Tag Archives: craft

The Last Letter From Your Lover

[3 stars]

Yeah, up front, this is a sappy and manipulative movie by design. And I’m fine with that. Director Augustine Frizzell aimed the adaptation squarely at romantics, no others need apply. The story cleverly follows two couples from different periods through the lens of discovered letters and the mystery and curiosity they invoke.

In the 60s we follow a married woman discovering a life and love she didn’t even know was possible. But the relationship between Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) and Callum Turner (Emma.) comes across as more an act of desperation rather than a great love affair. Part of that is the period acting, but part is simply the lack of chemistry between the two. Given that our window to them is through letters, it could be a style choice to make it reflect more of a written romance; but many of the scenes are clearly flashbacks so that distance isn’t consistent.

On the other hand, Felicity Jones (The Midnight Sky) and  Nabhaan Rizwan (1917), in current times, are completely compelling as the inevitable couple that Jones refuses to acknowledge. Their mental and emotional dance is instantly tangible, even though neither knows quite what to do about it. We invest in them immediately and want them to succeed.

Outside of the main couples, Joe Alwyn (A Christmas Carol) plays the suitable cad of a husband for Woodley to react against. And the late Ben Cross turns in one of his final performances with a sweet and sad depth that carries all the emotion you wish the couple had had in their younger incarnations.

So find someone you really care about who can appreciate the movie for what it is, and curl up together. It will leave you happy to be in love and not unentertained.

The Last Letter from Your Lover Poster

Mad About You (2020)

[3 stars]

Remember that couple you used to hang out with all the time, but then they had a kid and you drifted apart as life pulled you in different directions? Well, the Buckmans are that couple and, with the child about to fly the coup, they’re back. Paul Reiser (The Little Hours) and Helen Hunt (Ride) are still at the center of this odd romantic sort of comedy, but Abby Quinn joins them as their suitably neurotic daughter, and holds her own. Other notables returning are Jon Pankow with a fun storyline of his own that he shares with Antoinette LaVecchia. And Richard Kind (Ride), likewise, with the wonderful Kecia Lewis. Another amusing add, for Quinn’s benefit, is Asif Ali (WandaVision), who delivers his broad humor with incredible precision and confidence.

The season, much like any long comedy set, has it’s weak moments. But Reiser, who wrote a good part of the season, also gave it a particular shape. The dozen episodes hold together for a very satisfying conclusion and pause, setting up another season if that should ever come. If you liked the original run, you’ll slip back into this extension fairly seamlessly. It has all the warts and flaws of the original, but it has evolved to fit in with the times and it has embraced the long gap between our view of their lives. And, as with the original, it stays just meaty enough in its examination of marriage to avoid being easily dismissed.

Mad About You Poster

Beach Rats

[4 stars]

I was a long time getting around to this first film by Eliza Hittman . In fact, I found her second, first: Never Rarely Sometimes Always. But it was the empathy and craft of that story that sent me back to her debut with Beach Rats. I’m late to the game to say she is someone to really watch, but it is still worth saying.

Hittman didn’t give us a likeable hero in her first film. Harris Dickinson (The Darkest Minds) is flawed in both endearing and truly ugly ways. But he is also trapped by circumstance and his own struggles. And Dickinson committed to all of that without reservation on screen. So much so that you aren’t sure if the movie is a coming of age story or a tragedy. And, frankly, you still won’t be by the end.

Hittman puts you so deeply into the point of view of Dickinson’s character that you completely inhabit his world. At points you even forget you’re not just watching through hidden cameras at his life. But despite being steeped in a sort of macho hell, Dickinson’s Frankie has two strong female influences in his circles: his mother, played by Kate Hodge and his girlfriend, Madeline Weinstein (Mare of Easttown). Both are quiet but strong influences, though whether they can break through to him is all part of the story.

And the tension of the story is drawn so taut that the ending is almost a release on its own. It’s clear this isn’t going to be a happy tale from the beginning, but it also isn’t without sparks of hope.

For a first film Eliza Hittman packed it with subtlety and power. It has been living on my list since its release in 2017, but I hadn’t had the nerve to spin it up. If you’ve been avoiding either of her films for fear of the subject, well, suck it up and make the time. These aren’t easy characters to love, but they are so very human and real as to encourage our commitment.

Beach Rats Poster

Cosmic Sin

[2 stars]

There’s 80% of a movie here. Sadly, that missing 20% is sort of essential to pull it all together. Director and co-writer Edward Drake (Breach) either was unable to deliver the missing footage or simply over-edited the movie in a way that excised important aspects of the plot. Honestly, I don’t know which, but more than once I had to ask WTF about situations and comments where the base information was never revealed or setup events don’t seem to have occurred.

Now here’s the thing. Bruce Willis (Breach) and Frank Grillo (Skyline) are the names that helped sell the production, I’m sure. And they deliver exactly what you’d expect them to deliver…dry wit, hard action, dark comedy. But about the only character with any set of levels is Adelaide Kane, and her role is relatively small, if integral.

The initial concept, that of first contact gone (maybe) wrong, is classic and full of possibility. But the level of male toxicity (and I even hate typing that statement) makes the rest of the story inevitable and just plain sad. There is no nuance, no humanity to the decisions and actions, despite some lip service to moral implications.

You can comfortably skip this and miss nothing. But if you insist, just strap in for the action and let the plot just wash over you like bullet points.

Cosmic Sin Poster

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

[2 stars]

Resident Evil, the franchise that never fails to disappoint…or at least hasn’t since near the end of the second movie. There are actually two series of this adapted game, one live action and the other anime. Though they heavily overlap, they are from different sources and have different continuing storylines that run roughly in parallel.

Infinite Darkness continues the Leon thread of the anime sequence. And it continues to use the photorealistic style to mimic the game interstitials. And, aside from really bad plotting, that is its biggest weakness. While the landscapes and objects look amazing, and even the characters (when at rest), the second a character begins to move or talk, you sink rapidly into the uncanny valley. The lips don’t even mildly sync well to the voiceovers.

And why is it that all women look the same in these entries? The men are diverse in shape, size and visage. The women are all built on the same thin, lithe template only differing in hair color and slight facial distinctions. Honestly, I kept confusing the two main women in the short series and finally just had to memorize their hair color. What’s worse is that one of the character is a recurring character there to balance out Leon and I still couldn’t keep her straight.

Suffice to say that this series is for the die-hards only. Though, you may be happy to hear that I have heard rumors that the live action reboot that is on the way is somewhat credible and could revive that aspect of the franchise. So perhaps there is yet hope for the story that would not die about the virus and monsters that would not die.

RESIDENT EVIL: Infinite Darkness Poster

Fear Street: Part 3 – 1666

[3 stars]

It’s all comes down to this: the origin. And what a nice payoff it is. As you’d expect, given the previous two parts, the cast reprises from the previous 1994 and 1978 time frames to inhabit the 1666 characters. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are back at the center along with Ashley Zukerman (The Code), Gillian Jacobs (Life Partners), and, now with a bit more range, Benjamin Flores Jr. (Rim of the World).

Having the setup of the previous two parts, this third flies in a swift 2 hours of suspense, action, and frustration. But the best part is that everything you’ve learned comes back into play right up through the end. And there is where it stumbles just the tiniest bit.

The main action resolves perfectly fine and acceptably. But there is a moment, and you can’t miss it, where there is an obvious and boneheaded oversight. I know it’s a trope of the genre, but it could have been less ham-handed. In fact, if it weren’t for that, I’d have rated the whole movie higher. That gaff cost it because after all the clever, subversive, and frankly well thought out planning, it was cheap and insulting to the audience.

But that frustration aside, which is small in comparison to the journey, this is a great trilogy of dark fun executed with a clever eye and solid talent. Leigh Janiak pulled the sequence off with aplomb and will have me watching for her next project for sure; as well as some of the cast.

Fear Street: 1666 Poster

A Quiet Place: Part II

[3.5 stars]

While this sequel can’t compete with the unrelenting tension of the first installment, it is an adventure all its own, building out the world and the story. It’s also a hand-off of sorts, shifting focus from Emily Blunt (Animal Crackers) to her children, Noah Jupe (The Titan) and Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place). Though I must admit, I don’t recall Jupe’s character being so bloody foolish in the first movie.

Director John Krasinski (Animal Crackers) also nicely shifted the adult focus to Cillian Murphy (Anna), providing a different view of the invasion and its impact. And he continued to show his writing ability with a tightly constructed story that uses everything he threw into it.

But this story has quite a bit more soundtrack in it than the first. To be fair, Krasinski sort of tapped that trick in the first part and repeating it would have been boring. But the film definitely had a bit less suspense for the talking. And the impact of Djimon Honsou (Serenity) was less than I’d have hoped for, though I appreciate Krasinski’s strong choices again for the story and structure.

If you liked the first part of this tale, you do have to see the second. Watching the characters grow (literally and emotionally) isn’t something you get often enough anymore. Natural sequels are hard to come by, but this found a way.

A Quiet Place Part II Poster

Black Widow

[3.5 stars]

Preface: It has been 18 months since I last saw a movie in the theater. The last film I saw before lockdown was a dual weekend of Bad Boys for Life and Dolittle. I have wide tastes, what can I say? It wasn’t until the beginning of June I was even considering the possibility of returning thanks to finally being able to be vax’d in my state. But it wasn’t until this movie I was even motivated to try again.

So why did we even need this movie? It’s a reasonable question given what we know of Black Widow’s path. This movie nestles between Civil War and Infinity War for Scarlett Johansson’s (Marriage Story) character. We know where she ends up. So why? The simple answer is that she was always an enigma. It was part of her allure and charm. But we also had hints of her past and how it haunted her throughout Phases 1-3. There was never time to explore those tales because they would have been distracting to the main plots. This movie focuses solely on her and gives us the depth and some of the answers we had been looking for: who was Natasha and what was all that red ink she was on about for so long?

Basically, Johansson got the send off her character deserved in this gap-filling flick. But that is, of course, also part of the problem. We know a good deal of who lives and who dies because, well, we know what came next. It sucks some of the tension out of Eric Pearson’s (Godzilla vs. Kong) script which is, otherwise, an action and suspense-filled story. Though Director Cate Shortland did her best to keep us distracted from those facts with lots of clever fights and a mostly great cast.

As Johansson’s sister, Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is more than up to the task. No real surprise there either given her range and previous showings. And as her “parents,” Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) and David Harbour (Extraction) are comically and nicely cast. Harbour is doomed to be a sidekick the rest of his life, but he does it well.

If there is a flaw in the cast, it is Ray Winstone (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains). He just comes across as absurd and uncredible. Even if you buy into what he appears to have achieved, his demeanor and how he uses it feels wrong. From his accent to his posture he feels fake. Certainly, we enjoy his wrap up to this tale, but I would have liked to see someone else in that role who could have carried it with a bit more gravitas and truth.

Another aspect to this movie is that it was delayed almost 18 months. It should have come out before Falcon and Winter Soldier (which, in turn, should have been out before WandaVision). The only real connection is the tag to Black Widow, which is echoed at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it is also about the shape of the stories and information. Someday I may rewatch it all in the right order to see what that’s like, but it is interesting seeing the all the intended bits finally. And there is still plenty left untold about Black Widow…some of which I think we might see in the forthcoming Hawkeye. But if not, I’m OK with that too.

And to the last and most important question: is it worth seeing in theaters? That answer is mixed. It is certainly filmed for the big screen (I did go see it in IMAX). It’s gorgeous at times. But the pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already bad before the lockdowns: people think the theater is their living rooms. Talking, phones, etc were all on display. And, on a personal note, having folks right next to us (they opened the seats that morning unbeknownst to me) wasn’t very comfortable.

The truth is, a good movie is good on the big or the smaller screen, because it is about the story, not the spectacle. Black Widow will certainly be less breath-taking at moments on a home setup, even with a large TV, but the story should hold up and be engaging if you have interest in the MCU.

To be honest, I haven’t decided if I’m going back to the theater any time soon. My recent experience has left me a tad nonplussed on the idea, but we’ll see. And given the rise of variants, it may not even be a choice I have in a couple weeks, cause that’s just the world we live in now. Part of the reason I pushed for this outing was that I saw a window of opportunity and wanted to take advantage. It was certainly interesting to be packed in with the public again after so long. It also helped me realize just how nice my own home setup is now, having enhanced it a bit during the pandemic.

Black Widow Poster

Lupin (parts 1 & 2)

[4 stars]

In an entertainment landscape where we’ve been trained to want and expect chases, explosion, and gunfights, it’s so nice to have a high-concept mystery show again that is about tension and cleverness. I know there are others out there, but this feels new and different, even if it’s based on 100 year old books.

I will admit, the main core of the fight that Omar Sy (Inferno) wages against the truly repellant Hervé Pierre got a little tiresome at points during the sequence. But I also admit that by the end of the second part, it all paid-off wonderfully.

Where the first part focuses on the crime and revenge, the second focuses more on the people around Lupin and the bonds that hold them. Getting to see some of the backstory and expansion of characters like Antoine Gouy and Clotilde Hesme (The Returned) was great fun. And the continued development of Soufiane Guerrab’s (Moloch) put-upon detective becomes a wonderful evolution in the tale.

Much like the original books, the story feels very “managed,” for lack of a better word. It is relatively easy to get ahead of it all well before the end. The clues are there in both the script and structure. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Lupin is about the pay-off and the fun; it has both. And a third part on the way that I am hoping will help it break free of the current main story and move on to a new mystery. Honestly, this one has played out and continuing it would devolve into bad telenovella territory, regardless of how interesting the characters are. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered or tried Lupin yet, queue it up.

Lupin Poster

Daniel Isn’t Real

[3 stars]

Imaginary friends in psychological horror films are far from new. But this entry into the mix by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Archenemy) is actually rather well done. It manages to skirt all the questions such on-screen situations raise without committing to any one answer till it decides it wants to or needs to.

Miles Robbins (Halloween) is the main focus of this story, along with his “friend,” given creepy life by  Patrick Schwarzenegger (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). The two have a fun dynamic that progresses by degrees as you’d expect it to. Adding fuel to the fire are romantic and artistic interest Sasha Lane (Utopia) and, as his mother, Mary Stuart Masterson (Blindspot).

Robbins spends the film balancing what he thinks he wants and knows, with what he fears is really happening. Chukwudi Iwuji (John Wick: Chapter 2) provides a voice of reason… mostly. By the time the wheels all come off, everyone’s choices become suspect, though Lane’s approach remains credible and strong.

Figuring out what this movie is going to be is half the fun. It isn’t easy to pick apart and doesn’t quite follow the paths you expect. In the end you get the story Mortimer intends, but whether that is one you’ll agree with or even like is going to be a matter of taste. He could have done more with it, but he also needed to keep the tale moving because his audience was going to constantly be trying to leap ahead. The pacing never really allows that to happen in a way that spoils the story. On purely craft grounds, I think this one is worth it if you like the horror genre. And it’s way more satisfying than the similar attempt (in craft) in the also recent Flashback.

Daniel Isn't Real Poster