Category Archives: Review

Review: Knives Out

Theatrical Release Poster

I’ll be honest – I love a good mystery. As a kid I loved watching Scooby-Doo and trying to figure out what was going on. Some of my favorite book series were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I loved BBC’s Sherlock (at least the first two seasons). When I first saw the trailer for the movie and saw the cast list, I knew I had to see it to satiate the mystery fan inside of me. I’m more than happy to report back that Rian Johnson’s star-studded mystery, Knives Out, is charming and filled with great twists and turns.

The film follows Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he helps the local police determine if the death of popular mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), was a suicide or something more nefarious.Honestly, what surprised me the most about the movie was how well it balanced humor, mystery, drama, and tension. No element ever feels like it feels out of place. Combined with the beautiful shot composition, the aesthetic and makeup of Thrombey’s house, and a riveting score and you have a formula for success. I laughed out loud more than once with the audience and also had my share of white knuckle moments.

What makes the film more interesting than the traditional mystery plot is the information revealed to the audience. I didn’t expect to get the gleams of info I got, and I was amused with the way the plot’s focus and scope changed. It made the movie more interesting and the way the movie plays with mystery tropes is a delight. There was more than one moment I didn’t see coming and watching all the pieces come together by the end of the movie was great. There are quite a few elements that are set up through the movie and I was thoroughly satisfied with how they were explored by the end of the movie. Pay attention – I promise the payoff is more than worth it.

The acting in this movie is great and there are a few stand-out performances that were really fun to watch. Besides his accent ( which feels deliberately over-the-top), I loved how much Craig owned the screen. He’s confident, witty, and feels charismatic in an endearing way. His ability to go from hard ass to comedic observer helps keep the tone of the movie consistent. Ana de Armas’s performance as Marta is also phenomenal. She plays off Craig well and does great in her own light. Watching her innocent character try and navigate the contours of the Thrombey family was a delight and made me want to cheer her on. Speaking of the Thrombeys, every member of the family feels distinct and the members that get more fleshed out are quite interesting. As someone who loved Toni Collette in Hereditary and The Sixth Sense getting to see her as a liberal lifestyle guru was a treat. The issue with so many characters however, is that a few of them become one note characters that are associated with nothing more than a gag. It’s a shame because there are hints of moments that could be developed with them, but they’re never explored to their full extent.

Although the movie is a fun adventure, it feels lacking thematically. There’s a surface level discussion of politics- immigration in particular- and besides some cyclical gags in relation to it and some minor drama it’s never handled in a way that makes it more meaningful. It’s obvious that the film is a criticism of opulence, but so many of the other elements of the movie are so intelligently written, so the lack of depth feels like a huge missed opportunity. Likewise, there’s this underlying discussion of family and obligation that’s mentioned a lot in the movie, but is really mishandled. In particular, certain character reactions betray where the movie could have gone with this meaning in favor of being more generic. There’s also one glaring character decision that doesn’t make sense in the 3rd act of the movie which is kind of a big deal in how the plot unravels. I might just be nitpicking here but it felt out of place with how well thought out everything else in the plot was.

Rating

TLDR: Knives Out is fun and filled with twists and turns. What it lacks in thematic meaning, it makes up in over the top fun and excitement.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. One of the best movies of the year- I’d recommend going with friends. This is more of a communal experience. Mystery fans rejoice! This movie should be a refreshing adventure.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Frozen 2

Theatrical Release Poster

When I saw the first trailer for Frozen II drop I felt one part entranced by the visuals, one part curious on where the story could go, and two parts nervous that this movie would be a cash grab with no substance. Although Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee don’t reach the same heights as they did thematically, musically, or story wise in Frozen, there are still more than enough gorgeous and fun moments in their sequel to satisfy the fans and entertain kids.

The story picks up some time after the ending of the first movie and follows our makeshift family unit of Elsa (Idina Menzel) , Anna (Kristen Bell) , Olaf (Josh Gad) , Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) , and Sven. They’re domesticated and having fun, but Elsa has been hearing a call beckoning her to leave her homeland and find her true calling. If the story sounds weird that’s because it is. It feels lazily written and almost feels like a series of excuses meant to guide characters from one set piece to another. It’s frustrating because the movie is supposed to be dealing with Elsa and her powers and had a real potential to explore the lore in interesting and philosophical ways to help develop the themes from the previous movie. Instead, it focuses on hashing out these really basic character arcs that either feel like they were better resolved in the previous movie or they just feel out of place overall.

Thankfully, the set pieces in this movie are absolutely breath-taking. Elsa has a lot of amazing action moments that serve to demonstrate how mind-blowing her powers are. Even though I thought the plot was absurd, I was left stunned with how cool and gorgeous a lot of her moments ended up looking. The color palette is distinct and vibrant and makes these moments that much prettier. There are gorgeous autumn leaves and amazing snow effects. The water looks and feels alive and fluid. The lighting is immaculate and everything feels imbued with vitality. There are a few scenes where the background felt like it was actually straight ripped out from reality. It all comes together to create one of the most stunning movies I’ve ever seen. I already know I’m going to re-watch the movie to see some of these moments again. If nothing else, this movie knows how to look near perfect.

The music is also good, even though it doesn’t reach the heights of the first movie. The title song is incredible, however, and I loved how it was incorporated throughout the movie. Into the Unknown probably won’t get as many plays from me as Let It Go did, but it’s a great song and I know I won’t be able to get it out of my head for a bit. Menzel and Bell are also still great, and each of their characters had at least one musical solo scene that I enjoyed. This film more so than the last felt like it had a few too many songs. In particular, Kristoff’s song felt misplaced and actually ended up making me like his character less. I appreciate how funny the song is supposed to be and thought the editing and feel of it was great. However, it makes him feel like he’s less mature than we’re led to believe and also interrupts the action in an non-ideal way.

Thematically, the movie attempts to do cool things but just falls on its face. Certain ideas are explored on a surface level which is a shame because of how interesting they could have been. There’s a lot of discussion about growth, but we rarely get to see it explored because the characters don’t feel like they actually change that much. There’s also this really neat idea of water in relation to time that feels Taoist in nature but outside of a cool visuals and interesting thoughts never reaches the potentials of what it could have been.

Rating

TLDR: Frozen II is gorgeous and breath taking, even if it feels like its lacking in substance. It never reaches the same heights of its predecessor, but is still entertaining and sure to give you some fun moments.

Final Rating: 7.5/10. I’ll watch the movie again – it’s beautiful and has some amazing scenes. Fans of the original should check this out, but be wary – the story leaves a lot to be desired and may be disappointing to some.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Frozen

Theatrical Release Poster

So when this movie first came out, I was completely enamored by it. The visuals were gorgeous. I couldn’t stop singing the songs. I was absolutely into the Frozen craze. Given the news of Frozen 2, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the original – not only to get ready for the sequel but also to see if I really enjoyed the movie or was just caught up in the craze at the time. Happily, I can confirm it was the former. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s story has all the markings of a musical classic and reminded me of the power of Disney magic.

The story follows the royal princesses of Arendelle¬† , Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) as they prepare and celebrate the latter’s coronation. However, everything goes wrong and it’s revealed to the kingdom that their newly anointed Queen has supernatural ice powers. Already, the basic premise of the plot has distinguished itself from so many other Disney movies. This time the “villian” is the Queen herself and because of that, the film gets to explore a lot of emotional ideas in beautiful ways.

The discourse on love and the extents of it is touching and gets explored in a lot of cute and emotionally satisfying ways. In particular, the relationship between Anna and Elsa is magnificent and serves as the emotional crux of most of the movie. Watching their interactions and growth is moving and there were genuinely moments that made me tear up. Bell and Menzel do a great job giving the sisters a real emotional depth to their dialogue that helped it hit emotional beats I didn’t expect.

Outside of them, Josh Gad is phenomenal as Olaf. The snowman is charming, funny, and a delight to watch. There are times where his character feels like he over explains some more emotional scenes that takes away from the subtlety of them. It’s not too annoying, but I feel like it made some of the more cathartic moments feel weaker. I enjoyed both of the male characters, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Hans (Santino Fontana), and enjoyed how they served as foils for each other in meaningful ways. The only character I didn’t like that much was the Duke of Weselton. He feels too over the top and I wish he was more grounded. It would have made certain moments more believable and sinister, which is something I would personally have preferred. He’s not awful – I just see wasted potential.

The music is absolutely great and I love most of the tracks. I love how the songs are incorporated into the movie and how much emotional weight they bring. Obviously Let it Go is amazing, but there are just so many great tracks its hard to choose from. Even the more unnecessary songs (like the rock people one) was fun to listen to in the moment. I thought the musical scenes with Menzel and Bell were amazing. In particular, there’s a duet in the second act that’s absolutely mesmerizing from a thematic view but also sounds phenomenal. It’s dark, desperate, and emotionally complex. I absolutely had chills afterwards.

The animation is also gorgeous. The characters all look beautiful, but my favorite moments were when Elsa used her ice powers to fight. The action scene with her is probably my favorite moment in the entire movie. The camera and lighting make it all feel intense and the particle effects of her ice magic makes everything feel more visceral. I honestly forgot I was watching a musical for a few moments and let myself get absorbed into the intensity of the situation.

Honestly, my only major problem with the film is how absurd one plot element feels. I won’t spoil it, but literally two characters make a mention of how ridiculous this element is and no one does anything about it. It felt frustrating because obviously sensible individuals in this universe proved to understand the issue , but it just gets glossed over. Normally this wouldn’t be that big of an issue, but it serves as the main driver for a lot of the conflict in the third act so the issue feels even more apparent. I also think that there should have been more of a consequence for certain actions, but I’ll talk about that in the spoiler section.

Rating

TLDR: Frozen is fun, funny, and bursting with personality. The songs are top notch and the animation is gorgeous. Outside of a few story issues and some missed opportunities, this movie rocks.

Final Rating: 9.0/10. One of my favorite Disney movies. Honestly, if you’re okay with coming down with some infectious ear worms, I’d suggest giving this movie a chance if you haven’t yet.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Theatrical Release Poster

Almost a decade and a half later I’ve finally returned to the movie that turned me off of Star Wars through my adolescence. The infamous Phantom Menace. But this time, I came prepared. Armed with the knowledge of the original trilogy, I felt like even if the movie was as bad as I thought it was going to be, I could maybe immerse myself in the fun and ambiance of the movie. Thankfully, it didn’t have to come to that. Though George Lucas’s direction is messy and dry at times, there’s something beautiful being attempted here and a few great scenes fans of the series can get behind.

Because the movie assumes the viewer has already seen the original trilogy, all the story elements take on a new meaning. We know how a lot of things will end, so the only thing left to find out is how. This is a place where the movie ends up doing well. From the Jedi Council, to the Gungans underwater city, to the screeching pauses in the Senate – we get to see a world in disarray. Capital is the name of the game and experienced players are getting to ready to pounce.

The movie also does a great job exploring the way subjects approach politics. Machiavellian ideologies are contrasted with liberal politics premised on faith and good will. There’s a political leader who literally changes their entire domestic policy based on resolving an incorrect cultural perception. There’s a real sense of frustration in seeing violence happen and watching bureaucracy grind to a screeching halt. The idea that groups would literally sell out other planets for profit hits a chord a little too close to him. Yes, at times it feels boring. There’s a lot of dialogue and its delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Despite that, the criticism still feels resoundingly poignant and I’m excited to see how its explored in Episodes 2 and 3.

The movie looks and sounds great when it wants to. The overabundance of CGI can feel daunting and there were moments that felt like they had been ripped out of PS2 cutscenes. However, this only became really distracting for me in the third act. Outside of that, a lot of the renders and effects look dazzling. The practical effects take a backseat, which is a shame, because they were some of my favorite parts of the original trilogy. There’s still a lot of beautiful effects to be had, but I can’t help but feel that better presentation would have made the movie hit its themes a lot harder. The podracing scene is a ton of fun and the last few moments felt really intense when John Williams score started blasting adrenaline through my veins. I wish that the music had been playing earlier on in the scene, because the shot composition of the race feels similar the whole time. Music would have helped shake up the pacing and make the entire race more dynamic. Thankfully, the light saber fight at the end involving Darth Maul more than makes up for it. Duel of the fates plays loudly and prominently in the background. Combined with great fight choreography, that fight is one I’ll definitely be replaying in my head for years to come.

Now let’s talk about the less than stellar stuff. It’s something that’s been talked about a lot so I won’t get too into it, but the acting in this movie is less than stellar. Most of the performances feel the same and it’s hard to get a true feel for the characters inner thoughts. This is something the original trilogy did really well and is probably what I disliked the most. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine was a bright spot in the movie and I loved how he played off his deceptive nature.

The only other performance I wanted to spend time talking about was Jake Lloyd’s as Anakin Skywalker. Yes, the performance isn’t amazing. It feels childish and out of place with the severity of the events at play. However, getting an older or a more experienced actor wouldn’t make the underlying issue with Anakin easier to portray. Anakin is supposed to be a prodigy. The events and proclamations from the original trilogy and this movie are indicative that he’s a child genius. However, underlying all of this talent is an innocent emotional core. Anakin is a child – that’s why his innocence and desire to help others feels more believable. These traits are necessary for Anakin to exist as a tragic villian figure. How could someone so pure and powerful fall so hard?

Casting a much older actor would take away the belief in the childlike innocence of Anakin. Teenagers are symbolically susceptible given that they’re on the precipice of adulthood. A teenage Anakin would’ve made certain story decisions less meaningful and believable. However, expecting a child to convincingly retain their innocence while portraying a inquisitive prodigy is hard. That’s why Anakin is so interesting as a character – it’s almost like diametrically opposed characteristics are being forced to align with each other. But while this makes the character more interesting, it also makes him that much harder to portray.

Rating

TLDR: The Phantom Menace is a messy but has rare moments of greatness that are engaging. Yes , there’s a lot to nitpick, but if you take the film for what it is and just give yourself to the experience, there’s a great time to be had.

Final Rating: 7.7/10. I get why the movie has a bad rap, but its aspirations are commendable and I know I’ll return to the movie after finishing all the major movies.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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

Movie Poster

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

Theatrical Release Poster

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!