Frances Ha, The Laundromat, High Flying Bird, & The Edge of Democracy

Frances Ha – Frances Ha is a really fascinating movie, that manages to tell so much story in such little time. It is certainly fun, but it just lacks the emotional resonance that I expect from Baumbach at this point. It is very good at points, and Greta Gerwig does a great job. It just lacks the emotional resonance to really make it interesting. B-

The Laundromat – The Laundromat is The Big Short but for the Panama Papers. One of the two Netflix films directed by Steven Soderbergh, it is incredibly fun and entertaining. While many characters and performers get lost in the fast plot (Meryl Streep among them), this film belongs to Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. Thankfully, they deliver as Mossack and Fonseca. They manage to be clever and break the fourth wall without it being distracting from the plot. It all just works so well, and while I can understand why people are not as high on this film as me, everything worked for me in this film. This is an important film, as the Panama Papers were not given nearly the attention that they deserved in the media. It is fun and fast, and one of my favorite films to come out this year. A-

High Flying Bird – The second Soderbergh Netflix film is a bit slow for my tastes, and even though it is about basketball, it bored me. I enjoyed the interviews interspersed with basketball players, but this film, on the whole, did not work for me. C+

The Edge of Democracy – This Netflix documentary was directed by Petra Costa, an activist in Brazil with sleek film making. It chronicles the Car Wash scandal in Brazil, and how it threatens to upend the Brazilian political system. It is very melodramatic at points, and I would have appreciated a more Frontline style approach to the material. The film also could have been a half-hour shorter and tends to drag at points. At the same time, the personal connection made the film a fascinating project, even if I did not always agree with the filmmaker’s point of view. I also think the length and dread was an artistic choice, and one that I disagree with but also respect. It is a worthwhile watch and a great introduction to a political nightmare in Latin America, even if some of its sensibilities do not always agree with mine. B

My thoughts on The Irishman

The first hour of The Irishman is the worst part of the movie. The writing is crammed in the beginning, and it does not give a ton of room for the characters to breathe. Also, the limits of the de-aging technology are on full display during the first hour. There is one scene where Robert De Niro beats up a guy in a shop, and it looks very silly. Even though his face is younger his body is not the age that he is supposed to be in the film, and so it looks strange. It is also unclear what age the characters are supposed to be at what points. De-aging technology needs work but after the first hour, it disappears into the film.

The film really becomes great in the last hour. Then after two in a half hours, the film’s themes of age and loss come together in a searing finish. It is a devastating end, and the length in some ways helps the impact as you feel you have been with these characters for so long before it all comes together. I won’t spoil anything, but it is definitely worth it if you are willing to watch the movie.

Robert De Niro is a standout as is Joe Pesci, but Al Pacino is the showstopper as Jimmy Hoffa. He energizes the movie and brings out the emotional core of the movie at many points.

If you are willing to sit through three and a half hours this movie is worth it. However, make sure you know what you are in for. It is long and takes time. It is flawed and needs work in certain areas. If you love Scorsese however, this is a must-see. I think the flaws mostly in the beginning hold the ending back for me, but it is so brilliant and searing, the movie just gets into the A category. A-

Knives Out, The Social Network, The Art of Self-Defense, & Ad Astra

Knives Out – Watching some of the criticism toward Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi has been disappointing, as I find him to be an exceptional writer and director. Knives Out is another terrific film from Johnson. A whodunnit may seem unnecessary or even unoriginal, but Johnson’s ability to play with genre, narrative, and scope make it a terrific outing. He also updates the whodunnit for 2019 in an incredibly clever way. The biggest complaint I can see potentially coming for the film is that it is not particularly artistic or beautiful, that it focuses more on just having a good time. It is really hard to make that complaint when a whodunnit is made this well and the experience is this much fun. Whether or not it is a film that lacks artistic quality, it is one of the best moviegoing experiences that you can have this year. I cannot recommend it enough. A

The Social Network – Skimming through many best of the decade lists, The Social Network kept coming up as one of the top movies of the past ten years. I decided to see it, with admittedly low expectations. It completely blew me away. The movie came out in 2010, before its massive growth in the 2010s and Russian Interference. The film managed to forecast what social media can do to us, and what it can do to the connections around us through the lens of Mark Zuckerberg. It is an absolute classic, and while it may not win my best of the decade, it is a worthy pick. A

The Art of Self Defense – The off-kilter film starring Jesse Eisenberg is interesting enough. Not everything lands, but the film has plenty of interesting things to say about toxic masculinity through the lens of karate. It works well for its limited scope and does an excellent job of using Jesse Eisenberg to deliver the off-kilter humor. The “twist” (although I would not really call it a twist) is pretty obvious and the plot becomes fairly predictable. I did not mind as much, as some of the humor is enjoyable, but this movie is not for everyone. I enjoyed it but recognize it had plenty of room to be better. B-

Ad Astra – Ad Astra is a movie about daddy issues. While it manages to juggle plenty of other themes, from creation, god, and the meaning of life, the daddy issues lie at the core of the film. Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut, and son of another famous astronaut H. Clifford McBride. Roy must go to Neptune to find his dad and stop power surges that have been causing brutal destruction to the earth and other planets back home. The themes and the cinematography are excellent, and it features some of the best space shots in any movie. It manages to capture the loneliness of space that I loved as well. My biggest complaint is the narration and its stillness. The narration seems pretty detached and not needed, it does not add much. All it seems to do is just emphasize what we are seeing on screen. Regardless, this is a very good film and will be touted by some as the best film of the year, and it deserves some of that praise. B+

I am seeing Star Wars tomorrow so I hope to have a review up on the Michigan Review shortly!

Marriage Story & Some thoughts on Season 4 of Game of Thrones

Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach’s Netflix film is one of my favorite films to come out this year. The movie is about divorce. Divorce is a tough topic, but Baumbach treats his characters with such love and warmth it allows you to get absorbed in the story, and not worry about taking sides in a divorce. This film does a great job of showing how people around divorce can exacerbate the situation, and turn what should be a tough but personal process into a public bloodbath. I think it is pretty clear that Nicole and Charlie should not be together. However, the lawyers and legalese surrounding them make things worse.

Every performance in this movie is terrific. Two standouts are Laura Dern and Adam Driver. While Dern steals every scene she is in, this becomes Driver’s film and he nails it. Driver is so talented and this is one of his best performances. It is also full of small humorous moments to jokes about Los Angeles and New York to chummy lawyers outside of trial. It is a must-watch, full of emotion and brutal truths. A

I am your son, and you sentenced me to die. You knew I didn’t poison Joffrey, but you sentenced me all the same. – Tyrion

I am slowly binging Game of Thrones, and I just finished Season 4. Reading and watching this series unlocks and showcases different pieces of the story and helps you notice things you would not otherwise. Season 4 is probably the best in the series I have watched thus far, and I loved how it brought alive the theme of becoming what people want you to be or say you are.

Throughout the season, Tyrion is repeatedly told he is a killer. While he is not guilty of what he is accused of, he is treated as a villain, a jealous and angry half-man who only knows revenge. While he is not what he is accused of being, he eventually fulfills his destiny. He kills Shae and his father and escapes. Had there been a fair trial, had their been more sympathy for Tyrion, perhaps he would not have lashed out. However, that is now a world of what-ifs.

Tywin and others refer to Shae as a whore. Shae loves Tyrion, but she is a bad look for the Lannister family. So when Tyrion has to tell Shae to leave, he calls her a whore because he is convinced that is what she needs to hear. While she was not a whore at the time, she becomes a whore and sleeps with the person who despises her the most, Tywin.

Shae will be remembered in history not as a Tyrion’s lover, but as a whore who died doing her job. Tyrion will be remembered as a kinslayer. Neither of them deserved the title initially but fulfilled it because of the people surrounding them. Neither of them wanted to be remembered for this, but they will be because of the people around him.

Tywin is a fascinating character as well and gets his fitting send-off. He never truly cared about any of his children and views them as products. Tyrion is a slap in the face to his ideal vision or product, an Imp who has no physical talents. Despite Tyrion and Tywin’s shared understanding of politics, his appearance alone causes Tyrion to view him as a disappointment. He looks at Cersei as his beautiful bride to marry off to a famous house and looks at Jamie as the legacy and fighter that he wants. He views them as ideal products, so much so that he is incapable of believing his children would be capable of incest. Yet they are, and had he paid attention, as Cersei noted, he would have figured it out quickly. But he refused to believe and will die refusing to believe it.

Tywin is a manipulative and terrible person and father. While he has political talent, he got a fitting end. I love his ending more now after watching HBO’s rendition.


Drive is one of the best LA movies ever

Last night I watched Drive (it was just released on Netflix). After some time to digest it, I can say it is one of my favorite films about Los Angeles ever made.

The film is about an unnamed driver who is out of touch from the surrounding world. By day, he works at a repair shop and is a stunt double. By night, he is a getaway driver for heists.

The driver’s lack of connection begins to change when he meets a lovely neighbor Irene and her daughter Benicio. He quickly begins to attach himself to the family, but then Irene’s violent husband comes home and is threatened if he does not complete a job for them. The Driver volunteers and things get out of hand.

What makes Drive such a great representation of Los Angeles is not only its stunning shots of the city but also its capturing of the dark underworld that lies beneath. Los Angeles is a city that appears nice and shiny but is sinister beneath. Too often films like La La Land are too focused on their idealized version of the city to portray it accurately. While that movie is still a good movie, I do not think it gets LA right. This movie does.

Drive is also great for how its dialogue and characters mirror and reflect off of the driver himself. How they change his world and he responds to those changes are terrific. At no point does it feel overwritten or forced.

This movie also has an excellent cast. Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and many others. If you have not watched this movie, you are missing a gem. A