Categories
4 Stars Movies

1917 (2019)

Maybe it is just me, but I feel that if you were to ask someone on the street what they know about World War one, they would not have much to say. It seems like World War Two has nearly made the first World War seem dim by comparison (the death toll of the second World War is more than nearly all other wars combined). Perhaps that is why when we think of war films, we tend to think more toward the second one (Vietnam is in there as well).

In short, I had very little knowledge of the history going into director Sam Mendes’ 1917, which the director has dedicated to his World War one veteran grandfather, except for one of my personal favorite patriotic songs, “Over There”, was written during the war.

The story is simple: two young soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mckay) are commissioned by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to deliver a message. The message is to go deep behind enemy lines and call off a raid of 1,600 fellow troops from walking into a trap set up by the Germans, before all of them (including a brother of one of the soldiers) are massacred.

The film does not rely on star power (though we do get appearances from Sherlock alumni Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch), but that does not at all mean the actors are not effective in their roles. What stands out in the film is that it is edited to look as though the whole film is shot in one take. There were only three or so times I could count where I thought I saw the editing take place (one for sure toward the middle of the film), but it seemed so convincing I was gobsmacked. It truly is an ambitious endeavor that Mendes (who may best me known for helming Skyfall, arguably one of the top three or four best 007 flicks) chose to pursue. It is proof that the film ends (in a sense) where it began.

Everything in the film seems authentic: the search for food, the small talk on the road, the enclosed spaces, and the rats. Seriously, the first half or so of this film has so many rats I feel I should warn you in case you are afraid of them. There is also a true feeling of brotherhood between the two soldiers. I was reminded a lot of that great song “He ain’t heavy, he’s by brother” from 1969 made famous by The Hollies.

What had me somewhat hesitant of the film was whether it would have been as effective had Mendes not gone for the “one shot” method of film making. Had he not, it may not have been as memorable (the same could be said of the Best Picture winner of 2014, Birdman, which also took this approach). Sure, the film would have still looked great (it is shot by the unflappable Roger Deakins, after all), but the affect of the gritty, almost surrealistic feeling of war, would be lacking.

Parents, the movie is unsurprisingly rated R, mainly due to war violence and swearing. There is no sexual content (save for one comment about masturbation between the two soldiers), but nothing else. I think back to when I was eleven or so, and my dad wanted me to see Saving Private Ryan, but he wisely waited for me to be ready for it (I saw it not long after it was released on VHS).

From what I could find, the last known veteran of World War one to die was Florence Green in 2012, just days before she would have reached the ripe age of 111. That generation of heroes are no longer with us in person, but their service and heroism will echo throughout the rest of time. Regardless of the time or situation, war is truly hell for anyone involved, and 1917 displays all this and more as it pays tribute to heroes who need more recognition these days.

As in all the great war films, 1917 hides it’s ideas of warfare in plain sight. Soldiers knowing to follow orders regardless of what the orders are (“If you love me, keep my commands” – John 14:15). Random attacks of outside elements that cause mass confusion. Acting on instinct. Making mistakes both minor and major. Persevering. Protecting one’s brother(s). Being on guard for potential attacks by the enemy (think of how the devil is like “a roaring lion” as described in 1 Peter 5:8, and “roaming the earth” as described in Job 1:6).

Correct me if I am wrong, but does that not also sound like spiritual warfare as well?

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Categories
"Top Tens", and others Movies

Top 20 Films of 2019

Toward the end of 2019, only when looking back did I realize how truly strong of a year this was for movies. As I progress in life as a movie goer, finding the good movies becomes easier. I always equate it to picking raspberries when I was a kid: the better ones are not always out in front. As has been the case of the past few years, I have decided to do a top 20 instead of a top 10. Even with 20, movies shown above such as The Two Popes, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Pain and Glory, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did not make the cut.

So without further ado…

Cinephiles!…ASSEMBLE!

Categories
4 Stars Movies

Little Women (2019)

Except for the fact that it was a classic book that had been remade numerous times over the decades, my knowledge of Little Women was practically nil. Of course, as a kid, I would rather have been reading Robin Hood, Frankenstein, or Tom Sawyer over a book with a title clearly meant for the female audience. This left me entering the newest adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s beloved book mystified as to what I would experience, though I had some hopes since it was directed (and adapted) by Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig.

The result was, to say the very least, surprisingly heart warming, as Gerwig and the knockout cast deliver to both newbies (like me) as well as fans. While I may be wrong on some of the characters and their relationships, I will do my best (thankfully, there was an older couple two seats down the aisle from me, and I could here the woman explaining things to her husband.) The film is told in two separate times, seven years apart. The earlier days is during the civil war, where we meet the four march sisters. They are Jo (Saoirse Ronan, teaming up again with Gerwig after their 2017 film Lady Bird), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen).

Their father is off serving the North in the Civil War, so they try to make the best of things alongside their mother, Marmee (the wonderful Laura Dern). We also meet their neighbor, Mr. Laurence (the ever reliable Chris Cooper) and his grandson Theodore, aka “Laurie” (Timothee Chalamet, also from Lady Bird). And, of course, let us not forget Aunt March, played by Meryl Streep. There are many actresses who can proclaim they are “not always right, but are never wrong.”, but can you think of any you would want to have say that over Streep?

As is the case with all siblings (not just sisters), there is love, envy, forgiveness, resentment, and mischief. This is mainly shown in the earlier time, since the sisters are younger and less mature. Each sibling has their own unique strength: Meg (who I believe is the eldest) is drawn to the theater. Jo is a writer of stories. Amy is a painter. Beth is musically inclined on the piano. A good chunk of the film is how each sister (especially Jo) realizes that growing up means going down different roads. As Meg states,

“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”

 They also have their different character traits as well (which I can only assume is true to the original material). While Meg and Beth are on the gentler side (especially Beth), it is Jo and Amy who are more head strong, which could explain why both are having feeling for Laurie. Jo herself states how she is amazed she was not born a boy. Even so, she is still prone to show her vulnerability.

One of the best examples of this is toward the end of the film, when Jo is talking to her mother about love (one of countless scenes of nearly impeccable acting). When asked if she loves a certain character, Jo responds,

“I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

Marmee responds,

“That’s not the same as loving.”

As humans, we are all looking for love. As children, we look towards our parents (or guardians). As we get older, we enter the stage of wishing for a significant other (once we realize cooties are not actually a thing.) Yet we realize that actual love is not a one way street: relationships don’t work if the love is not reciprocal.

Jo also has a moment of trying to defy God (which is an action that sums her character up in detail). While caring for a sick family member, Jo is told,

“We can’t stop God’s will.”

Jo responds,

“Well, God hasn’t met my will yet. What Jo wills shall be done.”

Regardless of where we are in our walk with God, we have all tried to defy God and/or his will at one point or another. This is one of the most raw forms of pride we possess. Of course, when we have a loved one who is sick, injured, or depressed, we feel bad for them as well as ourselves. It is when we start thinking along the lines of “Well God, if you won’t do anything, then I will!” that we start going down the wrong path.

All the performers make their mark, but the two that stand out are Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. As of this writing, both of their awards buzz has died down a little, but I would still not at all be surprised if they heard their names when the Oscar nominations are announced.

Perhaps the best part of the film, however, is how Gerwig (who clearly has a great film making career ahead of her) adapted the story. She balances the classical nature of the story with the right amount of contemporary energy that makes the film seem almost like a relic, yet still relatable.

Parents, this may be the family holiday movie that you don’t know your family actually needs (though I can see young boys not wanting to see this.) It is rated PG, mainly for the thematic elements. There is no swearing or violence, and only two kisses I can remember. I would guess a girl of any age would heart this film.

Little Women does have moments were it tends to drag on a bit, but very few times: I was basically enthralled the whole time. When you think of it, making this film was very risky. A PG family movie with mainly a female lead cast, no action or songs (basically, a film not steered by the Mouse House). Yet that does not take away from the films morals of life, heartbreak, romance, and all the little things in between. As one character states,

“Morals don’t sell nowadays.”

Little Women is nothing short of a delight.

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Categories
3 1/2 Stars Movies

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Spoiler Free

Since the age of 9 or so, I have always considered myself a moderately strong member of the light side of the force. That said, I would be worse than a Sith Lord if I were to even begin to start spoiling what happens in the final saga of the nine episode epic. Though the film is far from perfect, The Rise of Skywalker is still going to offer satisfaction of some kind to anyone who is related to the force.

If you have seen the trailers (and if you haven’t you should probably stop reading), you know we are getting the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, owner of one cinema’s greatest cackles). All that is left in his way of returning the Sith to power is the remains of rebels in his way. Leading the charge, of course, is Rey (Daisy Ridley), still in search of the mystery of her past, with the tutelage of Leia (the late Carrie Fisher). Also still in rebellion (so to speak) is Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, filling in for the late great Peter Mayhew), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), and, of course, droids R2-D2, BB-8, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, the only actor to appear in all nine films). I would also be remiss if I did not mention Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian.

As is always the standard for a Star Wars film, we get a handful of new characters. Again, I won’t try to spoil much, but two come to mind that I was a fan of. The first is a small droid called D-O (voiced by the film’s director, J.J. Abrams). The second is a character played by Richard E. Grant (last seen being nominated for an Oscar for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?). When you see him, you will see how he fits the role perfectly, and you wish the producers had gotten him earlier on in the series.

Perhaps what lacks in this film is how is does not continue the flow of episodes seven and eight. True, The Last Jedi is the one that is the oddball of the three (and I still defend it), but it seems like there are many elements where the story takes a step back instead of forward. What made the original trilogy so great (probably the best film trilogy there is) is that it not only worked as a trilogy, but as three individual films as well (The Godfather Trilogy would have if part three was up to par). For Star Wars Episodes 7-9, they work as individuals, but lack enough connection as a whole.

Parents, it is a Star Wars film, so it is likely your kids will be begging you to see this. There is mild violence and some swearing (very mild for a PG-13 movie). There is no nudity, and the only sexual content are a couple kisses (1 of them very briefly is between two female pilots and is completely unnecessary to the film; virtual signaling by Abrams).

The Rise of Skywalker indeed has a blissful conclusion, but the road there was rocky at best: Like traveling to Rome via Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway. A colleague of mine also mention how much the film has many similarities towards Avengers: Endgame (mainly in the last act).

Still, it is a satisfying conclusion to the saga that will as the tagline (and the immortal music of John Williams) informs us: No one is ever really gone.

Overall:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Categories
5 Stars Movies

The Irishman (2019)

Last year, when Netflix released the masterful film Roma, it was clear they were wanting the Academy to take them seriously. While it did win a good amount of awards (including Best Director), it did lose the big one, Best Picture, to Green Book (a film that, while charming at first, may be destined to be forgotten as time goes on). Much of this had to do with voters not liking the fact that a movie on a streaming service would win the night’s biggest honor, hoping instead for the winner to be one that was released theatrically.

Somewhat ironically, during the same Oscar telecast, we got the first (and very brief) teaser trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the film I personally have waited for all year. Along with Scoresese, names like De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel filled the screen.

 With Roma, Netflix was clearly swinging for the fences. With The Irishman, they are swinging for the parking lot past the outfield bleachers, which, bluntly put, is the result we get.

I admit that it takes me more than a viewing or two to totally understand even the best of mafia themed films, but I will do my best. The film tells the story of a real life mob hitman named Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, in his first Scorsese film in almost a quarter century). Towards the end of his life, we hear him narrate as he recalls making his way through the mob with the Buffalino Family, after encountering Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), Frank’s new employer who reports to the big boss Angelo (Harvey Keitel). Eventually, they make there connections with helping the infamous union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the man now most famous for his mysterious disappearance.

There are others in the cast who fill their roles with uncanny professionalism, as we see actors like Jesse Plemons and Bobby Cannavale. Though the film is indeed a male dominated one, Anna Paquin does some of her best work in years as Peggy, one of Frank’s grown up daughters. Still, I was most delighted and surprised to see Ray Romano as Russell’s cousin who acts as Hoffa’s main attorney. I have always loved Romano ever since I saw Everybody Loves Raymond as a kid, but it never crossed my mind that he would be cast a lawyer in a Scorsese crime drama, much less be as good as he is.

The normal themes of Scorsese films are present. I am not just talking about the swearing and the violence. The master film maker has indeed been vocal about being influenced by his cathlocism, which is evident in his films (at least the ones I have seen). The thought of having one’s occupation take priority over one’s morality. The idea of characters feeling utter remorse after the act of sinning, and seeking forgiveness afterwards (similar to Raging Bull and Goodfellas).

Though The Irishman does stand as its own achievement, it probably has more in common with Goodfellas than any other Scorsese film. Both are about two separate men rising in the mob world, only to enter that aforementioned remorse at the end. Goodfellas did dive more into the “family” aspect of the mafia, as well as it being more biographical than The Irishman (which centers more on a part of life than the whole life).

Parents, there is no beating around the bush: the film is rated R for good reason. Even if there is no hint of sexual content (despite one or two times characters kiss), it is more than compensated for with the swearing and graphic violence.

It is not much of a surprise that the 2010s have not been the best of decades for either Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, or Joe Pesci (mainly since Pesci came out of retirement to do this film), at least when compared to past decades. That said, it is easy to say that it is the best any of them have been in years. Much of that credit should also be given to the film’s screenwriter, Oscar winner Steve Zallian (Schindler’s List, American Gangster, Moneyball).

We get a much more subtle De Niro than we are used to, but that does not make him any less affective. It is a little strange seeing Pesci being the authoritative figure to De Niro, but Pesci is just as brilliant even if he is not as bulldog crazy as he was in Goodfellas. The one with the most to do is Pacino. To me, Pacino has always been the only actor who you can always hear even if you put the mute button on. Here, he is not overacting because he chooses to, but because we sense that is how the character would be.

The three main lead actors are in their mid to late 70s, yet the special effects mixed with the superior acting makes us not think of anything but the story. The only flaw with the film (and it is as minor a flaw as can be) is that some moments do show the actor’s age (they can make the face look younger, but certain body movements do seem a lot slower for that young age).

One thing I have not yet mentioned is the runtime, which stands at nearly 3 ½ hours. Yes, that is a long time, but I assure you not one second of that is wasted. If the film seems slow, it is because it is patient in the storytelling (most notably in the last hour when we see Hoffa’s outcome. Nothing is on screen that does not need to be.

The Irishman clearly marked all of my expectations, and then some.

Overall:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Categories
3 1/2 Stars Movies

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

For one reason or another, I was very worried when I first heard that Tom Hanks would be playing “Mister” Fred Rogers, especially only a year after the superb documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (which I am surprised was not nominated for an Oscar). The great Fred Rogers was someone we all, to some extent, truly took for granted. A soul of pure kindness that everyone would have given anything to have called neighbor, and ended up being the host of one of the greatest children’s programs in TV history (probably second only to Sesame Street). Truly one of a kind, I did not even think someone like Tom Hanks could replicate the aura of Rogers.

Obviously, I was wrong. It is the best Hanks has been in years, even though he is not the true center piece of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. That falls on Lloyd Vogel (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys), a journalist known for writing profiles that seem to always bring the negative out in the subject. When asked to do a piece on heroes, no one wants him to do the profile. No one, that is, except Mr. Rogers. When he mentions it to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson from the TV show This is Us), she begs her husband, “Please don’t ruin my childhood”.

It does not take long for the viewer to realize Lloyd’s own troubles, as he has a rather rocky (to say the least) relationship with his father Jerry (Oscar winner and always reliable Chris Cooper), resulting in some punches thrown at the beginning of the film (he assures others who see his wounds that it was a softball incident). This part of the plot does teeter a bit towards the mundane, if only because experienced movie goers will know the expected outcome. Thankfully, that does not mean it is not effective at times. This mainly occurs when Lloyd finally begins to open up about his feelings, first with Rogers.

One of the more interesting things of the film is how director Marielle Heller (who was at the helm of 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?) structures it like an actual episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I found this both effecting and sometimes perplexing. It is how we are introduced to the Lloyd Vogel character (who is based on real life journalist Tom Junod), as Rogers asks us if we know what it means to “forgive” (something all ages need to remember these days). I was okay with the fourth wall breaks that occurred, but some segments seemed almost superfluous, such as Rogers spending a few minutes showing us how a magazine is made.

There is no way for me to continue with the review without talking about Tom Hanks. It must have been truly inevitable that, when the time came for Mr. Rogers to be portrayed on screen, only Hanks could have done so. When looking back, perhaps I was worried about the casting because Hanks does not show much of a physical resemblance to Fred (my expectations can be high at times). Thankfully, I soon realized that did not matter, because the attributes of Mr. Rogers’ character were the crucial part, and Hanks has those in spades. The kindness. The smile. The heart. The unrivaled sense of decency.

There are very few (if any) celebrities who have been labeled as being one of the nicest people ever than Hanks. Think about it: When was the last time you heard Tom Hanks in the headlines for a scandal, or seen in the tabloids? His quality of the “every man” has resonated with him for years, similar to acting icon (and also acclaimed nice guy) James Stewart. This is not to even mention his highly underrated sense of humor (he is one of the funnier guests I have seen on late night talk shows). In a nutshell, my little brother Connor put it best: “When Tom Hanks dies, the world will be sad.”

Parents, the film is a rather soft PG rating. Along with the one brief early fight scene, I counted only a couple of the most minor of swearing, and nothing else. This is the type of film families are perfectly fine with seeing.

The film did not hit me in the feels as much as the documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (though few films have done so like that in the last few years), but the lessons are still clear (Rogers clearly is breaking the fourth wall when he asks Lloyd to take one minute to think of all the people who have helped him in life, something the real Rogers did many times). The lesson of everyone needing to give a little kindness. The lesson of how to forgive. The lesson of how (as Rogers says in the film),

“Fame is a four-letter word. What matters is what we do with it.”

Overall:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Categories
4 Stars Movies

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

Growing up, I had a slight impression that film comedies that were called “satirical” were always a little “smarter” than other comedies, not to mention sometimes riskier.

When Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator in 1940 (one year before the US entered the war), he was finally playing off the premise of how Adolf Hitler (who, it is said copied his mustache off of Chaplin) looked just like him. During the 1960s, Stanley Kubrick decided to make a satire off of nuclear war, and in the process, his Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) became one of the best of the genre (“You can’t fight in here: This is the war room!”)

All that said, it is not hard to see how some will be disturbed (to say the least) about the newest film by Director/Writer Taika Waititi (who made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, as well as played the film’s sidekick Korg), JoJo Rabbit, which has been billed as an anti-hate satire. Set in the last year or so of the war, the film centers on its protagonist Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis, who gives quite a film debut) as a somewhat precocious ten year old. Having lost his older sister years ago and having his father fighting in the war, he is left basically alone with his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).

As is the case with every 10 year old boy (and I would assume girls as well), he needs someone to look up to. Due to the time period and the fact that he lives in Germany, there is really no one else he could idolize other than Hitler, who shows up as his imaginary friend (played by Waititi). He goes to help at the local Nazi center which is run by Captain Klenzendorf (Oscar winner Sam Rockwell) and his assistant Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). Even in this setting, Jojo is somewhat of an outcast desperately trying to fit in, with the exception of his friend Yorkie (played by a scene stealing Archie Yates). Jojo’s life is thrown a curveball when he realizes that his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who starred in 2018’s criminally under seen great film Leave No Trace).

Most of the film is indeed shown through young Jojo’s eyes, with the exception of a few scenes. The most affecting ones are those with him and Elsa (who I was friends with Jojo’s sister years before). There is some funny imagery of their first encounter, where McKenzie is showing movements like she was almost out of a horror film (she does this on purpose). The rest I won’t spoil for you, except to say that it is proof that these are two young talents worthy of future attention.

The character arc of Jojo is well executed (no small thanks to the young Davis). His mother is out during the day, so most of what he experiences and learns from Elsa (as well as from the Nazi center) is authentic and direct. There also were not as many scenes as I was anticipating with Waititi’s Hitler (though they are rather amusing). By the end of the film, it has indeed died down on the comedy, as the whole situation of the war is finally revealed to the titular character. Moral relativism does not abide in this film: there is a true understanding of what happened and why it was bad. Moral implications also arise, given the nature of hiding a Jewish person from the authorities.

Parents, the film is PG-13 mainly due to swearing (one F bomb) and some violence. Mainly, the content and premise is what to watch out for if anyone sees this movie without knowing it is a comedy.

As an aside, I feel I should point out that I am more than aware of the atrocities that the real Hitler executed during his time of rule. Millions of lives were lost, and the affects are still felt to this day. How there are people who actually believe the Holocaust did not happen is something I will never know, nor want to. Sometimes humor is a way that people deal with evil and suffering, so having a comedy set in Nazi Germany is one of the ways we can emotionally deal with the atrocities that occurred.

The issue I had with the film was how, at times, it seemed to have difficulty finding its tone . The movie really only started working for me once Elsa was introduced. Still, credit should be given to the cast and crew for attempting something not only risky, but original.

It isn’t every day you see Hitler jumping out the window.

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Categories
3 Stars Movies

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Going as far back as the 1927 German film Metropolis (by renown filmmaker Fritz Lang), we as humans have been exposed to the idea of robots (or cyborgs: I know there is probably a difference of some kind). Ever since, we have gotten examples ranging from the Cybermen of Doctor Who (of which I am a huge fan), 2001’s HAL 9000, and the Blade Runner replicants to the lovable animated robots of Big Hero 6 ‘s BayMax and the titular hero of WALL:E. Which leads us, of course, to the Terminator franchise.

The newest film, Terminator: Dark Fate, takes place after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day (which I would rank in the top five or so greatest sequels in the history of cinema), meaning it disregards the previous films, only one of which I have seen, 2015’s Terminator” Genisys (which was a disappointment to say the very least). After the success of preventing Judgement Day, we learn that Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John made it past that day in August of 1997, but that did not mean they were completely safe. The film opens with John’s murder from a terminator, leaving Sarah on her own. She lives live now gettting mysterious texts from a source letting her know when other terminators will enter her time line.

One such event occurs as she helps protect a young Mexican woman named Dani (Natalie Reyes) from a newly evolved terminator called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which is somewhat of a cross between the normal t-800 and t-1000 (except its liquid state is much darker and muddier). Sent back in time to protect Dani is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is somewhat of a machine but more on the human side. Before her arrival, Grace had a tattoo applied, showing her cooridinates that match those of the mysterious texter (though it is really easy to predict who it is).

Of course, being a terminator film, you have to have Schwarzeneggar, being this is the role that made him a household name (and, as a kid, made me believe robots/cyborgs were real). As always, he is perfectly convincing, even when he is saying lines that are hard for me to comprehend the silliness. Just as convincing is Hamilton, playing a character that has become synonymous with the idea of a woman you don’t mess with (the only one more intense would be Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the Alien franchise). She also has to face the idea of forgiveness towards a certain character, which is something not in her blood. Davis does a decent job of being a protector who becomes more friendly as the film progresses, and there is a fine character arc for Reyes as her Dani quickly goes from “What is happening?!?” to “Enough is enough”. Luna also does an okay job as the villain, though he lacks the amount of cold menace from the 1991 film given by the great Robert Patrick.

The time travel formula is basically the same as the original two (which is where I learned the effects of time travel): protect the past to save the future (in this film, the company that has made new forms of technology is called Legion, as Skynet is now just a word only known to Connor and the T-800). Unlike Terminator: Genisys, this film thankfully is easier to follow the time travel aspect (Genisys was, to borrow a line from Doctor Who, was too “wibbly wobbly” and “timey wimey”).

The action sequences are just basic, but sometimes impressive. There are other nice touches from the original films, such as car chases in actual vehicles, not just sports cars. It also takes place, for the most part, in just two days or so.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is how the Arnie character has been living as a human (he goes by the name Carl, and works selling draperies. He has fallen in love (so to speak) with a single mother (Alicia Borrachero) and taken care of her son Mateo (Manuel Pacific). He has almost learned to have a soul, so to speak, though his relationship with his wife is not physical (“Does she know you weight 400 pounds?”, quips Connor). It is not entirely clear if Carl has developed a full imbodied soul, but he does truly know how to keep a family safe.

Parents, as is the case in the other films, there is some nudity (though it is not sexual here). There is still a good amount of violence and much swearing that makes this R rating what it is.

There is an intriguing line by Grace, after Sarah has mentioned what she had originally done in the previous films, which changed the future.

“You may have changed the future, but you didn’t change our fate.”

As humans, we are now more reliant (and, especially with cellphones, rather addicted) on technology than ever. Whether it will bring us to near extinction is up for debate. We as human beings are indeed supremely intelligent, but can we make intelligent beings that can think and feel for themselves? Comment below with your thoughts.

I am reminded of a joke from a minister. When scientists come to the conclusion that God is no longer needed, God asks if they are even able to make people from the dust of the earth, they say yes. Intrigued, God knows this is something he has got to see. When the scientists grab the dust of the ground, God quickly says, “No, make your own dirt.”

One thing that can be said is that, if we are in a future similar to that of the one we get in these films, what technology won’t be able to overpower is that of the human spirit, ensuring us that we will, in the end, be back.

Overall:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Categories
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.

Overall:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Categories
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.

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.