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 …

3 …

2 …

1 …

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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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

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First Man – A Movie Review

My wife and I really wanted to see First Man in the theater, but we just never got around to it.  However, I made sure to rent it from the Normal Public Library as soon as it became available.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and follows his path to becoming the first man to step on the moon.  It also stars Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Neil’s wife.  You know Foy from The Crown–she played Queen Elizabeth.  The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who also directed La La Land and Whiplash.  As you can see, First Man is a can’t-miss between these three talents.

Let me begin by saying that I loved this movie.  Admittedly, though, it did not follow the trajectory that I expected.  First Man zeroes in on Neil Armstrong the person, not the engineer, not the pilot, and not the astronaut.

I must confess–I knew nothing about Neil Armstrong other than his monumental feat.  Gosling played him as a quiet, repressed, introvert.  After a little research, it seems that this interpretation was not terribly off-base.

Furthermore, I did not realize that Armstrong lost a child when she was only two years old.  Though this loss occurs very early in the film, it becomes a subtle, though potent, plot point and driving motivator.

The creators of this film depict some beautiful cinematography, but they made some really interesting choices in what to show us.  They opted against shots depicting the magnificent glory of space travel.  Instead, they often give us the story from Neil’s perspective.  His view is often limited, obstructed, and cramped.  The machinery creeks, rattles, and doesn’t always respond as intended.  Even the NASA bathrooms were displayed realistically, which means … not exactly pristine.  First Man exposes the down and dirty aspects to making the impossible possible.

Don’t get me wrong, First Man absolutely inspires the human spirit to try to achieve more, but it also makes it very clear that these men were risking their lives each and every time they climbed into anything associated with space exploration.  Furthermore, the film made sure to honor those men who did indeed lose their lives to America’s cause.  Though it’s hard to watch, it does not shy away from death.

Claire Foy delivers an understated performance pertaining to the NASA wife’s existence.  Her Janet Armstrong must navigate the complexities of being a supportive wife, a lonely mother, and a grieving friend, but also that of an intelligent human being who will hold her husband accountable when he’s neglecting both she and his family.  She and Gosling’s chemistry is interesting, to say the least.  They exhibit a troubled marriage that it not yet completely revealed.

In fact, subtle is how I would describe this film as a whole.  It is quiet, understated, and moody.  Just know that, when they reach the moon, it is breathtaking.  The lunar landscape appears as it typically does–they did not break with reality.  But the tight shots of the astronauts, the equipment, and even the granular surface–it’s mesmerizing.  And, though you won’t expect it, a moment arrives that damn near brought me to tears.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it gave me great insight into the film’s perception of Neil Armstrong and his motivation.

Consequently, First Man has a beautiful–beautiful!–score composed by Justin Hurwitz.  It’s currently free to download if you are an Amazon Prime member.  Find it by clicking HERE.

Because of its somber tone, I’m not surprised First Man has not made more of an impact.  Though people would probably expect it to be, it’s not really a feel-good movie for the masses.  Nevertheless, it is a wonderfully constructed film.  If you love NASA, space travel, or any of the creative talents involved in making this movie, you will not be disappointed.  Though it’s unusual, it definitely won me over.

On a side note, the movie briefly notified the viewing audience that it was based on a book by James R. Hansen.  Because the movie portrayed Neil Armstrong in such an interesting manner, and because I literally know nothing about the American legend, I stopped by the library and picked it up.  It’s titled First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong.  You can take a look at it HERE.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

Image result for mary poppins returns movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – A Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for this movie and noticed it was PG, I thought, “Huh.  That might be one for the kids and me.”  We weren’t in a rush to see it, mind you, but as the reviews kept praising it, and as Rotten Tomatoes continued to maintain a 97% “fresh” rate, I got more and more interested.

I can’t necessarily claim to be a huge Spider-Man fan, nor can my two daughters (ages 10 and 6).  I loved his comics as a kid, but generally lost interest in Marvel as an adult.  Don’t hold this against us, but we are a DC family through and through.

With all of that being said, if you like Spider-Man even a little, I urge you to see this movie.  It has earned every single positive review it has received.  I loved it.

There are so, so many reasons to enjoy it.  First of all, the voice acting is superb.  Check out this cast list and you’ll understand the high quality.  The animation also won me over.  You’ll have to see it to really understand what I’m saying, but it’s refined yet rough, classic yet edgy, bright yet dark.  Best of all?  It’s not afraid to do, well, anything.  Colors pop, word panels appear, dot matrix appears and disappears–it’s a visual feast.

It also wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.  As cliche as it sounds, this movie will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you cheer, it will make you think–it engages virtually every emotion available.  And while I think it was perfectly appropriate for my six-year-old, my ten-year-old picked up on the messages of self-confidence, self-sacrifice, supporting others, and what it really takes to be a hero.  There existed in this movie an inspirational message that managed to pierce this old forty-two-year-old heart of mine.

However, the absolute best trait of the film can be summed up in one word: fun.  My gosh, this was a fun movie!  The plot is so ridiculously “comic book” that you can’t deny its charm.  Kingpin builds a machine that breaches other dimensions, which then pulls many “Spider-People” from various realities into that of Miles Morales, a teenager recently infused with the powers of a spider-man.  The movie treats its story seriously, but it doesn’t ever take itself too seriously.  I mean, Spider-Ham is in this thing!  And while I would ultimately call this a comedy, it has some heart-wrenching moments made all the more so by fantastic voice acting.  Oh, and the action.  The action is mesmerizing.  They do their best with the live-action movies, but only animation can truly capture the essence of Spider-Man.  Just look at the poster below and you’ll get a sense of the movement displayed within the film.

Even if you’re only moderately interested in Spider-Man, I highly recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  It’s family friendly, beautiful to behold, funny, action-packed, and delivers several moral messages pertaining to heroism, family, friends, and self-confidence.

I hope you’ll check it out. Image result for spider man into the spider verse movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Aquaman – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a classic hero’s quest story with incredibly innovative special effects and a great sense of fun, Aquaman is for you.

Jason Momoa absolutely shines in this third appearance as Arthur Curry.  He seems to be having a blast, which brings a certain level of mirth and joy to a character typically not known for such attributes.  His Aquaman is brash, tough, a smart-mouth, physical, and arrogant, yet Momoa plays him with such a subtle sense of nobility and goodness that you can’t deny his charisma.  Watching Momoa play Aquaman alone makes the movie worth checking out.  He’s having such a great time that we can’t help but join in the fun.

However, if you’re a fan of the classic hero’s quest story, Aquaman will delight you as well.  With a name like Arthur, the search for a mystical weapon, and a right to the throne, it’s almost a given that a hero’s quest must ensue.  I love that they did not shy away from Aquaman’s obvious similarities to the legend of King Arthur.  Almost every classic archetype is addressed in Aquaman, which is partly why I believe this movie will be a huge success.  The mysterious bloodline, the search for identity, the reluctant king, the quest into parts unknown, the need to unite kingdoms, the monster, the mentor, the loving mother, the wise father, traitorous siblings–it’s all there.  Like with Star Wars, Superman, and the Matrix, Aquaman hits primordial beats that we unconsciously desire.

If it’s action you crave, though, Aquaman will not disappoint.  Director James Wan is mostly known for action and horror movies.  This experience serves Aquaman very well.  There is very little downtime in this movie.  It’s almost nonstop action, and that action is so stimulating, so interesting, and so frenetic that you cannot refuse its brilliance.  Our first encounter with Aquaman occurs in a submarine, and while it’s not the most lavish or extravagant in terms of effects, it’s most definitely my favorite action scene in the whole movie.  The scene is tight, compact, and brutal.  Can you imagine having a fist fight in a submarine?  Now imagine that one of the combatants can rip the hull apart with his bare hands.  James Wan leans into this circumstance and creates an intense fight unlike any other.  There’s also a point when Aquaman and Mera must enter a place called “The Trench.”  This part of the movie is pure horror.  Even so, it’s also oddly exquisitely unique.

In fact, Aquaman is unlike any other movie that I’ve seen, and I mean that literally.   You will see special effects in this movie that you’ve never before witnessed, specifically in regards to the underwater scenes.  I still have no idea how they did it, but they have the actors talking underwater and it looks so real that their hair is actually flowing in conjunction with their movement as though they are actually underwater.  We all know that water exerts a certain force upon objects moving through it–one does not move underwater as one moves on land.  They captured this very well, too.  The actors don’t walk, they float.  They don’t run, they swim.  Part of me wants to watch the “making of” features to find out how they did this, but part of me also wants to just enjoy the movie magic as it is.

Incredible as the special effects are, the real beauty of Aquaman is in the details.  If you care to notice, you will see detritus floating in the water around the actors.  You will see creatures on the rocks, wreckage in the background, and tiny bubbles emitting from various sources.  And when Aquaman walks out in his “super suit” … it’s breathtaking.  They’ve done the impossible–they’ve made Aquaman’s gold shirt look freaking cool.  They zoom in tight on it, too, and when they do you’ll see every little scale, every overlay, every tiny piece of craftsmanship.

On that note, James Wan and the rest of the creative team have not just made a world for Aquaman to exist within, they’ve developed an entire universe.  They have birthed specific kingdoms, and each has it’s own appearance, technology, and history.  After all, most of the planet is covered in water.  James Wan seems to be taking full advantage of the possibilities this environment provides.

If I’m being objective, though, the movie has some issues.  While I appreciate the “hero’s quest” story, it never really pulled me in.  Does anyone truly doubt Arthur will win out in the end?  Some of the performances fell a little flat with me as well.  While Amber Heard looks great as Mera, I never felt any real chemistry between she and Momoa.  In fact, I think Momoa had more chemistry with Nicole Kidman, his on-screen mother!  Furthermore, the movie runs a tad long.  At two hours and twenty-three minutes, some of the spectacle began to feel like too much.  There are plenty of places they could have trimmed the movie up a bit.  I also found the music really distracting.  I love music scores, so I always pay attention to that aspect of a film.  The music did not suit this movie well … at all.  Truthfully, there were some odd choices in terms of actual songs–it all seemed to be a big of a hodgepodge.  Finally, there are some flat-out goofy moments in this movie–pure cheese.  You’ll know it when you see it, but there’s no refuting that it’s there.

But you know what?  That goofiness is part of Aquaman’s charm.  This movie wanted to have fun.  DC movies have been knocked for being too dark as they tried to recreate Christopher Nolan’s tone.  Aquaman is anything but dark.  It’s fun to watch a hero being a hero while having fun.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Grinch (2018) – A Movie Review

My six and ten-year-old daughters were very excited to see this latest rendition of Dr. Seuss’ classic, so I made a point to take them on opening night.  I believe they’ve seen the classic cartoon movie, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey live-action version.  This will be relevant later.

I have to be honest, for a Friday night, five o’clock showtime, the theater didn’t have many empty seats.  As you can imagine, most of those seats were occupied by people whose feet didn’t touch the ground.  It seems as though a lot of people were genuinely excited to see this.

At a brisk hour and a half, the new Grinch is perfect in terms of length.  It’s just long enough to tell a story, but brief enough to avoid anyone getting bored.

Well, most anyone.  More on that soon.

My daughters thought it was hilarious, cute, and delivered a nice message about reaching out to others while also forgiving past grievances.

So, for the kids, especially those who haven’t seen Jim Carrey’s version, this is probably a really cool movie.

That being said, I was bored silly.

In my opinion, you’ve already seen the best parts during the previews.  Otherwise, it hits most of the same beats as what you’ve seen before while adding new, unnecessary elements.  It’s nowhere near as clever as Jim Carrey’s movie, nor is it as entertaining.  Of course, I’m forty-one, so I’m sure I’m not this movie’s demographic.  And that’s totally fine.  I’ve got my Grinch movie, let the kids have theirs.  Just be prepared to take one for the team on this one–it’s not great.

However, there is much to appreciate.  The animation is absolutely beautiful.  The snow, the hair and fur, the Christmas lights–it’s all stunning.  The characters’ movements are also incredibly fluid and natural.  This movie looks good from an artistic and technical perspective.

There are also a few laugh-out-loud gags.  I wasn’t miserable, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And when I looked over at my kids, they both wore a smile ear-to-ear.  I honestly think your children will get a kick out of it.

Is it suitable for young children?  Absolutely.  In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch is the nicest Grinch you will have ever encountered.  He’s mean for maybe five minutes before he sees the errors of his ways, and he’s not even that mean.  This version is far more sanitized, wholesome, and family-friendly than ever before.

If you’re looking for a family movie, it’s hard to go wrong with 2018’s The Grinch.  The kids will love it, and it’s just short enough that the parents will be able to endure it without complaining …

Much.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Grinch (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – A Movie Review

My wife and I took our daughters to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Friday night and I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the most striking aspect of this movie is that it looks exquisite.  The costumes, sets, and scenery are gorgeous.  It seemed to me that much of it featured real people on real sets.  There existed some CGI, of course, but generally speaking it appeared that the actors were interacting with actual props and materials.  The movie wielded a certain weight that many CGI-laden films do not.

Furthermore, I found the actors and actresses both capable and, more importantly, likable.  It’s hard not to like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, though, isn’t it?  Mackenzie Foy, who plays Clara, is easy to root for even while not being particularly charismatic, and her nutcracker captain, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is also generically appealing if not particularly memorable.  I’d like to say, though, that I think both of these new faces have great potential.

Believe it or not, Sugar Plum stole this movie.  She crackled with electricity and proved very entertaining to watch.  Oddly enough, I couldn’t place her–I couldn’t figure out who played this fairy.  Imagine my surprise when the credits revealed Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum!   I think this is probably my favorite part ever played by Knightly.  I’ve never seen her so relaxed, magnetic, and … well, fun!

Best of all?  The ballet dancing!  It should come as no surprise that they included quite a bit of ballet in this film.  I found the inclusion of ballet inspired.  They didn’t just toss it in for the sake of throwing it in there–it serves a real purpose to the overall story and looks fantastic.

Again, the whole movie is really a sight to behold.  While the story is full of adventure and even a little creepy at times, it’s incredibly intricate at all levels.  Everything looks like a piece of art.

Both of my kids enjoyed The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, though neither of them were “wowed” by it.  Anytime we see a new movie, at least one of them usually says it’s their new favorite, but that didn’t happen this time.  I’m not really sure why.

In my opinion, you should certainly take your kids to see it.  It won’t make their hearts skip a beat, but it’s still a very well-crafted family film that will probably please everyone, albeit in different ways.

Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, and Jayden Fowora-Knight in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)