Moon – A Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to watch Moon for a really, really long time. (After all, it came out in 2009.) For some reason, I never knew quite enough about it to warrant devoting an entire evening.

Recently, I saw a list of the top science fiction movies on Netflix. I can’t remember what website I saw this on, but Moon topped the chart. That, coupled with the extra time we all now have, prompted me to finally give it a chance.

At barely over an hour and a half, Moon came in at just the right amount of time. The premise is both simple and complex. Sam Rockwell plays a man in the near future supervising a large moon station that’s responsible for mining helium and sending it back to Earth. He is the sole human in the station, though he does have an artificially intelligent robot called GERTY that is tasked with preserving his health and maintaining the station’s mechanics. Because of a persistent malfunction with the station’s live stream capabilities, Sam is completely cut off from his wife and child. However, the end of his three-year contract is only two weeks away, and Sam could not be happier to get back home. As you might expect, a complication arises, one that threatens both Sam’s homecoming but also the entire understanding of his existence.

Sam Rockwell, who plays the aptly named “Sam,” is always fantastic. I could be wrong, but I think this is the first starring role that I’ve ever seen him in. He is likable, vulnerable, and–most importantly–charismatic. To watch a movie featuring virtually one actor … well, it takes a special person to pull off that role.

I also appreciated the mystery of Moon. A strange occurrence happens early in the film, and from that moment on, Moon keeps you guessing. It’s a quiet movie with moments of intense action, but it’s never boring. The special effects, by the way, are exquisite.

As I said, you can stream Moon on Netflix right now. I’ve read that another movie available on Netflix, Mute, is a sequel of sorts to Moon. I’ll have to check that one out soon and let you know my thoughts.

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The Lost City of Z – A Movie Review

I’ve meant to watch The Lost City of Z for several years now. I would see it on my Amazon Prime Video menu, but would move along due to its 2.5 hour run time. I typically won’t watch a movie at home until my kids are in bed, so that run time would keep me up way too late.

Well, as may be the case with you, I’ve found myself with a little extra time lately. Though it still took me two nights to watch, I gave The Lost City of Z a shot, and you know what? You should, too.

If you’re like me and you don’t know much about the premise, it follows Percy Fawcett, a British soldier, adventurer, and explorer as he charts the Amazon and develops a theory that an ancient, complex civilization once existed in the depths of the jungle. He becomes obsessed with the idea and returns over and over again in the hopes of discovering evidence. Interestingly enough, The Lost City of Z is based on a true story (and a best-selling nonfiction book).

As I said, I highly recommend this film, and for many reasons.

First of all, it’s gorgeous. Much of the movie takes place in the Amazon. They filmed on location in Columbia, and it shows. However, the movie also occurs in beautiful English countryside, war-torn WWI trenches, and stunning architectural interiors.

Secondly, the acting is excellent. I’ve always liked Charlie Hunnam. He consistently manages to bring a masculine energy to any character he plays, one that is rare with a lot of Hollywood’s elite. I wish he had better luck with some of his choices–both The Lost City of Z and King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword failed at the box office despite being very good. Robert Pattinson managed to surprise me with his supporting role. As you may know, he’s currently filming the lead in The Batman. I’ve heard his work outside of Twilight is very good, but I haven’t been impressed with him until now. (I did not care for either High Life or The Lighthouse.) Sienna Miller, whom I have not seen in a film for quite a while, made “Nina Fawcett” more than just the wife left behind as she strives to keep her family together and push the boundaries of convention. There is yet another actor in this film that I won’t name. I did not expect his appearance in the movie despite having a large role, which proved a pleasant surprise and contributed to the film’s emotional ending.

Finally, while I admittedly didn’t know much about this story, I presumed the entire thing would take place in the Amazon. This was not the case at all. As previously mentioned, there is an incredible trench warfare scene, as well as some wonderful moment’s in Fawcett’s home, a British meeting room, an extravagant party, and more. In fact, The Lost City of Z spanned several decades of Percy Fawcett’s life, so this obviously contributed to many, many different locales.

While full of action, suspense, and thrills, The Lost City of Z is not a typical “action movie.” It does have it’s quiet moments, as well as several emotionally potent scenes. It portrays Fawcett as more than just an adventurer. It also allows him to be a father, a husband, a friend, and–perhaps most importantly–a person.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch The Lost City of Z right now as part of your service. I recommend you do just that.

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1917 – A Movie Review

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1917 proved to be an amazing experience. I heard the film was special because it was made to look like a single sequence, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, two soldiers are given orders during World War I to let a commander know that he must cease his impending attack–that it’s a trap. If the two men fail to deliver this message, thousands could die, including one of the men’s big brother. 

The story of the film unfolds as you would probably imagine without any real surprises, but that’s not what this movie is really about. Not to me, at least.

Instead it’s the way that the movie is shot that makes it so extraordinary. First of all, like I said, it is made to appear as though it is one single shot. In other words, there are no obvious cuts. The film’s story runs mostly in real time. They got a bit clever with one moment which allowed for several hours to pass, but otherwise it’s happening as you sit in the theater. You really can’t envision what a “no cut” movie looks like until you see it for yourself. It’s mesmerizing. The camera must track around the characters, move in front of them, then behind them, then next to them–it’s beautiful. 

Furthermore, 1917 shows you the horror of not just war, but WWI in particular. You are drudging through those trenches with the men, you are crawling over the dead, decaying bodies, you are avoiding bullets by mere inches and blind luck–you are right there, just over the characters’ shoulders, for all of it. The rubble, the ruined countryside, the dead soldiers and animals littering the ground and half-buried in craters–it’s awful. Yet, from a production standpoint, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen better. Even the costumes and props were incredible. 

From a purely technical standpoint, 1917 deserved to win Best Picture. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I did not connect with the main characters all that much, nor can I say that the actors gave particularly breathtaking performances. Now, to be fair, it’s hard to be too poignant in a film that is moving at a breakneck pace with the actors either walking or running almost the entire time, but the story never quite captured my heart.

Even with that being said, however, I consider 1917 required viewing. For the casual patron, it will thrill you. For those interested in the art of film making, it will revolutionize your ideas of what’s possible. 

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn – A Movie Review

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I really, really wanted to like this movie. The trailers looked vibrant, action-packed, and fun. I didn’t see how this film could miss. Unfortunately, I can only describe it as “fine.” It wasn’t bad–not at all. However, it also wasn’t especially good.

As I think on it, I believe the biggest misstep occurred by having Harley Quinn share the screen with others. We already know Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, so the film might have been wise to simply pick up her story and go from there. Instead, they included Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Renee Montoya, Cassandara Cain, and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), which resulted in a great deal of additional exposition. The movie had to introduce and explain these new characters as it also tried to intertwine them with Harley Quinn’s plot. This resulted in several start and stops, many flashbacks, and more than a few backtracks.

The fact is, Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn can carry a movie by themselves. The more I see Robbie in other movies, the more I appreciate her as Quinn. She really lays it all on the line with this character. There are so many interesting places to take Quinn. After all, she’s a former psychologist, an actual doctor. While treating the Joker, she descended into madness herself. Or, perhaps she finally accepted her own madness. That alone is a compelling thing to explore. Sadly, they only touched upon these aspects and instead chose to focus on her more manic tendencies, which, admittedly, lend themselves to frenetic scenes and a visually exciting experience.

Much of the movie revolved around her break-up with the Joker. For a film that touts Harley Quinn’s emancipation from the Clown Prince of Crime, it spent a lot of time focusing upon that issue. That being said, I found it odd that they neglected to actually include the Joker. They showed drawings of him, or the back of his head or shoulder in a few scenes, but never his face. If they simply said they broke up and left it at that, I wouldn’t have found the awkward flashbacks with him so … awkward. It’s as though they refused to let Jared Leto reprise his role as the villain while Joaquin Phoenix is attempting to win an Oscar for playing the same character.

It was fun to see Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya) on screen again, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) stuck me as a true movie star, but they simply weren’t necessary to the story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely mishandled. Her “Huntress” barely even appeared in the film. (If you want to see her at full strength, check out 2017’s Fargo FX series, which also stared Ewan McGregor, believe it or not.)

Speaking of whom, I’ve never seen McGregor so villainous. His take on “Black Mask” kept us off balance because he was at times childish, at times charming, at times brutish, and even feminine in some moments. So while the character remained consistent, we never knew what actions to expect from him.

By the way, the action is mesmerizing. Women fighting men twice their size have to be creative, and there is a great deal of creative fight choreography in Birds of Prey. There’s one particular scene in which Harley Quinn wields a bat, and it is beautiful. I’ve heard others say this is DC’s best action movie, and I think that’s accurate. There’s ample eye-popping action to behold.

I want to recommend a movie featuring not just primarily female actors, but female DC characters as well. I think it’s a meaningful development not just for the genre, but for the movie industry. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey simply failed to capture much of my interest due to its attempt at explaining all of the new characters it included. It’s a fun action movie with entertaining humor and hypnotic visuals, but it could have been far more with Margot Robbie at the helm.

 

 

 

 

Dolittle (2020) – A Movie Review

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Both of my kids were very excited to see this latest iteration of Dr. Dolittle, so I took them on my day off. I’d heard some negative reviews which gave me trepidation, but, honestly, how bad could it be? It stars Robert Downey, Jr., after all. If nothing else, at least I’d get to enjoy him.

Well, let’s be clear–my kids loved it. That’s all that really matters in a children’s movie, right? And, to be fair, the computer animation is very, very good. There’s never a moment when some sort of animated creature isn’t on the screen, and, for the most part, they all look great. Sure, there are moments when they appear particularly unfettered by gravity or … reality, but that’s to be expected in CGI films like this.

Furthermore, there are some very big, fun names in Dolittle. John Cena, Rami Malek, Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Craig Robinson, and even Selena Gomez lend their voice talents to the numerous creatures throughout the film. Each of them portrays a very distinct personality that my kids had no trouble deciphering.

There are some impressive live-action actors in the movie as well, namely Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen.

And then, of course, there’s Robert Downey, Jr. We love RBJ as Tony Stark, obviously, but let’s not forget that he has several other notable roles, nominations, and awards under his belt.

Dolittle sadly features a decidedly disconnected Robert Downey, Jr. I mean that quite literally. There’s something very weird about his voice in this movie. First of all, it just doesn’t sound like him. I don’t mean just that he’s doing some kind of strange accent (he is), but his voice is virtually unrecognizable. Additionally, it’s hard to both hear and understand him. His voice doesn’t seem to exist in the actual environment. It’s almost as though they took a sound booth performance, laid it over the track, but then forgot to mix it in with the background sounds. It doesn’t feel organic to the scenery. It feels … disconnected. Does that make sense?

His body language is also uncharacteristic. He’s very subdued and almost … inanimate. They also chose strange moments to film him with his back to the camera as he spoke. Nothing about this performance seemed typical of Robert Downey, Jr. at all, and that’s unfortunate.

Finally, I can honestly say I’ve never seen an ending quite like the one featured in Dolittle. I’m not implying it’s a good ending, a logical ending, or even a tasteful ending, but it is certainly original.

Truthfully, though, my opinion doesn’t really matter. My kids loved it, it’s a movie for kids, so there you have it.

 

Little Women (2019) – A Movie Review

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My wife, eleven and seven year old daughters, and I wanted to make special plans for New Year’s Eve. We decided on a movie and dinner, which, while not especially original, sounded delightful to us. My oldest daughter and wife wanted to see Little Women. The youngest daughter didn’t much care either way, nor did I.

I feel that it may be important at this point to mention that I’ve never read the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. (Yes, I’ve read a lot of novels. Yes, I know it’s a travesty I haven’t read this particular novel. Yes, I understand I’m obligated to read every book ever written.) I also have never seen a theatrical adaptation of Little Women. In other words, I came into this film knowing almost nothing about the plot or characters.

Without a doubt, Little Women is one of my favorite films of 2019. Trust me, no one is more surprised by that statement than the person who wrote it.

In the beginning, I thought I’d made a huge mistake. The first ten minutes were, well … boring.

However, as you begin to meet the sisters and experience their interactions, the charm of the film comes into full effect. The chemistry between the four actors playing sisters Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth render Little Women irresistible.

Saoirse Ronan plays Jo, the lead character. I’ve seen Ronan before in Lady Bird. There’s no denying she’s among the best at her craft. Ronan delivers a fully developed Jo March, a young woman capable of earning our love and also of instigating our frustration. Like any real person, Jo has moments of wonderful triumph and horrible judgement. However, Ronan’s performance is so charismatic that we can’t take our eyes off of Jo, and we can’t stop hoping for her happy ending.

I won’t break down everyone, but Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen also offer fully realized characters. When they are laughing, we are laughing. When they are crying, we are crying. They make us part of their family, which is why this movie won me over so thoroughly. In fact, though I hesitate to admit it, the death in this movie brought a tear or two to my eye that escaped and trickled down my cheek. I could count the number of times this has happened to me in a theater on one hand.

By the way, Laura Dern, who plays the mother, fits perfectly with these actors. First of all, I think they all actually look like they could be family, and you see aspects of her in all of their performances. It really is quite amazing. I don’t know if this is simply the result of the novel’s characterizations, if it’s natural chemistry among the troop, or if it happened due to careful direction. Whatever the case may be, the multifaceted Dern also captured my heart.

Speaking of direction, I’d like to address Greta Gerwig, the director. I liked Lady Bird, but I’ve also heard that it’s essentially her life story. I have conflicted feelings when I hear that a director is basically just replicating actual events. That may be small-minded of me, but it’s the way I feel. With Little Women, though, I think Gerwig made some brilliant decisions. Again, I have not read the book, so perhaps this is done in the novel, but Gerwig depicts these people as actual human beings. They are not prim and proper, they are not saints (though they certainly have more charity in their hearts than most), and they are not above petty retribution. Best of all? They fight. Not just verbally, but physically. There’s a moment in the film where a brawl breaks out between two of them and I started laughing. Not because it was meant to be funny, but because it was so fresh. I’ve never seen a movie taking place in the 1800s, based off of a classic work of literature, willing to show young women having a knock-down, drag-out fight. Do sisters fight? Yes! Did sisters fight in the 1800s? Of course! Yet such realism, and bluntness, is rarely shown on film. There are many themes in this film, but chief among them is that women are people, too. I think Gerwig was very smart to show us women actually being people–not cherished artifacts, dainty assets, or beautiful trophies, but real people.

Gerwig chose to also unveil the plot in a broken timeline. In other words, the film does not start at the beginning and run through to the end. Instead, it starts in the middle and then jumps back in time at relevant moments only to return back to the present. It can be a little confusing at times, but, overall, it proved very compelling.

If you follow my reviews, you know that most of the movies that I see in theaters involve laser swords, muscular men in mo-cap suits, and robots with varying degrees of sentience. Bearing that in mind, I highly recommend Little Women to fans of any genre. Like Shakespeare did in his plays, this film captures the essence of that for which we can all relate: love, family, hope, death, anger, and living life.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – A Movie Review

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I loved The Rise of Skywalker because it pandered to my every desire.

I realize that this is something of a backhanded compliment, yet I don’t care. Did it have problems? Absolutely. Did those problems impede my enjoyment of the film? Not at all.

The Rise of Skywalker left me emotionally fulfilled–perhaps even giddy. It did its best to adjust to The Last Jedi, a film that, while well made, did not settle well with me. It wrapped up multiple story lines while leaving ample opportunity for future stories. We were also afforded the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone just the way we hoped we would.

I’d be lying if I said The Rise of Skywalker broke any kind of new ground. Even the surprises, once contemplated, proved to be obvious choices.

However, this did not bother me at all. I’ve been watching Star Wars movies since childhood. I’ve been on this ride for forty years. In regards to the main story line, the Skywalker saga, there are certain expectations that simply can’t be altered. Call this extreme fan-service, call it an adherence to the archetypal blueprint upon which Star Wars is built, call it whatever you want. When destiny and hope are firmly entrenched in a film series’ themes, there aren’t that many choices pertaining to the conclusion.

Without getting into spoilers, I found the action of The Rise of Skywalker impeccable, the dialogue snappy, the emotional resonance potent, and the characters engaging. The film moved so fast that it nearly achieved hyperspace, which resulted in an incredibly fun experience. There were a few “I can’t believe that happened!” moments, and there were several greatly appreciated cameos. Furthermore, Poe, Finn, and Rey were actually together for most of this film. Their on-screen chemistry guaranteed a victory.

Unfortunately, there were some issues. Quite honestly, The Rise of Skywalker felt more like a series of vignettes than a coherent, interconnected plot. Truthfully, unlike the Lucas films, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX felt quite disjointed from one another. I’m not convinced the new guard had a three-film plan in place before unveiling The Force Awakens. The movie moved so quickly, in fact, that the audience didn’t have time to process in real time the enormous plot holes arising.

The big reveal regarding Rey, while utterly satisfying, literally came out of nowhere and, frankly, made no sense at all. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I’d be lying if I said there were clues throughout the previous films to lead us to that exact revelation. In the end, Rey’s lineage left me with more questions than answers.

Consequently, if you’ve seen the posters or trailers, you know that Emperor Palpatine (or Darth Sidious, if you prefer) plays a role in The Rise of Skywalker. His entire presence, while emotionally gratifying, also made very little sense when viewed against the entire new trilogy. I just cannot believe he amassed the army he did in total secrecy for thirty years. It served this final movie very well, but it also proved a little too convenient.

The fate of Kylo Ren also ended up being just a little too convenient. Again, I adored what they did with him, but his character arc ended up being a little too neat–a little too tidy. This is a man responsible for millions of deaths, after all.

Do not go to The Rise of Skywalker if you’re looking for a movie that breaks molds, bucks the system, spits in the face of fans, or any other appropriate cliche. But, if you want a satisfying ending to a forty-year-old story that will get you a little misty-eyed, entice you to whelp in delight, and perhaps even prompt an applause or two, this is the film for you.

Enjoy.