THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)

Directed by: Robert Eggers
Screenplay by: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers

In his best performance to date, Robert Pattinson plays a lighthouse apprentice assigned to a much older keeper played by Willem Dafoe. Set in Nova Scotia in the 1890’s, this film takes place in an isolated lighthouse. As a never-ending storm rages, the men fight to maintain their sanity.

By using time appropriate set and costume design, director Robert Eggers creates a film visually fitting the time it is placed. He also chose to use 35mm black and white film at 1.19:1 aspect, which is the presentation of film used at the time. This heightens the eeriness and increases the tension felt between our two players by focusing on the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in the small frame and therefore the lighthouse.

This film is beautifully shot by Jarin Blaschke (The Witch). He is highly skilled at what he does, almost to the point it doesn’t even feel like artistic choices being made. The choices all seep into the background and one is able to focus on film without being pulled out. The editing is also well done. There are times when one isn’t able to make sense of what they are seeing and it adds to the mania of the characters and the observed discomfort.

To top it off there are so many influences, the film feels a bit crowded and disjointed. From Roman mythology, classic power struggle and Jungian psychology, this film has numerous underlying themes that play off of and against one another. This makes for a difficult watch but is a very rich and worthwhile film for genre enthusiasts to tackle.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen THE LIGHTHOUSE? Well, what did you think? 

Netflix Original Movie: The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

Oh where do I begin with this one… frankly, I’m still a bit discombobulated by what I just watched last night. When I saw the trailer over a week ago, The Last Thing He Wanted looks like an intriguing political thriller, and the fact that acclaimed writer/director Dee Rees is at the helm made me even more intrigued to see it. After I watched the film, I found out it’s based on Joan Didion‘s Orange Prize-winning novel, the UK’s ‘s most prestigious literary prizes. Well, despite SO much going for it, plus a star-studded cast, this movie still doesn’t amount to much.

The film actually started off to a pretty riveting start. We see Anne Hathaway‘s Elena McMahon, a veteran DC-based reporter who’s covering El Salvador’s political crisis in the early 1980s with her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez). They barely escape with their lives as paramilitary troops storm the press office and started shooting. But as soon as she’s back in DC, her editor ends up sending her to cover Reagan’s re-election campaign. She took it begrudgingly, only after Alma encouraged her to take the assignment as a way for her to interrogate top ranking politicians. One of them is George Shultz (Julian Gamble), a then Secretary of State of the Reagan administration, whom she suspects is involved in weapons smuggling in Nicaragua.

During the campaign trail, she gets a call from her absentee father Dick (Willem Dafoe) who turns out to be ailing in the hospital. It’s when Dick asks her daughter to be his sub to complete a ‘deal of a lifetime,’ which involves flying to a mysterious location with a huge amount of mysterious cargo, that things start to really go awry. The place she lands turns out to be Nicaragua and finds out her Dementia-suffering father is actually an arms broker. Soon things spiral out of control and it’s clear Elena is out of her depth.

I have to say the plot is actually not that convoluted on paper, but somehow the muddled script and haphazard direction makes it feel that way. About a half hour in, I was already pretty frustrated with the movie… and growing even more irritated by Hathaway’s melodramatic acting. Initially, I sympathized with Elena and rather enjoyed seeing a plain-looking Hathaway in a role I don’t normally see her do. But her narration and [over]acting style here quickly becomes more and more aggravating. It also doesn’t help that the camera work with its random focus-shifting style makes me a bit dizzy. I don’t know if the DP is trying to add tension in the many scenes of people having conversations, but it’s quite distracting.

Then there’s Ben Affleck (who reportedly replaced Nic Cage) in a role of a mysterious ambassador. As a comic-book fan, obviously I get a slight kick out of seeing former Batman and Catwoman on screen, but soon I also get irritated by Afflecks’ lethargic acting style though his screen time is pretty minimal. Then suddenly there’s a scene that comes out of nowhere that takes me out of the movie entirely. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): What’s with the half-boob nudity?? Is Dee Rees trying to brazenly show a nude woman who’s a breast cancer survivor?? I think we got that point across from her expository dialog with her dad earlier on.  By that point, my hubby and I just looked at each other, completely aghast by this befuddled, incoherent mess that’s unfolding before us on screen. I have to say Affleck’s expression is basically the same throughout the movie, whether in bed with a naked woman or eating pie with his colleague.

Now, I’m not familiar with Didion’s work but I’m willing to bet the novel is far better than its screen adaptation. In fact, I still think it’s an intriguing story that when done properly, would be a potent international thriller. But the way it’s adapted here, screenplay written by Rees and Marco Villalobos, feels disjointed with an uneven pacing from start to finish. The central character Elena is nearly impossible to relate to as a human being, and her motives are incomprehensible. Her relationship with her father is an odd one that doesn’t ring true. Even the way the film tries to paint her as a caring mother who’s constantly on the phone with her young, unhappy daughter in a boarding school barely registers.

The supporting cast is pretty much wasted here, though not because of the actors’ performances. The one character I find intriguing is Perez’s Alma and Edi Gathegi‘s Jones, but both characters are so underwritten. There’s also Toby Jones appearing towards the end as an expat who runs the hotel Elena is staying at. Now, I like Toby Jones, he’s a great character actor, but their scene here feels so disconnected from the rest of the movie and goes on way too long. Speaking of the ending… well, as if the rest of the movie weren’t enough of a head-scratcher, the finale is one big WTF moment. To add insult to injury, the finale also feels like a ‘Minnesota goodbye’ where it just went on and on, complete with all kinds of slo-mo and over-drawn narration.

Now, I’ve described this film in the worst possible way and it pains me to do so. This is the third* feature by Dee Rees, and I know just how tough it is for a female director of color to get a job in Hollywood. I suppose every director should be allowed to have a misstep or two, heck, most male directors continue to get job after job even after making multiple misfires. In any case, I wouldn’t use this one as a film that define Rees’ work, but it’s truly unfortunate that this movie is as bad as it is given all the elements–story, setting, cast–seemingly in place.

* I incorrectly said this was Rees’ first feature in my original post, but she had done two features prior to this, Pariah and Mudbound.


Have you seen The Last Thing He Wanted? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – OLYMPIC DREAMS (2020)

After its World Premiere at the 2019 SXSW, Jeremy Teicher’s movie Olympic Dreams made its Minnesota premiere at TCFF. The movie stars Nick Kroll as Ezra, a dentist who’s come to volunteer his dentistry skills at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It also stars Alexi Pappas as Penelope, an American cross-country skier who has qualified to complete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games but doesn’t know any of the other athletes in the athlete village and also feels awkward around most of them anyways. Penelope is disappointed after a less than desirable finish in her competition and meets Ezra in the cafeteria of the athletes village and a friendship starts to develop between the athlete and dentist, who is more than ten years her elder.

Alexi Pappas + Nick Kroll

When Penelope tries to pursue Ezra as something more than a friend at first, Ezra rejects her pursuit, telling her that he has a sort-of girlfriend at home. This leads Penelope and Ezra down a rocky path, filled with spending some time apart, and Penelope meeting another athlete — real life free style skier Gus Kenworthy, who makes sure to quickly inform Penelope that he is not interested in being more than friends with her since he is gay. Gus helps Penelope and Ezra reconnect and they end up going outside the Olympic Village on a tour of the local culture, sights and restaurants of PyeongChang. But will they ever become anything more than friends? To find out, you’ll have to catch the movie from IFC Films when it come out early next year.

Pappas + Gus Kenworthy

Olympic Dreams is the first narrative film ever shot in a real Olympic Athlete Village — the entire film was shot on location during the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The director, Jeremy Teicher, also acted as the movie’s cinematographer, and sound recorder in addition to directing the movie, according to his website. It is charming, funny at time and beautifully-shot. It reminded me of why I love the Olympics and makes me think that anything is possible when attending the Olympic Games, including starting a physical relationship with someone. Gus Kenworthy shares in the movie (*unclear if this was real or not) that one of his buddies lost his virginity at the last Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I had a blast watching this movie and came out of it with a huge smile.

The movie was written by the trio of Alexi Pappas, Jeremy Teicher, and Nick Kroll; and mostly succeeded in guiding this gentle love story in the backdrop of one of the most well know world-wide sporting events we have in the history of sports.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen OLYMPIC DREAMS? Well, what did you think? 

Musings on 2020 Oscars – The Good, the bad + the WTF

Per tradition, I don’t really watch red carpet show, I just sort of let it play on my iPad while I was making dinner.

If I had to make one comment about fashion though, it’d have to be Natalie Portman‘s … what a statement she made with her outfit she wore to the Oscars!

Here are the snubbed female directors embroidered on Natalie Portman’s cape:

  • Scarfaria (Hustlers)
  • Wang (The Farewell)
  • Gerwig (Little Women)
  • Diop (Atlantics)
  • Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
  • Matsoukas (Queen & Slim)
  • Har’el (Honey Boy)
  • Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

Now, I’m glad I’ve properly sat down by the time the opening song/dance started with the Janelle Monáe celebrating some of 2019 biggest hits… many of which weren’t nominated (Midsommar, Dolemite Is My Name). Miss Monáe almost had a wardrobe malfunction of sort, but she recovered well and delivered a fantastic rousing performance!

First Oscar is oh-so-predictable… I have no issue w/ Brad Pitt but honestly, I don’t really get all the fuss about his performance in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood [shrug] I suppose Brad’s done plenty of great things as a producer and championing diverse storytelling, so I’m not totally upset by his win.

So here are some of the highlights…

THE GOOD

Both screenplay winners go to filmmakers of color. Woo wee!!! So happy for Bong Joon Ho and Taika Waititi!

///

 …

Now, I haven’t even seen 1917, but still that doesn’t mean I can’t be rooting for Roger Deakins! I saw this featurette and a few other BTS videos of 1917 and just amazed at that man’s creativity!


It’s fitting that these three amazing women introduced the first ever female composer to conduct the 42-piece orchestra… Eímear Noone, the Irish conductor and composer behind the World of Warcraft scores, made history tonight. Then THIS happens…

Now, I thought initially Joaquin Phoenix was hight and he’d go all Brando on us… but I thought towards the end his speech was quite moving… he also gave tribute to his late brother River who introduced him to acting.


THE BAD

I’m gonna keep it positive and not dwell too much on the bad, but I have to mention a couple…

  • I’m not gonna bother embedding the video in order to spare you the agony… honestly, I’m glad I haven’t seen FROZEN II but what is with that horrendous song?? And am I the only person who can’t stand Idina Menzel’s voice? I appreciate inviting many singers performing the song in different languages, but they all sound off-key to me.
  • What is with the horribly redundant and unnecessary introduction of every single nominees, on top of the 3-min montage!! I honestly would rather see winners getting an extra 30 seconds for their speech than dragging the winner announcement this way, ugh!

THE WTF

  • Ok we’re all swooning for Keanu Reeves… and rightly so, the dude is all kinds of awesome. But what’s up w/ Diane Keaton walking down memory lane?? A little tipsy perhaps?
  • Now this is a WTF but not necessarily in a bad way… apparently Eminem’s Lose Yourself won Oscar in Best Original Song in 2003. He didn’t attend the ceremony but now, 17 years later, he got to finally perform it! The reactions from some celebrities in the audience is pretty fun to watch too.

  • Now THIS is the best WTF ever!!! PARASITE made history!!!

And I LOVE the wonderfully real and moving speeches by its female producers giving tribute to the supporting Korean community. This film has been unanimously embraced by the world, and it absolutely deserved ALL the kudos!

What an ending to a largely uneventful Oscar telecast!! Such a refreshing surprise after the highly predictable acting winners. I was flabbergasted when I heard Jane Fonda said the word PARASITE… I’m convinced that 1917 would’ve won since it’s rare to see a Best Foreign Language winner also winning Best Picture!! But hey, if there was gonna be a big upset of the night, I’m glad it’s THIS one!

Go party, Bong Joon Ho and Parasite team!


SO what are your thoughts on Oscars 2020 winners (and losers for that matter)?

FlixChatter Review – BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

After Margot Robbie pitched the idea of a Harley Quinn film featuring the Birds of Prey team to Warner Bros. Studios in 2015, she spent three years developing the project under her production company. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, the Harley Quinn film would end up being called Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and co-produced by Robbie, who would reprise her role as Harley Quinn after the 2016 DC Extended Universe film Suicide Squad. Speaking of Suicide Squad – which ended up being the tenth highest-grossing film of 2016 – it received mixed to negative reviews (including this blog’s founder) from critics. What was generally praised from Suicide Squad was Robbie’s performance and her makeup as Harley Quinn. So, in Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn is the one who takes center stage and everyone hates after her break up with Joker, whom she affectionately calls “Mr. J.”

In Birds of Prey, Harley is still a mess after her breakup, but gets her own apartment, and goes out clubbing where she spends the night at a club owned by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis likes to masquerades as a bubbly nightclub owner, while he is actually a sadistic gangster with cruel tendencies and the movie’s main antagonist – Black Mask. While at the club, Harley meets Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a burlesque singer who works for Sionis. She ends up saving Harley’s life after some of Sionis’ thugs drag Harley outside and beat her up as a consequence of her drunken and disorderly behavior. Sionis sees Dinah’s skills as a fighter and appoints her as his new driver, after Harley broke the previous driver’s legs, back inside the club.

We spend some more time with Harley as she goes to adopt a hyena from an exotic pet shop and names Bruce (after Bruce Wayne/Batman). Harley also destroys Ace Chemicals, the place where she had pledged herself to Joker before truly becoming Harley Quinn. The movie turns to Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is investigating the aftermath of the Ace Chemicals explosion and is after Harley Quinn for previous criminal acts. Meanwhile, we are back with Dinah and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), a henchman of Sionis and deranged serial killer who carves a tally mark on his skin for each victim he claims. Sionis sends them to pick up a diamond which has very important information to him, but while they’re on their way back to the car, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young orphan and pickpocket steals the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it to keep it safe, before being arrested by the GCPD.

Harley is captured by Sionis’ men and brought to his club, while Zsasz and Dinah tell him about Cassandra’s status in prison. Sionis forces Harley to get Cassandra and the diamond so Harley disguises herself and breaks into the GCPD to retrieve the diamond thief. Sionis, not trusting Harley to bring Cassandra back puts out a large bounty for her head, and this bounty also attracts Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante known as the “crossbow killer” who calls herself Huntress. After Harley decides that she actually wants to save Cassandra, she finds out about the bounty Sionis put on her head. She plots revenge and calls him and agrees to turn the girl over in exchange for protection from the bounty. Cut to the chase, Sionis sends his henchmen after Harley Quinn and Cassandra, who are also joined by Dinah Lance, Renee Montoya and Huntress. The climactic finale involves a major fight scene and car chase by Harley Quinn and Sionis, only to end up at a nearby Gotham City a pier.

Spoiler Alert (highlight to read): Once Harley catches up with them, Cassandra puts a grenade in Roman’s suit, killing him. In the aftermath of destroying Roman’s empire, Montoya, Dinah and Helena start the Birds of Prey with the money from the accounts of the diamond while Harley and Cassandra pawn it and start their own business together. We end with Harley and Cassandra driving in a car and enjoying a previously mentioned breakfast sandwich, while Bruce, Harley’s hyena, rides in the back seat.

I think that the cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is stellar with Margot Robbie successfully helming this eighth film in the DC Extended Universe. Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco are all wonderful as part of the Birds of Prey squad. It’s a refreshing change from those forgettable characters in Suicide Squad (minus Harley Quinn and The Joker). Where the movie does run amuck is when it tries to over-tell the story of Harley Quinn. Robbie is seen breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience in several scenes, just as Deadpool does in the Marvel Comics Universe movies. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t for Harley Quinn. Perhaps the biggest misstep of the film is that it doesn’t really answer the question whether Harley is truly and really emancipated from Joker.

Overall, the film is quite the ride as Birds of Prey goes at 100+ miles per hour, with Robbie as Harley Quinn at the helm of a swerving/speeding car. The movie moves from scene to scene with little explanation, albeit some narration by Harley, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The new characters add a great deal to the movie and do wonders for the DC Extended Universe, focusing on women’s right and female empowerment. There is so much color in this film that I often felt like I was inside a glitter bomb explosion. However, I did enjoy Harley’s humor, and fashion sense and abilities to beat up the bad guys while holding her own. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed McGregor’s character – the antagonist Black Mask – and think that it was one of best decisions made for the film. The success of Birds of Prey will ultimately propel Margot Robbie and the rest of the cast to a possible sequel, but how that factors into the DC Extended Universe remains to be seen.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen BIRDS OF PREY? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Gentlemen (2020)

I’d say Guy Ritchie is an acquired taste… you could even say he’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it filmmaker, which means you either love or hate his fast-paced, at-times frenetic style, and I’m mostly talking about his gritty British gangster films, so the family-friendly Aladdin is obviously an exception. For the most part, I like his movies. From his debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to the underrated Rocknrolla, and the 2015 The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I like more on rewatch, his movies are often irreverent, cheeky and fun.

After Aladdin, Ritchie returns to his roots with The Gentlemen. He’s back to portraying working class gangsters, peppered with his rather unsubtle disdain for the British upper class. This time he’s got an American as the protagonist, a self-made London-based cannabis [drug]lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). Mickey is trying to sell his profitable marijuana empire off so he could retire with his wife Rosalind. He’s already found a buyer and they’ve agreed on a price. But then of course, things go awry as bribery, blackmail, and all kinds of treachery schemes complicate matters for Mickey and his loyal right-hand-man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam).

The amusing part of the whole narrative is the fact that the story is told by private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant, doing his best Cockney accent) to Raymond. I won’t go into details apart from the fact that he’s got crucial intel involving Mickey’s business dealings that include some lesser members of the British royal family, and he’s willing to keep it a secret for a handsome fee.

The interaction between Grant and Hunnam are my favorite parts of the movie. There’s a rather silly movie-within-a-movie bit that’s gleefully amusing thanks to Grant’s performance and Hunnam’s constantly-befuddled expression. I love how Grant’s embraced his comedic side playing a flamboyant scumbag (what the Brits would call a tosser), and he seems to be having loads of fun tormenting Hunnam’s straight-laced Raymond. In Guy Ritchie’s world, even gangsters stand by a certain ‘moral’ code.

The film goes back and forth between Fletcher’s version of the story and the reality, which isn’t always easy to follow. Some of the things happening made little sense, but it was a lot of fun that you’re along for the ride. McConaughey‘s movie star charisma works well for the role, in fact, it’s nice to see him use his Southern charm and menacing energy in equal measure. Henry Golding‘s Dry Eye is perhaps the weakest link of the movie. Not the actor’s fault necessarily, as I think Golding is more versatile than meets the eye, but his role is more of a caricature, not exactly a memorable villain. Not that I think about it though, I think Ritchie’s movies aren’t known for having memorable villains, perhaps because his protagonists are often anti-heroes.

Now, despite his limited screen time, the movie’s surprising MVP is actually Colin Farrell, an inner city boxing trainer known as Coach who becomes Raymond’s unexpected ally. Involuntarily, Coach got dragged into Mickey’s crime world thanks to his students, one of them is played by Manchester rapper Bugzy Malone.  There’s a fantastic rap video at one of Mickey’s cannabis lab, as well as in the end credits that’s well worth staying for. As the sole female character in a sea of testosterone, Michelle Dockery is wonderfully shrewd, sexy and confident as Mickey’s beloved wife whom he adores and looks up to.

It’s still a movie about the boys however, and in that regards it’s not a ‘woke’ film nor does Ritchie care much about being politically correct. Some of the racist, homophobic jokes would ruffle some feathers, there’s a hugely gross scene being played over and over, not to mention a certain vulgar scenario that is disturbing even without being shown. While some may call this movie a ‘return to form’ to what he does best, there’s much recycled material that feels derivative and predictable.

For a gangster crime comedy, there’s actually not a whole lot of action set pieces and it’s perhaps Ritchie’s more ‘restrained’ version in terms of frenetic action, violence and overly-stylized camera work, but of course it’s still chockfull of crude language and F bombs. I like that the movie is more of a battle of wits than wham-bam-action, as the gangsters try to outmaneuver each other to stay on top of their game. Stylistically, there’s also much to appreciate, from the dynamic music (score by Christopher Benstead) to the dapper business suits AND tracksuits (costume designer Michael Wilkinson previously worked with Ritchie in Aladdin), even the ones worn in the rap video.  I don’t know that he’ll win new fans to his cinematic flair, but for those who enjoy his style, I’d say it’s was pretty darn entertaining. I wouldn’t even mind watching it again when it’s out on streaming.


Have you seen The Gentlemen? What did you think?

Trailer Spotlight: THE RHYTHM SECTION (2020)

Happy Tuesday, everyone!! I’ve been meaning to do a trailer post but somehow kept getting sidetracked. Now, since I’ll be seeing The Rhythm Section tonight, and am quite excited about it, I thought I’d post it today.

Stephanie Patrick veers down a path of self-destruction after a tragic plane crash kills her family. When Stephanie discovers it wasn’t an accident, she soon embarks on a bloody quest for revenge to punish those responsible.

I have a thing for international spy thrillers, I like the cast and the trailer looked promising. Based on a novel by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay, and produced by EON Productions, the film company known for producing the James Bond films. I’ve been a big fan of Blake Lively, I think she’s a charismatic and versatile actress. I’ve seen her in four films so far, The Town, Age of Adaline, The Shallows, A Simple Favor, and she’s good in all of them. We already know Lively can play a believable femme fatale, but here, perhaps she can display her prowess as an action heroine.

Jude Law‘s grown to be a reliable character actor over the years, and Sterling K. Brown is undeniably a fantastic actor. He’s amazing in WAVES, too bad somehow he’s overlooked this award season. Looks like he’s playing Lively’s love interest in this one based on a glimpse of the trailer? Oooh yeah!

I’m also excited the fact that it’s helmed by a female director, Reed Moreno. This is Moreno’s third film after Meadowland and I Think We’re Alone Now, where she did double duty as director and DP. In fact, you might have seen her outstanding work as a cinematographer in Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings, The Skeleton Twins. For her work directing the pilot for HBO’sThe Handmaid’s Tale, she won both the DGA and Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. I haven’t seen her directing work yet, so I’m super excited to see this. This time she’s working with DP Sean Bobbitt who garnered many accolades for 12 Years Of Slave.

One worrisome part is the fact that the film’s release date was delayed at least twice. Per IMDb Trivia, it was originally scheduled for a February 22, 2019 release, before being delayed ten months, apparently because Lively got injured on set. Then it’s finally ready for release later this Friday, January 31. I’ll give this one the benefit of the doubt though, let’s hope this one wouldn’t be a typical January dud.


What are your thoughts of The Rhythm Section trailer?