Thursday Movie Picks #288: Films Released In 2019

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I can’t believe it’s been five years since I participated in this weekly Thursday Movie Picks blogathon that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 2019 Releases

Well, since I am still working on my Top 10 Best of 2019 that I’m planning to post next week (as I always like to wait at least a week or two after new year before publishing), then consider this post a preview of what you’ll see either on my main list or honorable mentions. I’ll choose three that I haven’t personally reviewed it myself.

So without further ado, here are my picks:

Marriage Story

A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

I saw this film back in October 2019 at Twin Cities Film Fest, and I still remember how much I was taken by it. Somehow I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of it, not sure why because I have SO much praise for it. Perhaps it’ll be too long of a review, ahah. If someone were to ask me my favorite film of 2019, I often say this one right away because it’s on my mind so much. I just LOVE Noah Baumbach‘s script, which I feel depicts a dissolution of a marriage in an unflinching-ly real and emotional way, with the actors performing in such a naturalistic way it’s as if I was watching the characters themselves, not a performance. I kind of have a thing for Adam Driver these days, and he’s absolutely phenomenal here (plus he sang, too!)

I actually have only seen one film he directed, While We’re Young, and while I like parts of it, I didn’t really love it. But I know I’ll be rooting for Baumbach to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars!

A Hidden Life

Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter faces the threat of execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis during World War II.

I actually just had a discussion about this film with my fellow blogger Keith who also loved this movie (check out his review of this film here). It’s definitely a return to form for Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of a conscientious objector during World War II. It’s a slow, reflective film but not-at-all boring… it’s a typical Malick film with gorgeous cinematography and long silences, but unlike his previous film Knight Of Cups (a film about a screenwriter without a script??!), this time it has such a strong emotional center. I truly felt for Franz and his wife and their struggle is so painstakingly-palpable. Truly an unforgettable film that stays with you long after the end credits roll.

Peanut Butter Falcon

After running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome befriends an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally.

One of my awesome blog contributors Holly P. has reviewed this a while back,  but I had finally seen it this past weekend. Oh it’s such a delightful film and Zack Gottsagen will steal your heart. I think it’s wonderful that the film employed an actor with Down syndrome to portray a character with that condition and he did a marvelous job. I love the relationship between him and his co-stars Dakota Johnson and Shia LaBeouf, there are SO many scenes that pack such emotional wallop. It’s such a funny, uplifting film, definitely one of the best 2019 offerings. In fact, I think it should’ve gotten more awards love than some movies that got nominated recently.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

FlixChatter Review: HONEY BOY (2019)

Director: Alma Har’el
Writer: Shia LaBeouf

Honey Boy surprised me. I expected it to be intense, but the film exceeded those expectations. Young Otis Lort (played by Noah Jupe, who, among other victories, perfectly nails his American accent) has started to make it in Hollywood. His father, James (Shia LaBeouf), shuttles him between their motel and set on his motorcycle every day, fathering him as well as he can, but inhibited by his personal demons. Honey Boy cuts this story with one of young adult Otis (Lucas Hedges), who is spinning out of control. A drunken encounter with the police lands him in rehab where he must confront the demons he inherited from his father. Honey Boy is an emotional whirlwind sprinkled with magical realism: a beautiful film that is finely coated with a layer of grime.

Noah Jupe with Shia LaBeouf

Alma Har’el’s direction of Honey Boy is exceptional. The emotional intensity of the movie is at a constant high, but Har’el skillfully controls the tone, keeping the audience so invested that it is only once the ending credits begin to roll that we realize exactly how emotionally taxing watching the film is. Har’el safely and elegantly navigates her actors (especially Jupe) through fraught emotional terrain while maintaining a beautiful visual aesthetic. She also notably lets the script’s snark about rehab shine through without minimizing rehab’s positive impact on Otis.

Lucas Hedges

All that said, I am so curious what the on-set relationship between LaBeouf and Har’el looked like. Although LaBeouf is only officially credited as writer and actor, it seems inevitable that LaBeouf would have had some directorial insights for such a personal project.  (As I’m sure you’ve already heard, writing this screenplay, based on his life, was part of LaBeouf’s recovery process). This curiosity especially comes into play in scenes like the one where LaBeouf plays James Lort at an AA meeting. Tears quivering in his eyes, James describes his love for his son, his deep pain, and how that pain often inhibits the expression of his love. How much of this moment was pure LaBeouf? How much was Har’el? I. am. so. curious.

Noah Jupe and FKA Twigs

LaBeouf’s inherent empathy for and understanding of his father (and Har’el’s ability to portray their fraught, but undeniably close relationship) is exactly why this movie works so well. In a therapy session, the young adult iteration of Otis Lort insists that his father is not the cause of his problems: James Lort is the reason that Otis has been successful. Despite all the pain, all the arguments, all the questionable parenting choices, Otis understands that at his father’s core it was all love. The fact that his father’s love was frequently overshadowed by his demons is as irrelevant as it was painful.

There are no weak actors in this film. You will love FKA Twigs despite yourself: she will make your skin crawl. Lucas Hedges is the eye of a hurricane: a ball of angry energy waiting for any excuse to snap. Byron Bowers is funny and subtle. Noah Jupe, surrounded by strong performers, still somehow carries the film on his tiny, twelve-year old shoulders. He perfectly captures a double-sided coin of innocence and premature adulthood. I dare you not to cry when his parents use him as a literal conduit for one of their arguments. And, of course, Shia LaBeouf will rip your damn heart out.

There are so many smart, artistic choices to unpack in Honey Boy. For one, I think it’s safe to assume that LaBeouf’s choice to rename himself Otis is in reference to Odysseus’ renaming himself “Outis” [ie “nobody”] when he encountered Polyphemus. And there is so much to discuss about that choice. For another, the magical realism that is otherwise a delightfully glowing subtext to the story, peaks toward the end of the film when young adult Otis and his father share a moment that is almost guaranteed to make your head spin. Visually majestic, contextually complex, and full of award-worthy performances, Honey Boy is not a film to miss.

I can only hope that LaBeouf continues to write. He is a gifted storyteller and we’re lucky to have him.


Have you seen HONEY BOY? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a fun revisitation of the classic American adventure story. It follows two unlikely companions, Zak and Tyler, who are thrown together by a mutual need to get out of town. Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with downs syndrome who is running away from his care home, pursued by the well-meaning Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a fisherman who has made the wrong people angry. After a couple narrow escapes both Zak and Tyler realize that they need each other; Zak as a stand-in for Tyler’s brother; and Tyler as one of the few people who sees and treats Zak as a full human being.

Unfortunately, much of the writing in Peanut Butter Falcon is clunky. The introductory scenes in the care home and the fishing yard are stilted:  those scenes wind up feeling undirected, unedited, and rushed. In one scene, Eleanor’s boss urgently calls her into his office, but when she gets there, she, along with the audience, is forced to sit through the tail end of a pointless phone call. Tyler’s rivals talk in an expository way that makes them feel more like super villains than fishermen. They are caricatures of something that does not quite exist:  a confusing mash-up of a bad cliché of an inner-city gang member and an equally bad cliché of a blue-collar worker.

I would have liked more from Dakota Johnson, but her role was more of an outline than a character. She was effortlessly swept off her feet by Tyler, despite the characters seeming incompatible. Tyler mostly made judgmental assumptions about her rather than asking her questions about herself and although we definitely see her come to respect the way Tyler treats Zak, there is never a shift in how Tyler treats Eleanor. Regardless, Johnson played the character with heart and made Eleanor more than she would have been in lesser hands.

Maybe the most egregious writing foul in Peanut Butter Falcon, though, is that one of the movie’s two (count em two) speaking black characters was a “magical negro”. This is a bad move in and of itself, but is made worse because the filmmakers are familiar with the trope. In an interview with City Weekly Mike Shwartz (who wrote and directed alongside Tyler Nilson) said that they wanted to make sure that Zak never came across as a “magical disability person”, directly referencing the magical negro trope. (The film succeeds in this pursuit. Zak’s character has goals, a fun personality, strong opinions, etc.) Those same filmmakers being lazy enough to include a blind black man who lives in the woods and proselytizes to anyone who comes to his door is almost unfathomable when they apparently know that the negro trope exists is incredibly problematic.

So, the positives.

As mentioned above, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that aims to empower people with downs syndrome and it does that well. Not only is Zak a nuanced, interesting character with a big personality, he is also played by a person with downs syndrome. Gottsagen is a great actor and his performance, especially in scenes with Tyler, are really well executed.  We are overdue for casting choices like this one.

Also, the movie did not shy away from the sometimes harsh reality of what life with downs syndrome can be like. Zak is underestimated, bullied, and called names often and although those things hurt his feelings, he remains a resilient man with dreams to fulfill. He is a fully fleshed character from the beginning and over the course of his journey he continues to grow as a person. 

The chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen cannot be overstated. The two share several intimate moments: dancing around a campfire, walking through cornfields, and (my personal favorite) sitting on the edge of their raft gently slapping each other’s faces. The bond they create rests somewhere between brotherhood and friendship and is expressed masterfully by both actors.

The movie is a visual love-letter to the American south. Nigel Bluck creates a scenic backdrop to the story, incorporating drone shots and wide-angles that highlight that beauty of the natural landscape in breathtaking moments that never detract from the story.

Oh, and Thomas Haden Church has a great little cameo as retired wrestler “Salt Water Redneck”.

Overall, this movie has its flaws: the relationship between Zak and Tyler is obviously the element that the filmmakers put the most energy into (and the rest of the movie suffers for that emphasis, even if it is the crux of the story), but the movie is worth a watch for that relationship and for its ultimately empowering story.


Have you seen The Peanut Butter Falcon? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: FURY (2014)

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Hollywood loves making films about WWII and to their credit they produced some great ones. In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were the last great films about this war. And even though I loved Inglorious Basterds, I don’t count it as true WWII film, if you saw it then you know what I mean by that. This latest one from writer/director David Ayer has an A-list leading man and huge budget, but unfortunately it’s just another by-the-numbers war film.

It’s April 1945 and the war is almost over, as the film opens we see an aftermath of a huge battle and the only people left alive were a group of American soldiers inside a tank named Fury. Its commander is Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his crewmen are not happy with him since one of their teammates was killed in the battle and they blamed him. After some bickering, they head back to their base camp to get their next assignment. A young recruit named Norman (Logan Lerman) introduced himself to Collier and said he was told he’s now under Collier’s command. Upon seeing the young soldier, Collier was not happy but he has no choice but bring Norman on board. After receiving his next mission from his boss Captain Waggoner (the always great Jason Isaacs), Collier and his men set out to take down more Nazis. As the film moves on, it became pretty generic in this genre, we see big battles, body limbs gets torn apart, the young soldier gets picked on by older soldiers and of course they accept him once he proved himself in the battlefield.

FURY_2014_stillsPitt gave a solid performance as the leader but seeing him in perfect shape and his hair never seem to get messy during the battle scenes really didn’t make his character more believable. When I saw the trailer for this film, I thought he might do another Aldo Raines but thankfully his performance was more grounded than in Tarantino’s flick. The most surprising performance to me was Shia LaBeouf, he’s the man of faith in the group and I thought he was quite good in the role. After seeing him in all those awful Transformers movies, I just couldn’t stand him but here he actually gave a good performance. Unfortunately the rest of the cast members got stuck with clichéd roles. Jon Bernthal is again being cast as the “bad” guy on the team and even though he did a good job, we’ve seen this kind of character many times before. Michael Peña is the token minority character and he’s supposed to be the comic relief guy, in some scenes he’s funny but again we’ve seen this too many times before. Lerman’s Norman is supposed to be the heart and soul of the team since he’s the “innocent” one but he’s not a strong actor so he didn’t really make an impression on me. I think Ayer tried to make his character very similar to that of Charlie Sheen in Platoon but it didn’t work because he’s a supporting character. The film might’ve worked better had it been told from Norman’s perspective and have a better actor in the role.

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David Ayer has been living off the success of his early writing gigs, he wrote the first Fast & Furious film and later that same year another film he wrote became a success, Training Day. As a director, none of his films were successful and here I think he tried too hard to make a “serious” film. There’s a scene halfway way through the film that totally dragged and I wish he’d left it on the cutting room floor, I think I understood what he’s trying to say with that scene but to me it’s just a waste of time since it never really amount to anything significance later in the story. The battle scenes were well staged but seeing green and red laser beams was kind of weird, I’ve never seen a real gun battle in real life so maybe when guns are fired, they shoot out laser beam like that.

Technically Fury is a success but overall it’s just another run of the mill war film that we’ve seen way too many times before. Maybe with a better script, the film could’ve worked better, but there are so many great films out there about this subject that it’s hard to make anything new.
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Have you seen FURY? Well, what did you think?

THIS JUST IN! John Hillcoat’s ‘Lawless’ Trailer

The first time I heard about this movie was when there’s news circulating about Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy clashing on the set and got into a bar brawl. Now, I don’t really care about what’s really going on between those two, but the movie they’re working on does sound intriguing. Formerly called The Wettest County in the World, which is a bad title but at least not as generic as this new one, is one of those movies I’d watch just for the cast! Besides the two I’ve mentioned, we’ve got Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain!

Now check out the brand new trailer:

Hardy, LaBeouf and Jason Clarke play three brothers who find their bootlegging business under threat in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia. The story is based on the true-life tales of Matt Bondurant’s own grandfather and great-uncles, who were the inspiration of the events in his novel The Wettest County in the World.

Man, that’s a pretty intense trailer! I’m guessing this’ll be a hard R like most of Hillcoat’s previous films, i.e. The Proposition, The Road. The Aussie director seems to have a penchant for the utterly dark and bleak stuff. I do like the setting in the Prohibition era, there’s something so riveting about that period and the true-story aspect of it certainly adds to the intrigue.

I think we can expect some fine performances as well as some really bad ass shoot-outs! Hardy looks like he’d steal the show here, but LaBeouf actually doesn’t look too bad. I think he gets a bad rap after Transformers like R-Patz with Twilight, but I think he’s got potential. The main draw for me are Hardy and Chastain whose career are stratospheric to say the least, as well as the two veterans Oldman and Pearce, the latter is barely recognizable here with that hideous haircut. We’ll see who’ll be chewing the scenery the most between those two.

This movie will be premiering in 2012 Cannes Film Festival this May, and the US release date is set for August 31.


What do you think of this trailer? Will you be watching this one?

The Flix List: Five noteworthy young actors (under 30)

Talk about perfect timing. I had been jotting down this list when I saw yesterday’s assignment from Castor’s 31DBBB event is to make a list post! It’s day 2 of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, a group project a bunch of movie bloggers are doing together in an attempt to improve our blogs and help each other become better bloggers.

Inspired by my recent ‘discovery‘ of Robert Pattinson’s talent, it got me thinking what other actors under 30 who’ve caught my attention. So inevitably he made the list, along with four other young male actors who’ve made an impression on me in the past decade:

  1. Robert Pattinson (24)
    I never thought of including this London-born actor on this list until I saw Remember Me. Sure, Twilight made him astar and gained him a bazillion fans, but acting-wise the franchise doesn’t do him any favors. Thankfully he seeks out understated rolesin smaller movies to showcase his acting chops. Let’s hope he continues to mix things up and learn from people like Leo DiCaprio who successfully shed his matinee idol image and become a formidable actor.
  2. Jamie Bell (24)
    The English actor first won me over in the acclaimed dancing drama Billy Elliot, he even beat Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator) at 2001’s BAFTA! Since then been playing mostly under-the-radar roles: King Kong, Jumper, Defiance. Yet, even in supporting roles, it’s clear Bell is one talented young man. I haven’t seen Jumper but my husband who saw it kept saying how he stole every scene from Hayden Christensen, who got the movie’s top billing. He also won raves in the little-seen Hallam Foe, but hopefully his next movie, Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin will rightfully put him on the Hollywood map.
  3. Daniel Radcliffe (21)
    I had just recently discovered Harry Potter, which was an entertaining franchise to catch up on (all six movies in 2 weeks!). The movies are well-written and well-acted, mixing complete unknowns with award-winning thespians. Radcliffe obviously had the formidable job of portraying such a beloved literary character, and I think he pulls it off quite well, growing more comfortable as an actor as the franchise went on. He’s been known to take some risks in his roles as well, probably hoping to shed his innocent-boy image so he can have a fruitful career post HP. He took on the bizarre role in the play Equus, playing a boy with a pathological fascination with horses, even willing to strip nude on stage! He’s set to star in a Hammer horror flick Woman in Black. After that, he reportedly plans on going back to theater in a Broadway play How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Pretty versatile guy I’d say.
  4. Shia LaBeouf (24)
    Probably known most as the Transformers boy who’s the envy of every adolescent boy for getting to snog Megan Fox, I actually think this guy can act. He was rather good in Disturbia, which was a decent thriller, though its similarities to Hitchcock’s Rear Window got the studios in some legal troubles. Spielberg reportedly was quite taken with him, hence casting him in the sequel that should not have been made. Obviously the inept script didn’t give him a chance to do much of anything in that movie. Hopefully his next movie, which happens to be another sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleep, will fare better.
  5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (29)
    Gordon-Levitt is pretty much in a whole different league amongst his 20-something peers, having proven his craft in solid roles one after another: The Lookout, Stop-Loss, Brick, and the refreshingly-smart rom-com (500) Days of Summer. The phenomenal success of Inception will no doubt help his career even further. Though with talent like his, he hardly needs a blockbuster to get us to notice. The best thing about Gordon-Levitt is that he’s reliable, we can always expect an excellent performance out of him and not be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions (added 8/11):

  • Henry Cavill (I talked about this guy quite a lot, so it’s simply an oversight for not mentioning him. Thanks Dez!)
  • Freddie Highmore (He may only be 18, but this kid’s resume is impressive. He’s done some great work in Finding Neverland, A Good Year, and August Rush, among others)
  • Rupert Friend (Won me over in The Young Victoria)
  • Ben Wishaw (Bright Star didn’t blow me away, but can’t deny Wishaw’s acting chops)
  • Andrew Garfield (I confess I haven’t seen any movie of his, but I’m making an exception as he’s impressed me in three trailers: The Red Riding trilogy, The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about this kid in the future, especially now that he’s been cast as Spiderman).

Ok folks, your turn. Which young actor(s) have impressed you lately?

Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews from FlixChatter Readers

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic series. Today we’ve got an Oscar nominated flick and two sports movies from a golf and soccer enthusiast. Special thanks to Becky, Scot and Alan for taking the time to contribute to FlixChatter!

Crazy Heart (2009)
by Becky Kurk

My sister from California was visiting a few weeks ago, and we both wanted to see the The Blind Side, but it vanished from the theater one day before we planned to see it. Crazy Heart was her second choice, and since she was from the “away” team, I let her win the coin toss.

Turns out Jeff Bridges (Bad Blake) performance is certainly Oscar-worthy. He plays drunk and down-and-out so well it hurts to keep watching him. In fact, I think his role was over-written. I mean how many times do you need to see him vomit or pass out before you get the hint that he’s got a problem? Not as much as we have to watch. So that leaves little left for the rest of the characters. I have no idea why his love interest (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the least bit interested in him, and there’s nothing in the story that even hints at it. I really think Maggie is a good actor, but her performance here is not Oscar-worthy. That’s not her fault, it’s because of the weakly-written character she has to play. And I don’t know why one minute Colin Farrell (Tommy Sweet) is his musical rival, and then suddenly Bad is his opening act. Sweet then strongly encourages him to write original songs for his band to finally start making some money again. Strangely, Bad turns him down, and again, we have no way of knowing why. Colin, however, gave a subtle but surprisingly good performance.

There’s very little in this film to get you to care about any of the other characters. On the plus side, however, even though I’m not a country music fan, I was surprised I didn’t totally hate the music. And the beautiful panoramas of the Southwest are worth seeing. The story line has been compared to Tender Mercies, The Wrestler and Walk the Line – I haven’t seen the first two, but Walk the Line hits it out of the park compared to Crazy Heart, which barely gets to second base.

….

The Damned United (2009)
by Scot Mattison

Michael Sheen takes on the role of one of England’s all-time great and controversial football managers, Brian Clough. The movie looks at Clough’s 44-day reign as the coach of Leeds United and the events that lead up to the doomed Leeds side.

Colm Meaney plays Don Revie, Clough’s nemesis and predecessor at Leeds. Clough’s sets out to change the playing style of the existing Leeds team, players loyal to Don Revie, and a team Clough has openly criticized for playing dirty. Clough attempts to endear the team to him by telling them “You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly”… surprisingly, this doesn’t produce the desired endearing effect.

An ok script filled with very rich characters. I can’t say the movie captured the whole that was Brian Clough though. Lacking is a charming, working-class, boozer quality…  which leads to a “campy” feel to some of the scenes. The movie does do a good job of creating many uneasy moments, and Sheen does a great job of portraying the over-confident and egocentric manager, delivering his lines with a “nasally-condescending-Cloughie” quality. A good watch for football lovers and anyone that enjoys seeing off-center historical characters.

….

The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
by Alan Markham

The Greatest Game Ever Played
is not the “greatest movie ever made,” but it is pretty decent as far as golf flicks go. The movie is based on a book written by Mark Frost (well known golf writer), and even if you’re not a huge golf fan, I think those who like sports movies would appreciate this story.

The basic premise of the movie is the story of Francis Ouimet’s (played by Shia LaBeouf) rise to golfing fame in the early 1900’s. The movie begins with Ouimet’s life as a caddy, and as a relative unknown in the golfing world, and follows along with his growth and ultimate success when he wins the 1913 U.S. Open at age 20. The key moment is when Ouimet takes on Harry Vardon (Tiger Woods of the day) in a head to head match. The outcome seems predictable, but the fact that it actually did happen makes it more entertaining. No fire hydrants or smashed Escalades here, just good clean fun.

As I mentioned, the storyline is expected, but I feel it still has enough interest to hold your attention throughout the entire movie. The acting is decent, cinematography is great (from a golfers’ perspective), and the story is entertaining. If the movie were a golf score, I’d give it a par.

Edit: This movie was Bill Paxton’s directing debut. As a teen, Bill caddied for golf great Ben Hogan in Fort Worth, which might’ve explained his enthusiasm for the sport.