Jurassic Park & Winter’s Bone

Jurassic Park – The classic movie is pretty thin outside of nostalgia. I enjoyed the dinosaurs and it is certainly fun to watch them rip and scare. However, it begins to feel like a basic monster movie pretty quickly. The characters themselves are pretty flat, all of whom are only there to act scared. While the cast is talented, they are given little to work with in terms of their own development. Jeff Goldblum is particularly useless as Dr. Ian Malcolm, the movie would have gone almost the exact same with or without him. Another character sat on a toilet and was eaten. That is all I remember of him.

It delivers on dinosaurs and action. If that is all you are looking for than you will be pleased. If you are looking for bold storytelling or facsinating themes of playing God, this will not be the movie for you. It has some intersting moments to be sure, but it trades them for cheap scares. It is fun, but not that good. C+

Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik’s 2018 film Leave No Trace was one of my favorite to come out last year, and was incredibly undervalued throughout last years awards. Winter’s Bone, one of Granik’s earlier films, shows her also able to extract empathy from unknown characters, and approach the subject matter with curiosity and sensitivity. It also creates a captivating story where someone normal does an extraordinary thing in extraordinary circumstances. She does not make excuses. She does not boast or speak for too long. She just does what she must. This along with a stellar performance from Jennifer Lawrence make this a terrific film.  A-

Layer Cake, A Serious Man, & Chernobyl

*From now on I will be grading using a letter grade system. The grading system will range from an A to F. This should be easier to understand and give me less room to overrate. I apologize for switching suddenly but I have come to the conclusion it will be easier to use.*

Layer Cake – Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake seems at first like something you have watched before. A crime movie about someone who has set up a successful front, and who swears he can get out. He is soon pull back in, and the world begins to unravel. It is complicated, and at times too much so for its own good. It can become tricky to follow, and I had to make sure to follow each point. Certain pieces get lost in the fray, and  I think making the movie 15 minutes longer to explain things would have helped.

However, the movie’s emphasis on a tight structure and a chiseled atmosphere serve it well in the end. The movie never loses its steam and finds ways to surprise and excite. The ending is also brilliant. In the layer cake of crime films, this one is a winner.  A-

A Serious Man – The Coen Brothers deliver some of their best heartbreak and irreverence with A Serious Man. Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a terrific performance as Larry Gopnik, a man struggling to figure out why everything around is going terribly. It also asks fascinating questions about religion and death, paralleling the book of Job all the while. This film has certain oddities as does all of the Coen Brother’s work. There are scenes that almost wash over you but are hard to justify in the overall context of the movie. It also ends in a slightly wistful and interpretative area. A Serious Man is far from perfect, but finds areas of brilliance throughout the movie. B+

I recently finished watching the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and it is one of the most necessary pieces of art to come out this year. Some of its historical fictionalizing is tough to square, but it is brilliant and compelling throughout. The culture of the Soviet Union and the pride of their country also come through, making for a fascinating piece of work. If you have HBO, please go and watch Chernobyl.
A

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Quentin Tarantino’s best

It’s official old buddy, I’m a has-been.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – I love Quentin Tarantino, he could write a phone book and I would probably praise it as genius. So it means something when I say not only is this film brilliant, but it’s one of Tarantino’s best. From the man who taught me to love film, has outdone himself once again.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a story of place, nostalgia, and fear for the future. It shows a man struggling to figure out what’s next, spinning in the beautiful Los Angeles sunlight and the rhythm of a Hollywood golden age. It is a film anchored by terrific performances, that captures Tarantino at its best while also allowing him to differ from his previous work. Here the film is about the importance of an era and the characters that could have populated it, and relies less on violence to get that point across.

Hollywood in 1969 is realized in beautiful detail, from the spinning lights, smooth cars, and easygoing songs. From appearances by Bruce Lee, to fun moments at the Playboy Mansion, it gives us the best of that era.

This movie could have easily become a toy, something to look at but not examine too deeply. Thankfully it is a thoughtful film as well, and has plenty of terrific and serious moments to anchor it.  Leo is terrific as Rick Dalton, managing to bring melancholy and muse to the character. Dalton is looking back wondering where to go now. From the long stares, to crying over a novel that’s particularly timely, Dicaprio seems to embody Tarantino. The torture and the pain is a terrific touch, with lines and great scenes to go along with it.

However, he is bested by his partner Brad Pitt, delivering a terrific performance as Dalton’s stunt double Cliff Booth. Cool, funny, but pained all the same, Booth is the soul that in Dalton needs. He is funny, but also gives a jolt when needed. Both men deliver endearing performances, at points in their careers when it was easy to wonder if they had anything left.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is how Tarantino plays with the expectations. While I will not spoil anything, just know that even with all that has been written about the Manson murders, expect the unexpected. It is a brilliant and charming twist on a tale told over and over again.

9/10

 

 

Good Night, and Good Luck, Taxi Driver, & USWNT

Good Night, and Good Luck – George Clooney directs the film about the late Ed Murrow, and his takedown of Senator Joe McCarthy. Murrow was a terse writer, blunt and calculated in his attacks. The movie’s tone matches that to some degree and so does the film’s message. Joe McCarthy and others like him were wrong, and this film makes no concessions on that. It is interesting to see the work place and how it operated. Clooney does a great job of immersing you in the moment, using black and white as well as old clips to really immerse people in the atmosphere of television in the time period.  Unfortunately, there is not that much to be gained from this movie that could not already be learned. It is a good film, but not a great one, and one that does not entirely justify its existence. With that said, every single person should watch Murrow’s full newscast on McCarthy. It is still brilliant. 7/10

Taxi Driver In Taxi Driver, Senator Palantine’s campaign slogan is “we are the people”, implying that he is among the people who suffered in Vietnam and who have suffered as a country. Does he really understand what the people have gone through, does he know his people?

This movie has been a cornerstone in the film industry forever, and one of the main reasons is how it challenges the idea that anyone can no what some of us are going through. Travis Bickle is a unique character, defined by his loneliness and his social ineptitude. His loneliness is relatable, his social ineptitude causes him problems. That seems to be the story of his life and it makes Bickle do horrible things.

This film is not only about capturing a character but about capturing a moment, and it does so very well. While it can stall and meander, it is a worthwhile watch for any film fan, and for anyone trying to get a sense of Post-Vietnam America. 8.5/10

This USWNT is a team we do not deserve, but one we are so fortunate to get. They were incredible throughout and today’s final was emblematic of a team performance. Rose Lavelle also gets to have an incredible moment and score in a World Cup Final. An incredible group and an incredible team. Congratulations USWNT! Live it up!

Toy Story 4 & A Book Review I wrote

Toy Story 4 – This movie is another great addition into the Pixar canon and for whatever reason I doubted it. The third movie seemed like the perfect conclusion to the series. Making a fourth film just seemed like a money grab.

In spite of my fears, this movie completely justifies its existence and hits every beat. The fact that we have seen these characters and this group so many times, definitely takes away from the wonder and excitement of the first few films. Even with that, the movie glides with such confidence and fun, its hard not to feel yourself falling back into the traps of that world.

It also finds ways to play with the conventions of good and evil, allowing for empathy and understanding. It gives time for toys to discover themselves, and what brings them together. This movie never treats its audience as stupid, but still gives ample amount of fun for even the smallest of children.

Calling this a kids movie is selling it short. It is a movie appropriate for kids that can be enjoyed by all. The best Pixar movies are more powerful for adults, and Toy Story 4 is no different. While some of the initial charm from the series is taken away, this movie is still a must-see for any Pixar fan. 9/10

The author does a terrific job of simplifying and defining the dilemma, but the rest of the book misses multiple opportunities to address it.

I have been working as an intern for the Washington Examiner and got to write a book review on Tyler Cowen’s book Big Business. Please check it out! I will be trying to see more movies this summer so I will be coming back with more reviews so stay tuned for those as well.

Burning & Elizabeth Warren

Burning – One of last year’s most critically acclaimed films, Burning has a quiet rage stemming throughout. It operates in subtleties, in many ways akin with Korean culture. It manages to carry weight without expressing it full stop. It is a good movie, but its story failed to really connect with me. It has some great performances and a story that cuts deep. It takes too long to develop, and really lost me at points. I enjoyed its undertones and deep seated anger, but I wish it was more polished. 7.5/10

In short, where Sanders seeks to steer capitalism toward socialism, Warren is bent on saving capitalism for all—and from itself.

The Bulwark, a site dedicated to Anti-Trump conservatives, is one of the most interesting sites to read right now. This Bulwark article discusses Elizabeth Warren’s importance in this election, an area which I had never really considered. Warren’s proposals are radical, from free college to massive increases in childcare. However, her ability to create so many policy proposals in such a short time span, have left others playing catch-up.

To hear about her importance from a conservative publication is particularly striking, especially considering how much she differs from conservative thought. Her proposals in many ways stem in the opposite direction from what many on the right hope to obtain from capitalism. Yet what this article recognizes is the importance of specificity. Her proposals create genuine conversations, where most candidates are merely running on an idealized version of what they would “like” to see for the country and themselves. While I may not vote for Warren in the end, her candidacy is still very important and I am glad that it is being treated that way.

Get Out, Widows, & IGOR

Get Out – Jordan Peele’s first film I had avoided because I was afraid. I am really disappointed that I did, as this film is not focused on being scary. Rather it is focused on its social commentary, a welcome relief. The beginning build up is slow but incredibly well done, as it keeps us engaged with what will happen next. The finale is a bit over the top, and the story itself goes a bit overboard. That does not take away from what this film accomplishes, as it manages to be a fun and engaging horror with commentary to make it unique. Jordan Peele is a man of the pop culture moment, and it is understandable why this film elevated his status. 7.5/10

Widows – This was a film I wanted to see last year but unfortunately was unable to. This movie does a terrific job at being tight and ratcheting up emotion without using too much dialogue. It is also a unique Heist movie, as it forces characters into a heist rather than make them willful participants. It gives a heist film plenty of emotional weight, making it that much more rewarding than I expected. It also tells an incredibly complex story, but one that is deeply satisfying. My biggest complaint is that its tightness works against the film, as it is simply too complicated to compress. Complicated plots lead to subplots which lead to more subplots. I wish there were more time to really explore this but it simply runs out of time. This would have made for a terrific TV miniseries, but instead it is a very good movie, one still worth seeing even if it can be a bit confusing. 8/10

This album is so pretty, confident, and considered that you wonder why he named it IGOR. Tyler, the Creator’s not a freak or a goblin or a monster anymore.

I love Tyler, The Creator and with his release of his new album IGOR he begins to reshape his style after coming out of the closet on Flower Boy. His maturity is beginning to show, which is a much appreciated step since his days with Odd Future. One of my favorite parts of this album is how he plays with different gender roles, and attempts to craft a new persona. Particularly the music video for the song “Earfquake,” shows him playing with stereotypes and ideas that are brilliant.

However, I still wish he had an edge, and I miss it on this album. It is still a great project full of terrific songs, but it is about their artistic quality and less about Tyler’s emotions. Tyler’s emotions are what I find the most captivating, and that is sorely lacking on IGOR Part of what attracted me to Tyler was his deep-seated anger, and how he dealt with it.  In my favorite album of his, Wolf, he brilliantly fluctuated between anger and appreciation, struggling to put his feelings into music.  This album feels earned after the success and sincerity of Flower Boy, and I am glad that he has begun to figure out how to be happiest. I just miss some of the edge that got him famous in the first place, and I wish it was more present here.  

Ash is Purest White & Dentistry

Ash is Purest White – This movie was not made for me or many of the people that read this blog. However, it is full of beautiful movements and moving historical portraits of Chinese Society. Watching the transition of Bin and Qiao from confident and smooth to brutalized and chiseled is genuinely fascinating to watch. I also loved Zhao Tao as Qiao; she captures the transformation of Qiao beautifully. Watching her sacrifice and struggle to save a dying relationship is brilliant and heartbreaking.

My biggest problem with this movie is that it is too slow. It can feel dragging and it requires a deep knowledge of Chinese History to understand all of the themes. Much is touched upon outside of the relationship between Qiao and Bin, mainly the change of China itself. Without it, many of the sweeping and slow-developing themes are hard to understand. While part of the joy in this movie is about thinking and reading upon it after, I have to be honest to my experience in the theater. There were times when I just wanted the movie to end. I would check my watch, groan, and continue. Some of this is by design, as you can feel the change in their relationship slowly grind to a halt. However, it is a stylistic choice that breeds boredom. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is nearly 30 minutes longer, and yet it never felt as if it was slow or dragging. This movie felt much longer. However, for the right audience, this film is a must-watch. It is not an easy movie to enjoy but if you spend the time with it, you will be rewarded. 7.5/10

Fluoridation of drinking water seems to help reduce tooth decay in children, but there is insufficient evidence that it does the same for adults. Some data suggest that regular flossing, in addition to brushing, mitigates gum disease, but there is only “weak, very unreliable” evidence that it combats plaque. As for common but invasive dental procedures, an increasing number of dentists question the tradition of prophylactic wisdom-teeth removal; often, the safer choice is to monitor unproblematic teeth for any worrying developments.

I hate the dentist and I am sure I am not alone. I have always been lazy about oral hygiene, so part of my interest in this article is my need to undermine dentistry in any way. However, this article points out plenty of troubling problems with dentistry. Oral hygiene is certainly important, but if we cannot guarantee a certain level of quality from dentistry we need to seriously question how we should take care of our teeth. Even if you love the dentist, this is a brilliant article worthy of a read.

Avengers: Endgame

In the first ever piece I wrote for this blog, I was critical of Avengers: Infinity War. My opinion stands firm on that movie, as it was bloated and confusing. The mere fact that they were able to pull it off was impressive, but that does not make it a good film.

Endgame is certainly longer than it needs to be, but it is much better than Infinity War. The cast is much smaller, allowing the plot to be more focused. The movie is slower but really allows each moment to feel earned. It manages to work for fans who may not be as into Marvel (like me) while still giving fan service for those fans who have really invested in these films. It also has (light spoiler alert) fitting ends for both Captain Marvel and Iron Man. Watching both characters get the send off they deserve was certainly thrilling. I also thought Thanos was much more compelling in this film than in Infinity War. In the last film it felt like he was just getting the stones just to say he could. Now, his motivations, or at least his patience and persistence, come to bare more fruitfully. It gives him a better arc, making his quest and (light spoiler alert) failure much more meaningful.

My only regret with this film is that I did not always know enough to understand the reference being made to which precise film. I wish I was more in tune with the rest of Marvel to understand the movie as a whole. That being said the film did a great job of allowing everyone to enjoy the ride. That along with a more intricate plot gave the movie much more backbone than many of the other Marvel movies. While I may personally not connect with Marvel as much as others, this movie is an important feat. It rewarded fans for their patience and dedication, while still blasting records at the box office. That is a true accomplishment and everyone at Marvel should be proud. 8/10

Captain Marvel & Ip Man

Captain Marvel – This movie is annoyingly mediocre. It takes no risks. It does nothing new. It is just there to fill in the gaps for those interested in Avengers: Endgame. I am not apart of the Marvel target audience so perhaps I am just missing something. Maybe it is a good thing a film with a female lead is just as mediocre as the male superheroes. Regardless, it is still disappointing to watch Brie Larson and others muddle in a film with so little to add. This movie also has clunky dialogue which is a problem for most superhero movies, but this one in particular. Lines like “it is sad to see you go” and “what can I do when I am set free” are unnecessary and should have been removed. Many characters also serve the purpose of delivering these nothing lines, or delivering lines of dialogue that tell you exactly where the plot intends to go. This also leads to an ending that is boring and anti-climatic.

With all of that in mind, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson are the best parts of the film. I loved Larson in Short Term 12 and she shows why she is so highly sought after. Unfortunately she is given little to work with. This is really disappointing, especially from a film so set on bringing about a new era for Marvel. 5/10

Ip Man – Donnie Yen is terrific as Ip Man. He finds a way to breathe life into the character while making the action and fight scenes exciting. The story can at times be fairly generalized and melodramatic, but the stakes are always there. The film never becomes self-obsessed with its action and always leaves room for the characters to develop. The story is also uniquely nationalist, which at times makes it easy to question the narrative itself. That being said, this film is plenty of fun and is a good movie outside of its fun action scenes. 7.5/10