Velvet Buzzsaw – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a gloriously weird movie that’s a little funny, a little scary, a little tongue-in-cheek, and a little masterful, check out the Netflix original film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, a prestigious art critic with the world at his feet.  He’s in love with Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton.  Josephina is trying to climb her way to the top of the art gallery industry as she works for Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze.  Yes, these names are fantastic.

After her neighbor dies, Josephina discovers that the deceased had an apartment full of original art.  Morf declares the man a modern day master and urges Josephina to sell it through Haze’s gallery.

Soon, though, strange things begin to happen involving the departed’s art, and that’s when the scares begin.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a whole lot of things, but it’s also never just one thing.  Well, it is one thing — entertaining.  I have to be honest, this movie kept me engaged from start to finish.  It’s so strange that it’s flat-out unpredictable.  Is it good?  I thought so, but I wouldn’t dare to argue with someone who told me they didn’t like it.  You certainly have to be in the right mood for Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s definitely one of the more unique films that I’ve seen of late.

I will say this though, Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely disappeared in his role as Morf Vadewalt.  His performance alone made this film worth watching.  With incessant fidgeting, a biting sense of humor, an impeccably odd sense of fashion, and a mesmerizing speech cadence, Morf leaped off the screen.  Though there’s no hero in this movie, Morf is as close as we get (which is not very close).

I also loved seeing Rene Russo again.  Her character, Rhodora Haze, once belonged to a punk rock band called–you guessed it–Velvet Buzzsaw.  Russo got to really strut her stuff playing an entirely unlikable, manipulative, evil businesswoman who gets a thrill in taking no prisoners.

By the way, there are also very fun performances in this movie from John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and Natalia Dryer (from Stranger Things).

In the end, Velvet Buzzsaw seems to exist in a world that has existed for quite some time.  The characters all have history with one another, and other than some fleeting references, the movie is not overly concerned with catching you up.  Nor is the film terribly worried about explaining what the hell is going on.  Once the art starts killing people, it doesn’t follow any particular rules or adhere to any specific logic.  If you buy the dead artist’s work, sell his work, look at his work, or even find yourself near his work … your life is in grave danger.  Heck, sometime’s it’s not even his art that gets in on the act.   (Did anyone else love Hoboman?  He’s the real star of this movie.)

If you’re looking for some inimitable performances, a wondrously quirky plot, and a bizarrely good time, I totally recommend Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s got to be the best of what it is … I’m just still not sure what it is.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – A Movie Review

My kids and I loved the original Lego Movie, but none of us were super excited for the sequel.  I’m not really sure why, to be honest.  We realized yesterday that it may not be in the theaters much longer, so we made our way to the show to catch it before time ran out.

The verdict?

We all loved The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part even better than the original!

This is a streamlined, funny, easy to digest movie with some great one-liners, catchy music, and a message that personally touched my heart.

The most superficial morality lesson is to be true to yourself.  It reminds kids not to let anyone else determine one’s actions–do what you know is right and you’ll always come out on top.  However, there was also an underlining message about growing up.  I’m not sure either of my kids caught it because I tried to talk to them about it and they seemed at a loss.  Because the movie takes place five years later, Will Ferrell’s children from the original, Finn and Bianca, are now further along in age.  Though they both still love Legos, they are in very different places in terms of how they like to play with their Legos.  This is the driving force of the film’s plot, and I absolutely cherished it.  It meant so much to me because I see the same thing happening with my own children.  I see my ten-year-old try to play with my six-year-old, but it can get frustrating for big sister because, well, little sister is only six.  This chasm seems to have been too great for Finn and Bianca, and it’s driving Emmet, Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, MetalBeard, and Benny apart as a result.  Of course, the movie has a happy ending, and it struck a chord with me because my kids continue to play together despite their age differences.

Are you convinced yet?  Is that a little too introspective for you?  Well, rest easy, the movie is also flat-out hilarious.  There are pop culture references galore, especially if you love Will Arnet’s Batman.  Oh, the mom appears in this one too, and you’ll love the actress portraying her.  They even pull a great gag involving Lego bricks that every parent will instantly relate to.

Admittedly, the song Everything Is Awesome catapulted The Lego Movie into everyone’s consciousness last time around.  This second part hasn’t reached mainstream success in terms of music, but the tunes are great nonetheless.  Listen closely to all of the songs’ lyrics–I was rolling!

Again, I’m not sure why we weren’t jazzed to go see this.  Maybe the brand got a little diluted with The Lego Batman Movie quickly followed by The Lego Ninjago Movie?  Those two spin-offs definitely felt repetitious to me in terms of story and theme, but not to worry, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part breaks with those previous themes and creates something totally new.

If you and the kids haven’t seen The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part yet, I urge you to go check it out while it’s still in theaters.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Captain Marvel – A Movie Review

The good news is that my original concern regarding Captain Marvel seems unfounded.

The bad news is that Captain Marvel is a wasted opportunity.

Allow me to elaborate.

I won’t go into too much detail about this movie for fear of spoiling it for you, but I will discuss some broad strokes.

First of all, Captain Marvel has some top-tier talent.  Brie Larson, Samuel Jackson, Annette Bening, and Jude Law all play significant roles in the film.  These are high-caliber actors and actresses.  Yet … they weren’t enough.

The fact is, Captain Marvel delivers a story revolving around the Kree and the Skrulls, two alien races at war with one another.  You’ve seen the Kree before in Guardians Of the Galaxy.  They were a nice little means to an end in that movie.  In Captain Marvel, they are front and center, and I couldn’t have cared less.

That’s the major misstep of Captain Marvel.  The story is predicated upon a war that the audience is neither invested in or familiar with.  It was very hard to follow, and, honestly, I found myself bored through much of it.  The movie focused upon a lot of ambiguity, a lot of chases, a lot of fights, a lot of glowy things, and very little actual story.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the character of Captain Marvel.  She’s got a ton of potential in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, with a different story, I think Brie Larson could have knocked it out of the park.  Unfortunately, though, the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.  It had inspiring moments, but it didn’t necessarily deliver an inspirational message.  It had some funny moments as well, but it wasn’t a comedy or even an action-comedy.  It had tons of action, but much of the action seemed pointless.  I’m actually still struggling to concisely say what this movie was even about.

If anything, I would say Captain Marvel suffered from the same ailments most prequels do, and that’s the need to explain why X, Y, and Z happened in the other Marvel movies, and to lay the groundwork for future installments.  In the end, I don’t think Captain Marvel ever got to be its own story.

Oh, there’s also the problem of bad–really bad–dialogue.  The film is just one cliche after another and you can actually predict most of what comes out of Captain Marvel’s mouth.  Along those lines, the Skrulls have Australian accents.  Why not?  An alien race from the depths of space?  Sure.  Australian accent.  You bet.

It’s not all bad, though.  The special effects are great, and when Captain Marvel is at full power, it’s something to really behold.  Unfortunately,  those moments don’t make up for a talented cast who never got the opportunity to make us care about their characters as they raced from one place to another while spouting poorly written lines in a confusing, directionless film.

While I firmly believe Marvel needed a movie with a female lead, I don’t believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed Captain Marvel to progress its epic story.

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A Star Is Born – A Movie Review

You may have noticed a trend in which I’ve been watching a lot of movies recently released on DVD that I wanted to see in the theater.

A Star Is Born is yet another example of one such movie.

I should start by mentioning that I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of this film.  I have no idea how much it stuck to the source material, nor did I have an inkling as to how it would end.

More on that in a minute.

Here’s what I do know: I loved this movie.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I loved this movie.  On paper, I should just like this movie, not love this movie.  The story is not original (I mean that figuratively, but you could also take it literally).  The romance between Jack and Ally is not, on the surface, especially unique.  The ending of the film isn’t even breaking new ground.

So why did a story I’ve seen so many times before mean so much to me?

The answer to that is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are absolutely the reason this movie struck such a chord with me.  I believed in their characters’ relationship.  I found myself inextricably emotionally tethered to both of them.  I cared about their health, I cared about their careers, I cared about them.

I generally like both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but they are not sure-fire hits with me on any project they release.  This isn’t a blind faith kind of thing.  They had to win me over with A Star Is Born, and they did.  Oh, boy.  Did they ever.

I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the general plot is that Cooper’s character, Jack, a nationally revered musician, happens across Gaga’s character, Ally, in an unlikely place.  A connection instantly forms, followed by a friendship.  Jack is impressed with Ally’s vocals, so he invites her up on stage with him.  From there, you guessed it–a star is born.  Their friendship quickly (very quickly) becomes romantic, and the case could probably be argued that they both experienced love at first sight.  Ally’s career takes off on its own, Jack suffers some health issues, these two things influence their relationship and, ultimately, bring about the film’s conclusion.

Like I said, I won’t spoil it for you, but the aforementioned conclusion?  It destroyed me.  I’m still rattled by it.

I’ve seen both Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite, and, in my opinion, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave much stronger performances than the Best Actor and Actress winners–Rami Malek and Oliva Coleman.  Not only did Cooper and Gaga act, sing, and play instruments, but they made me believe in their world in such a way that neither Malek nor Coleman achieved.  They made me forget about Cooper and Gaga and see only Jack and Ally.  Cooper and Gaga made me invest at such a deep level that they provoked a potent emotional response.

My only complaint about A Star Is Born is the pacing of the film.  I realize this can be a little difficult due to time constraints, but I never got a great sense of how much time passed within the duration of the film.  As a result, everything felt like it happened really quickly.  Their relationship, Ally’s rise to fame–it seemed to occur within months.  I realize this can’t possibly be the case, but the film never quite indicated the span of time between important moments.

This small complaint isn’t enough to negatively impact my opinion of the film, though.  In fact, as of right now, I would pick it as the real “Best Picture” winner.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, or Vice, so I can’t state that as objectively as I’d like.

It’s probably obvious, but I absolutely recommend you see A Star Is Born.

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Bohemian Rhapsody – A Movie Review

It wasn’t until this movie started getting mentioned for Oscar nominations that I gained an interest in it.  Honestly, while I like Queen well enough, I had no interest in seeing a biopic about the band.  I kind of figured it … wouldn’t be good.  How many movies about real bands have been good?

Back in November, though, people were giving it good buzz.  I heard that it had great energy and really focused on the music.  During the last few months, however, I heard critics from Pop Culture Happy Hour and The Ringer talking about how Rami Malek was ultimately just doing an impression of Freddy Mercury–that there wasn’t much acting to it.  In fact, they claimed his prosthetic teeth were doing all the work.  (Those chompers really were extremely distracting.)  Furthermore, they complained that the movie played it pretty safe and seemed intent on painting Queen in the best light possible.  Of course, they were also critical of director Bryan Singer’s reported erratic behavior and alleged past misconduct.  His behavior apparently led to his dismissal before filming concluded.

The Oscars seemed to side with popular opinion and declared it a “Best Picture” nominee.  It didn’t win that award, but Malek did pick up a “Best Actor” trophy and the film won three more Oscars in technical categories.

Well, by this point I had to see Bohemian Rhapsody for myself.  As soon as it became available at my local library, I checked it out.  My wife and I just finished it, in fact, and, yeah, it’s a crowd pleasing piece of work.

If you love Queen music, you’re going to really enjoy this movie.  If you like feel-good movies where everything works out in the end, this movie is for you.  I won’t lie–I had a great time watching it.

But, with that being said, it definitely does paint the band in a positive light.  They have a little tiff here and there, but for the most part the movie depicts them as supporting one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another as family.

There’s nothing wrong with that, for sure.

It also delves into Mercury’s homosexuality, drinking, and drug use, but rather innocently.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it all felt very sanitized.  Of course, this makes total sense when making a film aimed at pleasing a mass audience.  Knowing Mercury’s ultimate fate, the movie wanted us to hold him on a pedestal in the end.

I’ve heard the critics complain that Jim Beach, the band’s longtime manager, acted as a producer on this movie, and that the surviving members of Queen fought hard to make the band look as good as possible.

That makes perfect sense from their perspective.  And, frankly, as an audience member, I’m okay with it all.  I’m not watching Bohemian Rhapsody for a history lesson–I’m watching it for fun.  If they gloss over some darker moments of reality and create a little dramatic tension for effect, I can accept that in this particular circumstance.

The point is that one should not take this movie as gospel.  It is not necessarily accurate in many cases, so the viewing audience should not treat it as a documentary.  It’s a fun, exciting movie based on a real man, but that doesn’t make it scene-for-scene truth.  (Rolling Stone has a list of mistakes committed by the movie HERE.)

Don’t let this misinformation stop you, though.  Like I said, I found it immensely entertaining and have no problem recommending it to others.

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The Favourite – A Movie Review

The Favourite has been slowly building acclaim for quite a while, but with it’s recent ten Oscar nominations, it shot up to my “must-view” list.

We were fortunate enough to have it play again at our local theater tonight, so my wife and I made it a date and checked it out.

I can honestly say that if you get a chance to see The Favourite … don’t.

I am clearly missing something with this film.

Look, the actresses were great–no doubt.  Olivia Coleman disappeared into Queen Anne and depicted one of the most wretched characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are also absolutely going for it with this movie.  They were brilliant.

However, the story is just … not that compelling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, it’s about Queen Anne in the early 1700s.  She suffers from gout, as well as a few other infirmities.  Her mental well-being seems questionable at best.  Rachel Weisz plays her cousin, Lady Sarah.  Lady Sarah is Anne’s best friend and pretty much calls England’s shots on Anne’s behalf.  Emma Stone plays Abigail, a former noblewoman who has been stripped of her rank.  Abigail comes to Anne’s palace as a servant, but quickly works her way into Anne’s confidence.  A power struggle ensues between Lady Sarah and Abigail, with Anne loving every minute of it.

However, there’s something about this movie that I did not realize …

SPOILER ALERT …

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Both Lady Sarah and Abigail curry favor with Anne through sexual acts.  Yes, you read that right.  There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments in this film.  A lot.  It’s not overtly graphic or shocking, but I had no idea this aspect of the movie even existed.

Furthermore, most of the movie takes place in Anne’s bedroom.  The costumes are exquisite … at first.  The settings are beautiful … at first.  But this all wears thin when the movie doesn’t go anywhere else.  There is an interesting subplot about a war taking place, but Anne really couldn’t care less about it so we see nothing of it.  We get just a touch of British politics, but not a whole lot on that front either.

It’s mostly Sarah and Abigail vying for position with Anne.  They sabotage each other at every opportunity.

If I’m failing to recognize something that makes this film a masterpiece, please, feel free to educate me.

As far as I’m concerned, The Favourite is the furthest thing from a “must-see” movie.

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Unsane – A Movie Review

I’ve been hearing a lot from critics about Steven Soderbergh lately.  You know Steven Soderbergh even if you don’t know that you know Steven Soderbergh.  He directed the Ocean’s 11 movies, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky (just to name a few).

He has a movie that just released on Netflix called High Flying Bird.  My friends at The Ringer.com were talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing it because they consider Soderbergh a modern-day genius.  They said that though Unsane went largely unnoticed, High Flying Bird owes much to Unsane.  I generally trust the Ringer folks, so I decided I clearly haven’t appreciated Soderbergh enough.  I made the decision to soon watch High Flying Bird, but I figured I’d better watch Unsane first in order to fully experience the director’s repertoire.

I didn’t hear anything about Unsane when it released back in March of 2018, but it’s got Claire Foy in it, so it has to be good, right?  I mean, Claire Foy is pretty much incredible in The Crown.  Plus, I liked the movies that I’ve seen in the above list.  Therefore, I like Soderbergh … right?

I decided to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes before I watched UnsaneLet’s just say reviews are … mixed.  The critics generally like it.  The audience rates it slightly below a D-.  The critics were fixated on calling it Soderbergh’s “B movie” masterpiece.  Is that even possible?  The audience was really obsessed with the fact that it was shot on an iPhone.  Um … okay?

As for my opinion?

Don’t waste your time on this one.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.

Let’s go positive first.

Foy continues to impress me.  I think she’s got incredible range.  She is a bit of an unlikable character in this movie.  Her body language is purposefully rigid.  She’s also surly, terse, and angry.  However, she has good reason to be.  Or does she?

I was led to believe that this would be something of a psychological thriller.

Sorry.  It’s not.

They make the truth of the situation pretty clear early on in the film.

Let me explain.

Foy’s character unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution for short term observation.  According to one of the patients played by Jay Pharoah, it’s a scam by the institution to skim money from the insurance companies.  He tells her she can expect to be released in a few days once they’ve gotten their payment.

I found this entire premise really interesting, but don’t get excited … that’s not what the movie is about.

The movie then makes you think it is about whether or not Sawyer, Foy’s character, is actually being hunted and harassed by a stalker or if it’s all in her head.  Again, this is a really interesting concept.  We want to instantly side with Sawyer because she seems to be a victim.  However, due to her somewhat volatile nature, it’s hard to pin down her mental state.  But, yet again … that’s not really want this movie is about.

Spoilers ahead …

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Unsane quickly confirms that yes, Sawyer’s stalker is now working in the institution; yes, he’s totally messing with her; and no , she’s not suffering any mental issues.  The stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, goes on a killing spree in order to kidnap her from the institution, and that’s when the “B movie” genre goes into full effect.

We are led to believe that Jay Pharoah’s character is an addict in recovery, but, once he’s killed by the stalker for being Sawyer’s friend, it’s briefly revealed that he was actually a reporter under deep cover and investigating the institution’s insurance fraud practices.  Wow.  That alone actually would have been a GREAT movie.

Sawyer loses everyone close to her, eventually gets the upper hand on the stalker, and kills him with a shiv.  Yes, you read that right.

I don’t know why the movie chose the path it did when it initially set up some really interesting ideas.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m failing to see a certain craft or art to the film that others have picked up on.  A lot of people seem to think it’s cool that it was shot on an iPhone, but to me … it looks like it was shot on an iPhone.

For what it’s worth, Foy gives a potent performance.  This is only the second thing I’ve seen her do outside of The Crown–I’ve never seen her quite like this.  If she did Unsane to show her ability to play against type, she made a wise decision.  This is about as far from Queen Elizabeth as one can get.

Do you need to watch Unsane to get a stylistic flavor in order to enjoy High Flying Bird?  I’m going to say “no.”  Should you even watch Unsane at all?  While I enjoyed Claire Foy, I find Unsane largely dispensable.  You’ll perhaps like it, but I wish I’d spent my time watching something else.

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