4 Stars

The Lighthouse (2019)

When I started my DVD/Blu-Ray collection as a teenager, one of my key rules was that the film had to be in widescreen format. I quickly realized that not all films were made in widescreen, but still preferred the aspect of seeing all the screen that I could.

The first thing one would notice about The Lighthouse (along with it being in Black & White) is that it is filmed in 4:3. This is a vital film choice from the director Robert Eggers (who made 2016’s The Witch), as it is one of many key factors that makes his latest film so chill inducing.

Set in the late 1800s, the film revolves around two men tending a lighthouse somewhere off the shores of New England. Most of the story is seen through the eyes of the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison), who just took the job as a lighthouse keeper and is being trained by Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). We learn right away that one of Wake’s sincere orders is to never go to the top of the lighthouse and locks it up from Winslow.

Much of what Winslow learns is by the hard way (like cleaning the sewage before drinking from the well, how to deal correctly with seagulls (more on those later), and keeping the wind factor in mind when emptying the toilet bowls). While Wake is tough, he is not without reason (he does cook for both of them).

Not to mention the flatulence. This film has quite a lot of flatulence for a movie that is not strickly comedic.

I can’t remember entirely if the film has a concrete reason for the two to be on the island (aside from keeping it in order). We do get some background of the characters (failed marriages, failed jobs, and so on), but it is what happens on the island that is important. To say that cabin fever (or lighthouse fever?) ensues is a gross understatement. We get striking visuals (thanks in large part to the cinematography of Jarin Blaschke, who also worked with Eggers on The Witch) that make the film’s horror aspects more palpable than that of a film that tries to give us cheap jump scares. Eggers is patient in waiting to frighten us.

Both of the two actors are in top form. Dafoe has always been an actor who commands a unique force, and is never boring on screen. Still, I admit to being completely surprised by Pattison. Like many, I went in remembering this is the same guy from the Twilight film series (unseen by me), only to realize I had only seen him in one other film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was way back in 2005. I am not alone in saying I had my doubts when I heard Pattison would be the new film version of Batman, but now some of those doubts are dissipating.

Parents, this is indeed not a film for children. The film does have at least two main scenes with sexual content (as well as female nudity). There is a moment where (minor spoiler) a character is fantasizing about having sex with a mermaid (end minor spoiler). There is also a good amount of violence (especially at the end, with a truly haunting, visceral, yet somehow memorable shot), and swearing. Trust the R rating.

It is this fantasy aspect of the film, I think, that keeps the movie from being truly great. I am not sure if we needed all the fantasy aspects added, and instead just focused on the two men. Human’s diving into insanity (not unlike what we saw recently in Joker) is just as scary as the scenes we see involving seagulls (anyone who knows me is aware of my legit fear of birds).

I mentioned before how the film was shot in 4:3, giving a clear feeling of the characters being boxed in. There is indeed a sense of sheer loneliness, both for the men as individuals and together. It reminded me of moments in movies set in prison, when they would send the prisoner to “solitary”, or “the hole”. For a specific (or maybe not) amount of time, they are alone with only themselves and their thoughts.

And thoughts (mainly the sinful ones), is where horror can sometimes be birthed.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
5 Stars Movies

Parasite (2019)

I am on one heck of a narrow tight rope here, discussing Parasite. This is a movie that deserves to be seen cold: very little foreknowledge going in is essential. It’s not every day you travel an hour to the movie theater, pay over twice the amount of the ticket for parking (thank you Chicago), only to see a two hour movie from South Korea.

It was worth every cent.

For the plot, I will tread as lightly as possible (there will be no spoilers, but I would not at all blame you for stopping at this point in the review, only to return after seeing the film.) Set in modern day South Korea, we meet the Kim family, living in a run-down basement as they are all scraping by to survive. The father Ki -taek (Kang-ho Song) is flawed but loyal to his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), and supportive of his (somewhat) kind hearted son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-Jung (So-dam Park), who is truly street smart to say the least.

The family finds themselves soon in the company of a much weathier family, the Parks, also a family of four. The wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) is simple (to say the least) but kind, as she looks over her teenage daughter Da-hye (Ji-So Jung) and her son Da-Song (Hyun-jun Jung) while her husband Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee) is at work.

The true star of the film, without question, is director Bong Joon Ho (who also wrote the film). If you have not heard the name before, get used to the name now. I admit I have only seen two of his other films (I guess I am late to the party): 2013’s Snowpiercer (with the MCU’s Chris Evans) and 2017’s Okja. The plan to see many more of his films is cemented in my mind, and I would hope in others’ as well (Okja is a Netflix original and Snowpiercer is streaming on the service at the moment as well).

All three films talk a good amount about the clashing of class in society to one degree or another. I have virtually no knowledge at all when it comes to the economy of South Korea, but I am also sure that is not necessary. We all have been guilty to a certain extent of being guilty of coveting our neighbor, be it for money (the root of all evil) or other things . What is great about the characters of Parasite is that there is no real sense of who is “good” and “bad”. Virtually all the characters are, in a sense, very gray.

Parents, the film is rated R, and for good reason. There is a good amount of swearing and some violence. There is also a scene of sexual content (very brief nudity) with two character lying on a couch that lasts about two or three minutes. Trust the rating on this one.

A few months ago, during my review of Once upon a time…in Hollywood, I mentioned how Quentin Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers today who can truly surprise me, giving me the truly unexpected. Bong Joon Ho (who Tarantino has said he is a big fan of) can now be added to the list. Parasite is more than just a thriller. It has plenty shares of laughs (sometimes out loud), wonderful performances (in particular Kang-ho Song and Yeo-jeong Jo), stellar set design (I am bewildered to have found out the locations were made for the film and are not actually legitimate places), and thought provoking to the core.

This is clearly one of the best films of 2019, and anyone who calls themselves a cinephile needs to seek it out.


Rating: 5 out of 5.
1 1/2 Stars Movies

Gemini Man (2019)

When Jesus said to build your house on the rock and not the sand (Matthew 7: 24-27), it is hard to argue that he would be talking about a movie, but this story ran through my mind frequently while watching Gemini Man. The film may have a big star, interesting premise, and high profile director, but the story it is set on is, well, sandy at best. This is the type of movie that seems to have missed its premiere in the public eye by a decade or so.

Fresh off his last mission, veteran hit man Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is looking forward to retirement. He soon finds out that he and his few close friends are sought after by the government (don’t ask why, for it is simple yet confusing at the same time), led by one of his old cohorts, Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Along for the ride is an upcoming agent (or whatever the proper title is), Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

If you have seen any of the previews for this film, it comes as no surprise that Henry faces off against a cloned version of himself (also played by Smith). This is a younger version (I believe the film said 25 years younger), who, we learn, has been brought up and raised by Verris. The movie does talk a lot about the issue of cloning (which I don’t remember being a hot topic since my freshman English Class of High School, which I lost the debate against cloning). The cloned version of Henry (called Junior) has all the skills and attributes of Henry, but would not have to experience the after affects such as PTSD and depression.

The action sequences are not much to marvel at (save for a cool motorcycle sequence). There are few (and I mean very few) glimpses of images that look affective, but they are muddled by choreography that ranges from the mediocre to the implausible. There are parts in the motorcycle chase (at the end of it) that seem to defy logic of any kind. What is more, none of that matters. We don’t get enough time with these characters to actually feel something about them when they are in these action set pieces.

Will Smith is undoubtedly one of the top five or so movie stars these days, but he dials down his talents here in both roles. Yes, we can tell the two characters he is playing apart through CGI, vocal work, and a shave, but there is so little to care about these characters that there is no point. This is also one of the first times I can every remember Will Smith having virtually zero chemistry with a female star. That is nothing against the actors. It is just clear the chemistry is not present at all.

Parents, there is one scene where Danny is forced to strip to her underwear that lasts only a minute or so. Nothing sexual. There is some swearing (one F bomb that I caught), and some intense action scenes. The PG-13 rating is just, so middle-schoolers and up would be okay.

The film does take a stance against the idea of cloning. It does not dive into the religious aspects of the idea of cloning (how we are, truly, made in God’s image). It is a topic (as is many of the branches of science) that is hotly disputed by Christians, and I will not try to start an argument about it here. What I will say is I would rather the movie be wrong over it’s stance of a topic and be presented in an effective way than have a film be correct about a stance of the topic and be boring.

Smith is indeed no stranger to having his share of what many consider bad movies. These include (but are not limited to) films like Bright (2017) Collateral Beauty (2016), After Earth (2013), Shark Tale (2004), and, of course, Wild Wild West (1999). Having a bad Will Smith movie is not something completely new to us. What does seem new (and completely shocking) is that this film was made by director Ang Lee. An Oscar winner for Best Director twice over, he has given us revered films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and The Life of Pi (2012).

When I say that Gemini Man is one of the director’s worst films, keep in mind that includes his movie Hulk from 2003.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

4 1/2 Stars Movies

Joker (2019)

One of the key aspects of the clown prince of crime was that we never really knew his backstory, which is why I was very hesitant (as I am sure others also were) to here we would be getting an origin story on a character that is possibly the greatest comic book villain ever (certainly the most popular).

In a sort of preparation for Director Todd Phillips’ (known for R rated comedies like 2009’s The Hangover) new Joker film,  I decided to revisit two films: one that was an inspiration to this current film and another that was one of the very first to galvanize the character in general. The former was Martin Scoresese’s 1976 classic Taxi Driver, about a man (played by Robert De Niro) who is basically shunned by the public despite wanting to “clean up” the garbage of the city. The second (and lesser known) was the 1928 silent german film The Man who Laughs, a story (from Victor Hugo) that tells about a man who has been surgically disfigured to always be smiling (I recently posted a picture of Conrad Veidt, the actor in the titular role,  to social media, and I still got friends saying that it is eerie, even over nine decades later).

The film opens in Gotham, where we meet a struggling Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). He works on the side as a clown, as he keeps his dream somewhat alive of trying to be a stand up comic, like his hero, talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur is indeed a kind man, but troubled to the core. We learn right away he has a certain disease (somewhat like tourettes) where he can’t stop laughing. It is clear that this laughter is desperately trying to hide unimaginable pain. Despite some nice co-workers, the only guiding light in Arthur’s life is his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), and the potential to go talk more with his crush in the apartment down the hall, single mother Sophie (Zazie Beetz).

The plot of the film is light and easy to follow, as Penny is trying to get Arthur to help her get a hold of her former boss, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who is currently running for Gotham Mayor. Yet the film is not about plot so much as it is about witnessing an tragic life event. In this case, it is the clear descent into madness that Arthur undertakes. The film will require more than one viewing, but the first viewing will undoubtedly be (as it was in my case) focused on one thing: the performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

The role of the Joker has been played by many actors over the years: Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill (voice only, but still brilliant), Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto. Of those, Ledger is the one who has probably had the most impact (he won a posthumous Oscar for the role he had in 2008’s The Dark Knight). It is a role that demands to have an actor who is has the ability to be give a chameleon effect in their approach, and make us realize that we are not watching an actor (think of actors like Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, and my personal favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis).

Phoenix also qualifies, and is simply astounding in this film. He even is given more work to do than Ledger had. Ledger’s Joker was already past the point of redemption, and was a sociopathic madman. When we first meet Phoenix, we can’t help but sympathize with him at times, as someone who has been shunned from society and left to the wolves.

Parents, this is not a movie for kids. While there is mild nudity (the joke book that Arthur keeps is filled with some cut outs of naked models from magazines), it more than makes up for it in the swearing and violence. That is not to mention the exuberant dark tone the film even after you left the theater. High School and above.

There is no clear cut answer to what type of mental issues that Fleck/Joker has (though it is safe to say there are many). The real question is how we react to someone with these issues. I am not trying to excuse the actions he exhibits, but trying to understand why he does them in the first place. At the core of it all, Arthur just wants some guidance, a soul to connect with (Sophie is one example). When we push those who are “different” from us away, it damages them in ways we can’t imagine.

Most of the scenes do work, but some that fail (not sure we needed another rendition of the outcome of Bruce’s parents). One that caught me off guard was when Fleck goes to try and talk to Thomas Wayne, and encounters his young son Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson). The jury is still out for me on this scene, but I would be lying if I said it did not give me goosebumps. I am sure there are a lot of people who will find this movie to speak out to them in some political way, but I was not looking at that. I was simply watching what happens when we forget to love our neighbor.

That, and one of the year’s best performances.

Send in the awards.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.