the first viewing of Filth years ago. Also, that cover dates the first viewing as after 2014, while attending New Paltz, learning to dance, and discovering many versions of Creep. So, with all those memories and warm feelings, it's a shame to have to knock the movie down a few notches. 

The best place to start with this one is the easy complaints. Watching this with captioning is advised because the Scottish accents can be hard to understand, and the dialogue didn't sound that crisp-and-clear in general. You still know what's going on but could miss some little details. During a trip Bruce takes to Germany, Baird and cinematographer Matthew Jensen switch to a handheld camera, and it doesn't make a big difference to the sequence, so it's slightly distracting. The use of 99 Luftballons and Sandstorm is great though. 

The larger issue is best explained during a scene where Robertson is finally called out on his crap by fellow officer Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots). McAvoy's stellar performance is even better when his character can't simply steamroll over another. Something clicked, for me, when she gets him to break down for a moment. It's hard to nail down why, but it might be because of how sick "'the games'" he plays are against mostly innocent co-workers. From an acting standpoint, where going from a whole movie of McAvoy showing his range as the Anti-Xavier to revealing further layers of this character in just a couple moments. Anyway, if the movie was more about screwing over the people who murdered that exchange student, maybe that would improve things? I'm honestly not sure and will be looking into other takes on this movie because that uncertainty is throwing me off more than expected. Another possible reason might be that she seems like the best-developed side-character in Filth, so that's worth investigating and digging through other write-ups and reviews of the movie. 

The murder itself, on the bright side, does show Baird's great strength when it comes to style and expressing a love of Stanley Kubrick. This scene happens in a tunnel and looks similar to A Clockwork Orange's opening. Robertson's boss, Detective Inspector Bob Toal (John Sessions) has a 2001 poster in his office, and further influences and references are dying to be discovered. One possible example may be the score by Clint Mansell because at least one part of it sounded like The Sex Pistols. Deeper than that though Kubrick and Baird are looking at fairly dark and degrading characters who don't adapt to change well. At least Robertson occasionally better recognizes that need to change than Clockwork's Alex did, although those are very different circumstances. Robertson's visit to his psychiatrist explains a lot of the great visuals Baird treats the audience to, like characters having animal heads for a split second. Most commonly, a pig head for Robertson himself. Oppression, to put it lightly, by police is a touchy subject in the U.S. Similar stories of abuse of power from officers, but from a slightly different angle may help some people having trouble wrapping their heads around how horrible aspects of the system are. The movie isn't really about that though, so it'll mostly just go as far as Robertson's personal depravity...and how you take in that depravity is probably going to be the main factor in grading Filth

3/5 but I know I would've given it a higher rating if it was that first view and the shock was fresh.

Whether they make it onto the site or not, Unbreakable, Split, and Glass are the natural followups. Split can just be watched on its own, but we've still got nothing but time for the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, my mom and I liked the M. Night Shyamalan-produced show Servant. It was our first time seeing Rupert Grint in anything post-Potter, and just like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, he's doing great work.
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