Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

Drought Will Bring Smiles

A sentimental and good-natured debut from directors Hannah Black and Megan Petersen, Drought will create plenty of smiles. 

If a film is on a low budget, it’s not going to have elaborate set pieces or scenes that take place in high-scale homes or restaurants. The characters often dictate whether these kind of films will be engaging or not, putting a great amount of pressure on the actors.

With Drought, all of the actors are on their game. Sam (Hannah Black) and Lillian (Megan Petersen) play sisters in the middle of a conflict. Sam resents Lillian for leaving behind her and Carl, their autistic and weather enthusiast brother, played delicately by Owen Scheid. After Carl loses his job at the local grocery store, Sam comes up with the idea of tracking down the storm that is set to end a historic drought in North Carolina. They all leave in their mother’s ice cream truck with their friend Lewis, a likable and grounded comedic relief, played by Drew Scheid (Halloween). 

The actors are well casted and no one actor steals the show. Their chemistry is apparent, particularly between Black and Petersen. You also get the sense the four main actors are having fun together, which is infectious for the audience. Drought is a true ensemble piece. 

Packed with plenty of charm and light comedic moments, Drought should be on your radar.

6.6/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

The Hill and the Hole Runs Itself into the Ground

The Hill and the Hole is one of the most frustrating films I’ve watched in a while. This film had so much potential, but falls flat, straight down a hole into a cold abyss. We almost got two great 60-70s-esque science fiction films in the first half of the year. A film that came out this year that I find myself often thinking back on fondly is The Vast of Night. With The Vast of Night, director Andrew Patterson did nearly everything right. He perfectly captured the feel of old-school sci-fi and crafted a low-stakes film that was mesmerizing. He also found a way to make it feel unique, despite the fact him and co-writer Craig Sanger were clearly paying homage to an era of science fiction.

Directors Bill Darmon and Christopher Ernst begin The Hill and the Hole in a similar fashion. They have a stylized filmic look, the something-is-wrong-here premise, and the camp and quirk to amuse fans of science fiction. Despite having these things going for it, The Hill and the Hole greatly disappoints. I honestly wouldn’t be as upset if it didn’t have those things because then my hopes wouldn’t have been as high.

I’m not sure if it was due to sheer laziness, a busy and overrun shooting schedule that resulted in a rushed finish, or if it always planned to be the way it is, but the film gets worse as it goes on. I cannot assume, nor do I know whether or not it was shot in order, but it certainly feels like it might have been. About three quarters into the film everything becomes nonsensical. Rather than having this be a quirk, it feels more like a cruel joke played on the audience expecting them to find explanations. Mostly, it feels like a cop-out for Darmon as a writer.

I could have been a decent film, but The Hill and the Hole features poor direction that leads to even worse performances and a lousy screenplay that greatly drags it down.

1.9/10.0

Categories
1960s Oldies

Mr. Topaze (I Like Money) 2020 Restoration

Mr. Topaze is a gray and bland comedy I will more than likely forget. I don’t know if it was due to the restoration or maybe it always looked so muted, but the overall look was visually uninteresting. It reminded me of watching ungraded footage that was shot flat, which is unpleasant to look at.

The film is shot like a play, which makes sense considering it’s based on Marcel Pagnol’s Topaze, but I felt the cinematography hurt the film more than it complemented its stage roots. The blocking was simplistic and the performances felt underplayed to a fault. Mr. Topaze needed way more energy than Sellers and the majority of his actors provided. The film also needed to embrace its absurdity more than it did.

Director Peter Sellers’s film has a boring plot and he didn’t present any of it in an interesting way. Everything is portrayed in such a nonchalant manner that I found myself caring about nothing that was happening in the movie. Topaze is an uncharismatic and non-sympathetic stooge and the other characters are conniving or just as goofy his Topaze. I felt Leo McKern was the only actor to provide satisfying laughs as his character Muche.

I don’t think Sellers ever had a chance at making Mr. Topaze a great movie due to its dull source material, but he definitely could have done more as a director and performer to lift it to higher heights.

2.8/3.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

Despite Its Many Flaws, Artemis Fowl is Still Watchable

The film that got Judy Dench to dress in all green and say “top of the morning” with a straight face.

There is no denying that Artemis Fowl is a bad movie, but it is – dare I say – still watchable. I find the ultimate bad or “trash” movie the kind that is completely unwatchable, has me repeatedly checking how much time is left in its duration, and has no redeeming qualities. With that being said, Artemis Fowl has plenty of cringe moments focused around poor dialogue, questionable acting choices, and lousy storytelling.

Kenneth Branagh’s latest was already off to a bad start when it opened with Josh Gad, who forces a deep, raspy voice that is inconsistent for most of the movie. Tonally, the opening scene is all over the place. The intrigue Branagh wants to create with Gad’s character, Mulch Diggums, is shattered by lame jokes, Gad’s unnatural deep voice, and the over-the-top interrogation cinematography. Branagh wants to have a Mission: Impossible-esque introduction, trying to be cooler than it is to appeal to a wide audience, when it should have embraced the fantastical elements. There are fairies, dwarves, and trolls in Artemis Fowl, this isn’t Catch Me If You Can, so own it. The sheer fact the character’s name is Mulch Diggums should have resulted in the Mission: Impossible approach being left on the drawing room floor.

This approach to be cool and edgy is also spread to the lead character of Artemis Fowl Jr., a supposed genius, who is a spoiled and mostly arrogant pre-teen that fancies himself some sort of James Bond. When he’s talking to his principal I was immediately reminded of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, who shares the quality with Artemis that they immediately think they’re the smartest person in the room and not afraid to let others know. The difference here though, is this is one of our first scenes with Artemis. Instead of playing for this trait for laughs like in The Big Bang Theory, we’re supposed to be impressed, which I was not. I thought Artemis was an entitled brat who thinks he’s better than everyone else, which I suppose he is and does, but Branagh shouldn’t have me feel this way about him right away. It could work if Artemis was going to have a redeeming moment where he realizes how he acts and that he’s wrong to be that way. However, that moment never comes.

I think the only winners for the film are the visual effects team, camera department, editor Matthew Tucker, and Lara McDonnell’s charming performance as Holly Short. Some of the actors leave a lot to be desired, some more than others, but they’re mostly fine within the movie. In their defense, for almost all of the actors, the screenplay does not give them much to work with. 

I think it’s possible Artemis Fowl would have had the same effect if you watched it on mute. The story is all over the place and it doesn’t always make sense, but at least it has attractive visuals. Call me crazy, but I found myself thinking about the feel of the film that the visuals created the next day. Obviously, I’m still thinking of them now as I write this. As an editor, Matthew Tucker made the film flow well for the most part, even though it probably didn’t have any right to. 

Branagh and his team did manage to create an atmosphere that I found myself enjoying and wouldn’t mind entering again. I just wish Branagh and the writers managed to tell a more cohesive story.

3.6/10.0

Categories
2010-19 2010-19 Reviews

Porto (2016)

I have found myself struggling with this film. Porto is a film that I enjoyed a great deal when I was watching it. But now that a distance from it has been established, the film feels like a justification or defense for Jake (Anton Yelchin) stalking and physically hitting Mati (Lucie Lucas). I know that is probably not the intention of the film, but that scene is such a profound moment that is enhanced even more due to the film’s structure. 

The audience is shown both point-of-views (Jake’s and Mati’s) and the film feels much like a “how did they get here” kind of film. I know there is probably a more nuanced way of saying that, but that’s how the film works. The structure is also a little complicated to explain because you see moments and flashes of images from all different time periods. You have moments of Jake and Mati before they met, moments of them together, moments of them right after they were together, and moments in the distant future. Director Gabe Klinger plays with the film’s structure by showing some scenes from different timelines back to back and does it with different point-of-views as well. 

It’s a very well-made film. With beautiful compositions, great acting from Yelchin and Lucas, and its clear love for European cinema, it’s hard not to be charmed and wrapped up in Porto. I can’t help but feel that if the film removed Jake hitting Mati and toned down his stalking, the film would feel way different. I found its structure and screenplay very compelling, although it’s not perfect. Mati feels much less fleshed out than Yelchin’s character, Jake. Porto begins with Jake and he seems to get the filmmaker’s sympathy, but it’s structure suggests Mati and Jake are supposed to equal, which makes it troublesome that Jake is more developed than Mati.

The message I gathered from Porto is people want different things in life and they sometimes make decisions that affect others in negative ways without anticipating the outcomes. It’s all about perspective and without it, it’s hard to understand why another person did what they did. I think this is rather interesting and Klinger’s structure helps sell this point. However, when you have a scene where one character hits another and have that serve as the turning point in the film it’s hard to move past it since it completely reshapes the film.

4.4/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

Scoob! is a Total Misfire

I am not sure if me not writing on Scoob! until now is due to my busy schedule or my apprehension towards diving back into the giant misfire. I watched Scoob! the night it had its “Home Premiere” and haven’t written anything about it until now. Of course, I could have just rated the movie and tried to forget about it, but I felt I needed to air out – or maybe rather rant about – some of my frustrations with it.

I admit, I didn’t have high hopes. Scoob! can be filed under “Movies That Looked Worse and Worse From Trailers.” When I was growing up, I loved Scooby-Doo Where Are You! and would rewatch episodes all the time. If I were to rank my favorite animated shows from my childhood it would probably be in my Top 5. 

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and many major companies are trying to prey on it, especially Disney. I like to refrain from being cynical and believe that when these reboots come out and don’t live up to what we knew growing up, we are still able to fondly remember what came before. Although, in Scoob!‘s case you can’t exactly call it a reboot because new episodes still air on Cartoon Network with Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?. Unfortunately, whenever I remember Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! I can almost guarantee I will remember how disappointing Scoob! was.

Scoob! comes across as a giant cash grab, but any animated movie that tries to appeal beyond kids to Gen-X, millenials AND older zoomers through nostalgia definitely is. I imagine the board meeting at Warner Bros. going something along the lines of them trying to come up with a new animated movie, tossing away “risky” original screenplays, and going with an already established property with no real heart or love behind it. The fact that Scooby-Doo is currently making new episodes on Cartoon Network makes it even more obvious they wanted to appeal beyond children to capitalize on profits.

I have no idea what the thought process was behind Scoob!‘s screenplay. I remember Scooby-Doo as a group of teenagers or young adults solving mysteries. What I don’t remember is Scooby-Doo being an adventure show that featured Greek mythology. I have no idea why Scoob! functions like a Despicable Me movie with the characters from Scooby-Doo and whatever other Hanna-Barbera characters Warner Animation Group could cram into it. I would say Scoob! is about as bad as it gets when it comes to “nostalgia-baiting.” 

Oh, did you like Scooby-Doo, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, AND Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels growing up? Well don’t worry, we’ll find a way to shove them all into one movie to appease you and try to set up spin-offs.

What makes me most mad about Scoob! is it’s not a Scooby-Doo movie, it’s an animated movie that features characters from Scooby-Doo. Where was the mystery? I think the reason there isn’t a mystery is because the writers at Warner Bros. didn’t want to have to come up with one. But they certainly found a way to feature lame jokes that reference Netflix and IKEA. 

For a movie that tries to appeal to not just children, it feels very much like something that will only appeal to children. It’s generic and uninspired. Almost all of the jokes are for kids. The only part I truly enjoyed was the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! opening homage. The rest of the movie I’m just trying to forget.

3.4/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

She’s In Portland (2020)

What would happen if the guys from American Pie and EuroTrip never grew up?

I think the most surprising thing about She’s In Portland is that it didn’t come out between 2000 and 2010. With a screenplay packed with a good dose of misogyny, I was shocked that Marc Carlini was comfortable shooting and releasing this in 2020. It attempts to be a more adult version of films like EuroTrip and Sex DriveShe’s In Portland lacks the maturity, self-reflection, and social commentary it desperately needs. Unfortunately, writers Marc Carlini and Patrick Alexander were in love with their lead characters too much. 

The film is more interested in making excuses for its lead characters than having them take responsibility for their actions. These moments of clarity for the two leads don’t really come until the end of the film, which is too late. She’s In Portland‘s two lead characters don’t always seem to make sense as friends and conflict throughout the film in disastrous ways. Wes’s personality overpowers Luke’s, which makes it hard to separate the two. Even though Luke is his own person, it’s hard to defend him sometimes considering he’s friends with Wes in the first place.

Wes (Tommy Dewey) is the main lead of the film and the late-thirties version of the guy you knew in college who only cared about partying and having sex. He’s basically Steve Stifler from the American Pie films. There’s a reason why Stifler isn’t the lead of those movies. He works in the American Pie movies because the other characters are there to condemn and call him out on most of his actions. In She’s In Portland the only person to call Wes out is his friend Luke (François Arnaud), the other lead. He does his best, but it’s hard when Carlini tries to often defend Wes, which isn’t a hill I would want to die on. 

Wes is a douchey womanizer who drags Luke on a road trip to get his “one that got away.” Wes claims the road trip is for Luke, when really he just wants to find a way to get away from his wife, whose crimes are that she’s pregnant and expects him to be responsible. Wes is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve watched this year. He is the film’s disease that spreads and ruins any chance the film had at being good. As a director, Carlini is incredibly committed to his lead. He could have had Wes’s behavior change in order to make some moments less difficult to stomach, but he stays truthful to him and the story he’s telling. 

I think a film like She’s In Portland is only successful if it’s trying to make a point, commenting on the behavior of womanizing men that never grew up, condemning them, and trying to educate the audience. If any of those intentions are there, they’re lost in the misguided sympathy that Carlini spreads. Luke (François Arnaud) is the only male character worth feeling sorry for at times. The film’s worst moment comes in its third act, when it very plainly tries to conjure up sympathy for Wes after every terrible thing he has done has been revealed. I just don’t understand why a writer/director would have a character like Wes as a lead if they’re not going to make a strong statement on his behavior. It comes across as out of touch, which might be the best way to explain She’s In Portland overall.

2.4/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

The Willoughbys (2020)

The Willoughbys is a soulless animation hiding behind bright colors and a cotton candy aesthetic. While watching, I was reminded of watching Storks, but The Willoughbys lacks any strong comedic moments. It tries hard to evoke the warmness found in a Pixar film, but by forcing it the film becomes an empty shell.

Tonally, The Willoughbys is all over the place. I don’t think it ever fully works. The plot is dark and the film never showcases its self-awareness. The Willoughby children try to get their parents killed, but the mere act of it is presented in such an oddly playful way. The film might have felt less jarring if it embraced its dark themes and gave us something like Coraline.

Trying to do a lot, but never successfully compiling all of its intentions together, The Willoughbys is a disappointing animation from Netflix. The film may have pretty visuals, but it lacks a heart.

3.2/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

TWF NO GF (2020)

Many people say that sometimes you need to see how the other half lives. Others say, for every article you read that you agree with, read one you disagree with. 

I previously knew nothing about the TWF NO GF subculture although I am familiar with incels and other terms found within the film. The film can be unstructured at times and feel like you’re jumping from Twitter feed to Twitter feed, but considering its subject matter, it kind of works. 

I found the documentary fascinating. Many people will say TWF NO GF is a dangerous film because it gives a voice to people who arguably don’t deserve the spotlight. Several of these people probably said the same thing about Joker. I can understand that viewpoint, but it doesn’t apply here, just like it didn’t with Joker.

TFW NO GF’s subjects are young men who spend their time trolling the Internet, pissing off people just for the thrill of it. Often using profanity, racism, and misogyny to do it. Sometimes they don’t even agree with what they post. They’re the kind of people who want to get a reaction because they’re not getting any attention in their real lives from being themselves. So, they develop these overly toxic personas and use them on people to try to feel or be a part of something. It’s the only interaction they may have with a person all day. It’s both sad and infuriating to watch.

What prevents TWF NO GF from being dangerous is its refusal to give the subjects a platform to spout their ideals in a harmful way. Director Alex Lee Moyer maintains a distance from the subjects despite being heavily focused on them. This distance prevents the documentary from potentially becoming a propaganda piece. The documentary feels less like a showcase of their opinions and more of a closer look into the kind of people that are in the TWF NO GF subculture, what they think, and trying to figure out how they got to where they are. The ending alone is enough to show it’s not dangerous. Alex Lee Moyer isn’t trying to provoke anyone in the subculture or radicalize anyone into joining. 

TWF NO GF gets overly preachy and optimistic at the end, which may feel sanctimonious, but is really what the film needs considering a great portion of the film’s audience will be incels and NEETs. The documentary shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel for these guys. Ultimately, that is exactly what guys within the TWF NO GF subculture need to hear. And they need to hear it from the guys who used to be just like them.

7.3/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

Porno (2020)

I got so much joy out of watching this movie. It reminded me of the 80s horror films I discovered in my teen years. If you’re a fan of those kind of movies you’ll probably have great fun with Porno. A simplistic way to look at Porno is that it’s The Evil Dead if it took place in a movie theater with Christian teens.

Porno is funny and has a nice dash of spookiness. One of its greatest strengths is the performances. The actors do a great job in their charming roles. They are far better than the actors you particularly see in these kind of films. The performers bring out more from their characters than you’d traditionally see, avoiding tired archetypes.

The screenplay from Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli is particularly strong as well. This film is more than a violent and sexy horror film. They’re also interested in commenting on the hypocrisy within religious communities and the effect God-fearing ideals have on teenagers who aspire to be good. Director Keola Racela, the writers, and actors are very respectful of the characters and Christian communities. They could have gone for cheap shots, but they never go for them. 

I think Porno’s only heavy flaw is its third act. Porno goes a little off the rails near the end. The plot becomes overly silly and the resolution comes too easily. Porno would have been a much stronger film if it wrapped up more nicely.

7.5/10.0