Category Archives: Review

Review: Siddhartha

Type Fiction , Philosophy
Author Hermann Hesse
Release Date1922
PublisherDover Publications

Herman Hesse’s novel is a wonderful mixture of Eastern and Western philosophy all put together in a poetically written tale of Siddhartha, a Brahman who strives to find his purpose in this world. On the surface level, the Buddhist and Hindu influences are impossible to miss. However, as I kept reading, I could find references to other strains of thought like Marxism and strains of psychoanalysis. Somehow, the story manages to weave components from all these fields into a beautiful story of enlightenment.

The story is short, concise, and to the point. The print copy I read was only 80 “short” pages. However, this work prides itself on quality over quantity, and even though I had only read 80 pages by the end of my journey the philosophical insights I gleamed from it were equivalent to reading a large tome. Philosophical concepts are intertwined seamlessly in character interaction and development, so no time ever feels like it’s been wasted. Concepts are explained both in reference to the Eastern concepts they’re based on (Brahman) but then explicated via interaction and dialogue. Even if you’re not well versed in certain philosophical propositions, they’re presented in comprehensive ways. This helps create a rich tapestry where every element of the story augments the others, creating a torrent of emotions and epiphanies.

The writing style makes the piece feel magical. Very rarely was a sentence ever a singular independent clause. Commas are used abundantly because the piece is more akin to poetry. Descriptions feel natural and flow with ideas rapidly becoming interconnected. It sounds strange, but it makes the themes of the book more palatable and made the reading experience feel akin to a genuine “ride”. I became lost in the contours of what the characters were thinking and still can’t stop picturing the way the ending plays out.

Rating

TLDR: This work was beautiful and moving and I know I’ll come back and read it again. It’s a perfect blend of character development, storytelling, and philosophical ingenuity. You may need to read a page or two again, but that’s because of the sheer magnitude of the words on the page.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you’ve ever wrestled with existential doubt, read this book. It’s for literally anyone. Props if you’re familiar with Daoist/Taoist, Buddhist, and/or Hindu thought.

Review: Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains

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Virgin Cheerleader in Chains. I originally couldn’t believe the title of the movie when I saw it. All I knew was that I had to watch it. At only 94 minutes, it wouldn’t be that much of a time commitment. Even if it was bad, it might have some cheesy moments. However, after having watched the film, I can say I was pleasantly surprised with Paulo Filho and Gary Gannaway’s meta comedy horror movie. It’s smart, quirky, and fun enough for fans of the genre to give it a whirl.

The movie follows a group of friends as they try and film a low budget horror movie and end up getting more than they bargained for. But the plot really isn’t the main focus of the movie – it’s just a tool to allow the story to do clever and witty things. The way the film is cut together constantly forced me to pay attention to see how resulting scenes would play out. A good example, is the on the point dialogue. A scene will have characters kind of lament and make fun of horror cliches and then within the scene or the next scene, something will happen related to that initial commentary. It’s intentionally over the top and in your face about it, which for me made it all the funnier. It was a risky decision, but I thought it came off just right. Think closer to Scream than the Scary Movies. My only issue is that this incredibly direct set-up only happens a few times during the run-time, and I thought it was the best part of the movie. There are attempts at jokes made through more conventional meta jokes (whatever that means), but it never feels as unique as the more over the top scenes. There was one scene in particular where I had to go and pause the movie because of how much I started laughing , which I was surprised at.

Aesthetically the film is hit or miss (mainly hit). Most shots are well composed and look professional despite the low budget of the movie. However, certain shots stick out like a sore thumb. In particular, the nature traversal shots look out of place and more amateur. There are also these weird nightmare sequences in the first act that wonky and last too long. They didn’t creep me out as much as ruin my immersion in whatever was going on. Thankfully, the practical effects are great. There’s a lot of blood and a lot of moments of in your face violence. I’m more squeamish, so I had to look away at times, but fans of splatter films should rejoice. Set design is also great, and I appreciate the attention to detail. In particular, the house used for the third act oozes creepiness and I loved the way the way the rooms felt.

Finally, let’s talk about the acting. There are some performances in this movie I absolutely adored. Elizabeth Maxwell’s performance as Amber was amazing and she restored my faith in film after some shaky performances from others in the first act. Her “audition” scene had me crying in laughter after its conclusion and I appreciated it. Kelsey Priblinski is also great at Chloe and really starts to come to life when she gets “certain” suspicions about other characters. The scenes they have together were some of my favorite and oozed personality. However, there’s one one character that made me irritated in almost every scene they were in. Billy. I have no idea why he’s in the script- none of his jokes ever land, and he just feels like a walking racist caricature. I can’t blame Michael Morford too much for his portrayal of Billy, because it felt like the script forced the character to just be horribly unfunny. The accent probably made it worse, but that feels like a script decision. Otherwise, outside of some weaker performances in the first act, the acting is pretty good and believable.

Rating

TLDR: Virgin Cheerleader in Chains is funny and smart ,despite feeling uneven at times. I appreciated it’s meta-commentary and wish it had just gone further with it, but the incredibly fun third act was well worth it.

Final Rating: 7.3/10 If you enjoyed Scream you’d probably enjoy this too. It’s a bold meta-comedy with a ton of fun moments. Go out and support smaller movies, so we can continue to get cool innovative stuff.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

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Finally, the end of the original trilogy. A New Hope was amazing. The Empire Strikes Back was an absolute gem. So it’s reasonable to say my expectations for the conclusion were sky high. Thankfully, Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, serves as a satisfying conclusion to this amazing journey. It didn’t do everything I wanted and felt uneven at times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely enjoy the ride and conclusion.

The film picks up sometime after the end of The Empire Strikes Back and follows Luke and the gang as they try and rescue Han from Jabba’s palace. Personally, I wish the movie started off immediately after the ending of the last movie or sometime close to it. The scene’s ambiguous chronological placement makes things like power scaling and character development harder to appreciate or understand. This causes weird discrepancies later on because it feels like there should be more tension between certain characters or a wider variety of emotional responses. Thankfully, the latter portions of the third act are so emotionally cathartic and symbolically powerful that I could get over these issues.

Now that we got over the beginning rant, let’s get into the more interesting and fun stuff. A lot of the visual effects are amazing. Jabba looks a living creature and oozes a creepy and disgusting feeling. I felt revolted every time I saw him on the screen. The Rancor is terrifying to look at and despite having watched the visual wonder of the past two movies, I couldn’t believe how fluid the creatures movements look. Space battles still look great and evoke a sense of grandeur. However, some of the effects felt like they missed the mark. In particular, there’s a racing scene in the third act that has great choreography but looks dated, which is strange given how great the previous two films looked.

This movie nails characters for the most part. In particular, I loved Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the Emperor. From his speaking pattern to the way he held himself as he moved, he constantly felt malicious and evil. Yes, he mentions the “Dark Side” a lot, but because he feels so dark it feels aesthetically cool in spite of how sparse some of his dialogue options are. James Earl Jones sells the emotional weight of Darth Vader’s lines which serve as the undercurrent of so much of the weight of the entire movie. His scenes with Mark Hamill were my favorite because of the way they played off each other. I won’t spoil anything, but certain lines hit me in my feels hard. Frank Oz is also great as Yoda and made me desperately want more of him than what I actually got. The only character that I didn’t really like was Han, which is surprising, because I loved him in the previous films. Before, he always felt like a cool adventurous badass, but he feels “grayer” in this film and it doesn’t feel like it stems from a believable character arc.

This movie was also philosophically beautiful and expanded a lot on my want’s from the previous movie. I enjoyed the way that good and evil and their relative malleability were challenged and the resulting discourse made me feel a sense of hope. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missed opportunities that would have elevated that discourse to something more cinematic. The starting point of the film means that a lot of the despair of the past movie is kind of glossed over. As a result, certain character conclusions and reactions feel less deserved and more artificial than I would have liked. There’s also a lot of exposition scenes that are used to explain these gaps or hammer in plot points , which compounds this effect. I wish some of the bloated sections of the second act were taken out, and that the exposition/backstory was shown instead of told. It would’ve helped make the themes more cohesively tied to the narrative.

Rating

TLDR: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and I’m genuinely surprised at how cohesive the entire story feels. This movie has a few bumpy spots and feels rushed at certain points , but is by and large emotionally cathartic and satisfying.

Final Rating: 9.0/10. I already know I’m going to watch the original trilogy again. The only question is how soon. Give it a shot if you haven’t.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

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Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s comedy drama,The Peanut Butter Falcon, is wonderfully crafted feel good movie that helped restore my faith in humanity by the end of the film. It follows Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a man reeling from tragedy struggling to find his way and his ensuing journey as he runs into and travels along with Duncan (John Hawkes) , a young man with Down syndrome and big dreams. As they make their way, being “pursued” by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Duncan’s caretaker, the audience gets to see a beautiful tale of redemption, family, and tenacity in the face of adversity.

The characters in this movie are phenomenal. John Hawkes is the lifeblood of the movie and his infectious personality, sense of innocence, and intellectual maturity keep him endearing but also nuanced. He gives off a real sense of agency which is made all the better because the film is literally about how we actively strip agency away from those who are differently-abled even if we don’t realize it. In contrast to the more transparent performance of Hawkes, LaBeouf’s performance is layered. His character is multifaceted and complex, so watching him slowly open up and embrace Duncan, is rewarding and heartwarming. Dakota Johnson is terrific as a caretaker. She can go from worried to confident and back without it ever feeling weird.

The movie is also beautifully shot. There are gorgeous aerial shots showing off the scenery which helps sell the Mark Twain vibe. The shots of the raft as it floated down the river reminded me back of the images I had in my head while reading Huckleberry Finn back in middle school.

The problem with the movie is also the thing that makes the movie so heartwarming – it’s too nice. At some point, character interactions, despite being cute and happy, feel unbelievable. I would have liked to see some more rugged interactions, just so the kindness felt more realistic. It also would have helped the more serious moments in the movie feel less jarring and more tonally consistent with the comedic moments. moments

Rating

TLDR: The Peanut Butter Falcon restored my faith in humanity and forced to inspect my assumptions about people and their ability. It might feel too sweet at times, but that may be a plus if you want a movie that keeps you grinning ear to ear.

Final Rating: 9.1/10. If you need a pick me up, this movie was made for you. It’s the most touching “feel good” movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Review: Star Wars:Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

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After watching this movie, I had to take a few moments to pick my jaw back up and compose myself long enough to write out just how much I loved each and every moment. Irvin Kershner’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, manages to improve and innovate on what its predecessor did in amazing ways. The story follows up with our motley crew of heroes as they’re on the run from the Galactic Empire. Except this time, things aren’t going to be nearly as easy.

Just like A New Hope, the practical and visual effects in this movie are off the charts. Spaceships look gorgeous and the chase scenes in this movie genuinely had me clamping down on my knuckles. I don’t know if it was just my love for what I was seeing or if there was an actual improvement, but the light sabers feel more “solid” in this movie which I appreciated a lot. It gave them the impact I thought they deserved. There’s also an pivotal character (I’ll avoid naming them for those rare people who have somehow avoided all spoilers) done exclusively through CGI/puppet work and the attention to detail with said character makes them feel almost even more well realized than some of the human characters. If that isn’t good special effects work I don’t know what is.

That isn’t a knock on any of the characters by the way. They all feel more realized and grounded in this movie. Whereas in the last movie, we had to watch our main group constantly stay on the run, this movie affords some time to help develop new interactions and milestones. It’s not that the arcs themselves are revolutionary. Rather, they’re just presented and executed so masterfully that I couldn’t stop getting giddy at watching them unfold- especially in regards to the Han and Leia scenes. The acting by our main cast is also stellar and makes these moments more engaging.

However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much the Empire gets developed in the aptly titled Empire Strikes Back. Vader’s motivations and choices are interesting and paying attention to differentiation in his actions helped me infer quite a lot. I appreciate that he’s not a “big bad.” He’s brutal and cruel, yes, but there’s also an underlying nuance to him that makes him mesmerizing. I also enjoyed getting to explore more of the political side of the Empire and how communities respond to their presence in more direct ways. It makes the evil organization feel as grand as it really is and a far more menacing presence than the one that allowed a Death Star to blow up.

Despite knowing certain spoilers (most people would if they weren’t living under a rock the past 40 years), the impact of certain key moments are rewarding. There was a scene that made me tear up quite a lot and another where a character reaction made the movie feel more akin to horror than anything else. These aren’t feelings I felt in the previous film. Somehow, this movie managed to deliver these feelings in conjunction with the same sense of wonder and adventure from the past movie. The emotional resonance this movie creates is what makes it a true masterpiece.

Rating

TLDR: The Empire Strikes back might be one of the first times where I’ve thought a sequel was better than its predecessor. This film takes everything I loved about A New Hope and then decided to add more while fine tuning other elements.

Final Rating: 10/10. This movie is so good that you should watch A New Hope, just so you can experience what this film has in store. I can’t express how much more I loved this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Doctor Sleep

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To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’ve never been someone who read any of Stephen King’s books growing up, so my only experience towards The Shining has been through Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie. The way the movie ended was satisfying and emotionally resounding. As such, the idea of any sequel felt iffy, even if based on a book by the original author. On top of that, the initial trailers made me feel like the movie was just going to be a series of Shining references without real substance. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep manages to stand on its own two feet and genuinely surprised me in its depth and presentation.

The story follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to get over his horrifying experience at the Overlook hotel. He’s a rugged adult now and the film takes time at the beginning to really flesh out what we know about him and his motivations. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you know that I’m okay with the dreaded “slow burn” movie. However others may find this first hour slow and uneventful. There’s no real inciting incident or immediate answers to the events that we witness. Instead, we’re forced to take time getting to know the primary cast and their motivations. This makes the more serious and tense moments in the second and third act that much more exciting. I felt scared because I cared about the characters and knew what they were thinking and going through. Character decisions do get more “interesting” in the third act, but they never brought me out of the moment during the watch so I didn’t think too much about them. Even now they don’t seem like major issues and don’t detract from the more important moments, but it may annoy some viewers.

Acting is great all around. Ewan McGregor really sells the trauma that motivates and influences Dan’s actions. He’s asked to be a man at wit’s end in one moment and then a confident leader in another. Likewise, Kyliegh Curan’s performance as Abra stone manages to cover a wide range of emotions. She’s confident and bad ass when she needs to be, but when she’s scared it’s understandable. As a child actor, I’m even more impressed and appreciated how well Curan and McGregor played off each other. Their relationship is really cute and helps give the story a lot of it’s emotional weight. However, any review of Doctor Sleep that didn’t mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as as the main antagonist, Rose the Hat, would be horribly remiss. She absolutely captures the camera whenever she shows up. She oozes charisma, intelligence, malice, but also a deep emotional attachment to her “family.” It makes her a nuanced villain. Yes, she’s evil – but she’s so fun and suave with it that you can’t help but appreciate the lengths of what she’s willing to do.

I appreciated Flanagan’s recast of the Shining characters. I watched the movie with a friend, who thought that the dis similarities between the new actors/actresses versus the original actors/actresses was distracting. I can understand why and this may be something that puts viewers off. However, I do think each of the recasts captures the “spirit” of the original character. I could believe each of the actors/actresses as their characters , even if they weren’t great at cloning their original actor/actress as that character. There is one scene in the third act where I thought the differences were a bit too strong, but it didn’t distract me too much. Honestly, considering the alternative – a ton of CGI – I’m glad the more practical option was used. If IT 2’s de-aging showed me anything, it’s that technology still has limits.

The movie is crisply shot like all of Flanagan’s previous works. Nothing really surprised me in terms of composition or sound. However, that is not to say that scenes do not look cool. The movie has a lot of action moments that absolutely looked stunning and felt like they were ripped out of an manga or comic book. If you’ve seen Naruto and ever wanted to see real genjutsu fights, this movie has them and they are gorgeous.

I did appreciate all the homages to the original film in both the shot composition and track design. The third act honestly felt like a huge gush of fan-service, which I personally enjoyed. It felt like a nod at fans of the original and I liked it for what it was. It didn’t feel like it took anything away from the plot of the movie at hand. I do think some of the references could’ve been taken away because the movie felt like it could have been a tad bit shorter, but I didn’t mind it.

Thematically the movie focuses on responsibility and the extent of what our obligations are to others. The question is made more interesting by the philosophical questions raised by the scope and use of the “shining” power. I was surprised by how much the movie was making me think about how I would react in similar situations. Although , I think that some of the threads are answered haphazardly, the way the movie ended had me smiling. Based on the discussions I’ve been having, I definitely want to read the source material for both films and go through the experience again. This adaptation deserves that.

Rating

TLDR: Doctor Sleep is a beautiful movie that manages to balance both horror and action. It features one of the best villains of 2019 and is a fun ride the moment psychic shenanigans start happening.

Final Rating: 9.4/10 . This is the best King adaptation of 2019 and there have been a lot. If you ever wondered what happened to Doc after the events of The Shining, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Parasite

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I’ve never seen a movie by Bong Joon-ho before I saw Parasite, and if any of them are even remotely close to the cinematic masterpiece that I witnessed, I’m definitely going to have to check them out. If you can’t guess already, I absolutely adored every second of this movie and couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. This is probably the best class consciousness movie I’ve ever seen and I’m already ready to watch it all over again.

The movie follows the Kim family – a group of incredibly skilled and intelligent scam artists. Because the family is poor and lives in an incredibly impoverished location, they each have to make full use of their wits in order to cling to their lives. The movie really gets started once the son, Ki Woo (Choi Woo-shik) infiltrates a rich family and slowly helps his own family infiltrate and take from his rich clientele. However, unlike the traditional rich evil character type we’re used to, the main “antagonists” of the film seem fairly normal and even nice at times. There are moments, especially closer to the third act where you can get why the main characters don’t like them as much, but they’re never overbearing. The best part? The characters don’t know their counterparts are actually nuanced and distinct from the archetypes they have formed in their head. As a result, interactions between the groups are comedic and thought provoking. The juxtaposition of the smart and poor with the rich, non-malicious, but ignorant creates this wonderful interplay of previously unseen class interactions. There are a lot of moments that forced me to recognize certain moments in my own life and unpack the assumptions and biases I had. Expectations are subverted , but it never feels like it’s done for no reason. It all calculated, but comes off as natural.

As a result, the movie can be funny when it wants and serious when it needs to be. Jokes hit well because of the way expectations are set up. There are always good punch lines but what elevates them to the next level is their thematic significance. After finishing the movie, I knew I had to watch the movie again to see how the earlier jokes figured into the way things unraveled.

The movie also shines on a technical level. Camera work is off the charts. There are gorgeous shots of the characters traversing treks of the city. These moments help to drive home the social positions of different character groups. The impoverished are geographically positioned lower compared to the rich who are placed higher. Pan and tilt shots are expertly used to amplify this feeling. The score naturally flows and accompanies the different sections In particular, the more epic musical tracks helped sell the tension in a lot of the latter parts of the film. The architecture of the house the majority of the action takes place in is also beautiful. The layout of it helped reinforce themes while providing eye candy. It’s relation to the sun and other sources of light was also something I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. All these elements always help reinforce one another making the whole experience feel more textured.

This is a film I think almost any one can relate to because it is fundamentally a story of a family’s struggle to survive under capitalism. Though the first part of the movie is more lighthearted, the movie never takes the characters predicaments lightly. Any possible mistake can risk upending everything. That’s the real beauty of the movie. We actually end up cheering for a group of con-artists swindling a naive wealthy family. Whenever something felt like it was going to fall apart, I felt genuinely scared, because I cared for and wanted everything to go well for the Kims. I could see large swaths of my life in theirs, and I think a lot of people will feel the same way. That’s why the tale never feels long or unbelievable. Take away the names and location and suddenly you have the tale of billions of people around the planet. That’s powerful.

Rating

TLDR: Parasite is a masterclass film. Every element from the story to set design helps sell a thought-provoking and bold story about class consciousness and the human condition.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you’ve ever felt like the world has had it out for you then you owe it to yourself to watch this cinematic masterpiece. It might be one of the most relatable and human pieces of art I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!