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2010-19 2019 Reviews

Too Late to Die Young (2019)

Dominga Sotomayor’s film, Too Late to Die Young takes a personal and authentic look into the lives of a close-knit and isolated community in Chile. The events take place in 1990, right before the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It’s a coming-of-age story that focuses on three kids in the community.

A film like this is only as strong as its performances and the young non-actors are excellent. Sofía (Demian Hernández), Lucas (Antar Machado), and Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) are the leads of this ensemble film. In the interview with BFI (on the Criterion Channel), Sotomayor spoke of her directing style and how many of the actors didn’t have any prior experience. She tried to keep the performances as real as possible by guiding them and not having them focus on the script too much. She directed them in a way that in the end, the film follows the screenplay closely. All three of them feel real and you will become attached to them. You might find yourself wanting to know what happens to them next. I would love to get a follow-up film with the three of them.

My favorite performance came from Antar Machado. He wears a boyish sadness that is brutally honest. You can tell how much he loves Sofía (Demian Hernández) just by how he looks at her. Machado and Sotomayor perfectly capture a teenage boy’s first love and the heartache that comes when the other person doesn’t feel the same way. Even when Lucas knows it’s hopeless he still wants to try. It’s heartbreaking.

Dominga Sotomayor’s Too Late to Die Young is a touching and unforgettable film. Her screenplay has some clichés, but her characters are so real that the clichés come off more as stereotypes than lazy screenwriting. I highly recommend Too Late to Die Young. It feels criminally unwatched right now.

7.7/10.0

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2010-19 2019 Reviews

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Almost Falls Flat

I want to start this review with stating that I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan. Clerks is one of my favorite low-budget films of all time and Smith made a huge impact on me during my later teen years. I’m also not a “fan” who’s actually a former fan and wants every opportunity to hate on Kevin Smith. With that being said, this review is coming from a real fan who wants Kevin Smith to succeed.

Holy cow, the first twenty-thirty minutes of this movie are awful. The beginning of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot attempts to taint the legacies of Clerks, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and every other movie he’s ever made. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’s start is even bad by 90s standards. What the heck was Justin Long doing? The writing is lousy and the jokes are lame. It’s so annoyingly and overtly self-aware I wanted to shut it off. The self-awareness isn’t as frequent as the rest of the movie goes on, so it makes you wonder why it’s so constant in the beginning. It ends up feeling like an incredibly misguided fan service.

In the beginning, the movie attacks reboots, but also is one. It feels like they’re picking on the fans who wanted Jay and Silent Bob Reboot in the first place and they’re being forced to make it. Is the beginning intentionally bad in order to make a commentary on the value of reboots? Was it a defense mechanism for the inevitable criticism and hate Kevin Smith planned to receive?

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot has plenty of cameos. Matt Damon gives the best one while Justin Long gives the worst one. Jason Lee does his best with the awful dialogue he’s given and it was nice seeing him after all these years. The cameos are more favorable than bad, which is good because when the film first kicks off it doesn’t seem like this will be the case. Adam Brody is funny and Ben Affleck has a really good cameo. Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil serves as a vessel for Kevin Smith to do some self-reflecting. The conversation also serves as an explanation for Smith’s fans on why the quality of his films may have gone down. It’s a touching scene, especially coming from someone who doesn’t always put his personal life into his movies in such a straightforward and honest way.

The rest of the movie is much better if you can get through the first twenty minutes. The beginning is awful, the middle is good, and the ending is unrealistic, weak camp. There are positives within Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Jason Mewes gives his best performance to date. He shows more depth than he ever has due to his character’s relationship with his daughter Milly (Harley Quinn Smith). Through this relationship, Smith’s writing reaches a level of maturity I don’t remember seeing and his jokes blend with the narrative well when it’s dealing with its serious topics. It’s relatively easy to get through Jay and Silent Bob Reboot if you’re a longtime Kevin Smith fan. If you’re not, this will very likely be insufferable.

It’s starting to look more and more like Tusk is going to be Kevin Smith’s last great movie. He seems to be content with that and if he’s content with that, I am too. I just want Kevin Smith to be healthy and happy and I’m really glad he seems to be.

4.2/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Beanpole Will Blow You Away

I was blown away by Beanpole. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with so much darkness and beauty packed into it. Like many of the other movies I’ve watched during this month, Beanpole is not an easy watch. It is a slower movie and has moments that remind me of the films of Carlos Reygadas. Dialogue is not consistent and the characters will sometimes move at a slower pace. Director Kantemir Balagov will sometimes show characters doing mundane actions in their entirety. Due to its structure, Beanpole‘s more vicious moments will hit you harder. There are a few scenes that will be difficult to watch.

Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina are incredible in this! You feel so much sadness and compassion for Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko). Her condition and unhealthy relationship with Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), while repeatedly being called “Beanpole” by her peers, make her a very empathetic character.

I also want to give immense credit to the cinematography and production design. The brooding atmosphere these two help create take Beanpole to the next level. This film will stay with you days after you watch it.

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Diamantino is a Silly, but Fun Ride

This was a really nice surprise. Diamantino is funny, silly, and tackles the need for human connection. The film also manages to tackle political issues such as immigration, the refugee crisis, and Brexit. Perhaps what is most striking about Diamantino is despite its sci-fi and surrealist elements, it is still rooted by its humanism. Diamantino is a fun ride even though it disappoints with its ending.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

I think the ending of Diamantino is what hurts it from being a better film. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth. After watching the interview with directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt I understand they were influenced by the films of Ernst Lubitsch. With that in mind, I still don’t think the ending works. I don’t think the relationship between Diamantino and Aisha is comparable to the relationships in Lubitsch’s films.

It’s very off-putting to see what was previously a father-daughter relationship – regardless of how comical and transparent it was for the audience- turn into a romantic one. For Diamantino – because of his stupidity – the father-daughter relationship was very real. Aisha and him becoming sexual so soon after Aisha reveals who she really is feels incestuous and gross. Their relationship never needed to become romantic especially since it seemed so innocent before. Every male-female relationship doesn’t need to become romantic. What would have been wrong with them becoming close friends?

However, given the circumstances, it might have made more sense for them to drift apart.

6.4/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Corpus Christi’s Oscar Nom is Well-Deserved

I can see why Corpus Christi snuck in and grabbed a Best International Film nomination at the Academy Awards this year. With an excellent performance from Bartosz Bielenia and a captivating story, Corpus Christi deserved its nomination.

Corpus Christi criticizes organized religion while maintaining optimism for the future. Director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz point to the hypocrisy often found within parishes and religious individuals. Usually, when you see movies with this approach, the outlook is bleak and there isn’t room for hope. Komasa and Pacewicz show that there is work to be done, but it isn’t a lost cause. They are optimistic for the future and highlight that organized religion may have some outdated customs, but with a new voice and outlook, we can move in the right direction. The only thing we have to do is be open to new approaches and give them a chance.

Pacewicz’s screenplay shows that different people have the capacity to provide spiritual guidance to others. He has a multilayered screenplay, tackling the rights of convicts following release, people using money to have too much power over people, and ultimately, at the forefront of the film: the hypocrisy and room to grow within organized religion. There are many themes compiled into Corpus Christi, but Pacewicz blends them together to create a sophisticated screenplay. He shows a film can be about more than one thing and still not bite off more than it can chew.

8.1/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

The Burial of Kojo (2019)

When I look back on this film now – I watched it a few weeks ago – I fail to remember anything good about it. All I can think of is negatives. My main issue with The Burial of Kojo is it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Narratively and creatively it feels disjointed. It seems to want to be a straightforward narrative film, but have its surrealist cake and eat it too. You have moments with pretty images – Esi holding a clear umbrella while fireworks rain down on her – but these images are just that: pretty images. They offer very little to the story and atmosphere. The shots are in the movie because they look cool and it seems like that’s it.

If director Blitz Bazawule wanted to make a 100% surrealist film, having images like this would be totally fine, but when you are trying to have a traditional narrative film these shots feel disruptive. Bazawule might have been able to help these shots feel less unruly if the film flowed better. If I had to guess, the blame for its lack of flow should probably be given to the screenplay more than its editing, although the editing should still take some responsibility. The story, cinematography, and editing were hardly ever in sync.

The Burial of Kojo switches back between high quality shots with good lenses to others that look like the filmmakers used a GoPro. It is clear The Burial of Kojo was a micro-budget film and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m personally taken out of a movie when there appears to be changes in resolution. I still remember seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction in IMAX and the continual aspect ratio changes. Granted, frequent aspect ratio changes are far more jarring and unpleasant than resolution changes, but the impact they have on me are the same. I’m even bothered when resolution changes occur when stock footage is used for overhead views of cities.

These GoPro shots are not used as transitions or establishing shots. I may be misremembering, but I feeI like I remember some scenes using two different cameras. It was as if their main camera ran out of batteries and they used the GoPro to finish shooting the coverage of the scene. It’s possible this may have just been an aesthetic choice, but it’s not one that I believe adds great value to the story or movie as a whole.

I’ve seen comparisons between The Burial of Kojo and Beasts of the Southern Wild and at first I didn’t agree with the comparison, but now I see it. The Burial of Kojo could be considered a film that wants to be Beasts and borrows a lot from it, but never fully understood what made Beasts so successful.

2.3/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

And Then We Danced Will Make You Stand and Cheer

Challenges like “March Around the World” are great because not only do they show us different cultures and experiences, but they also result in us watching films that might not have been on our radar. And Then We Danced taught me about Georgian dance, which I honestly had no knowledge of beforehand. I also never would have watched it if it wasn’t for this month’s challenge. When I saw And Then We Danced was playing near me and was from Georgia, I figured it was definitely worth checking out.

I love going into a movie almost completely blind and really digging it. I feel that some of the best moviegoing experiences can come from that circumstance. And Then We Dancedcompletely blew me away in terms of how much I liked it considering I knew nothing about Georgian dance and don’t even have any experience with dance myself. I think that is testament to the power of And Then We Danced and how good it is.

And Then We Danced is led by Levan Gelbakhiani, who plays Merab, a character you root for immediately. Right from the start, Merab wants his teacher’s praise and acceptance, something that we can tell from the very beginning he will not get. Merab, probably somewhat aware of this, tries to not let it phase him because his passion for dance is too strong. Gelbakhiani wears the passion, kindness, and yearning on his face for the entire movie. He gives a moving, internal performance, which makes the ending that much more powerful.

Gelbakhiani is complemented by Bachi Valishvili, who looks like the love child of Jack Reynor and Christopher Abbott. Valishvili plays Irakli, a dancer that replaces someone in the National Georgian Ensemble. He is instant competition for Merab and this disdain Merab feels for Irakli transforms into strong affection. Despite director Levan Akin falling into familiar clichés with Merab and Irakli’s relationship, the rest of the film is so strong and the ending so astonishing it doesn’t matter. It’s an ending that makes you want to stand up and clap when the credits roll.

8.2/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Cats is NOT the Worst Movie You’ll Ever See, But it’s Not Great

Well… Cats surely is something.

It’s very easy to pick on Cats and everyone has stormed the Internet in masses to do so ever since the first trailer aired many months prior to its release. At the time, I had held out hope that Cats was going to be a good movie. Tom Hooper directed Les Miserables (2012) and that was very good, so maybe this would be too. Cats seemed to have potential. The trailer, although not perfect, showed some promise and was enhanced by Jennifer Hudson’s powerful voice.

The hate coming from the first trailer could be attributed to its somewhat new technological approach (cats, but with human faces!) which made it easily meme-able for Internet trolls and other people farming for impressions. And people wonder why Hollywood never tries anything new. However, leading up to its release, like Dolittle (2020), the more dialogue you started to see from the movie, the worse it looked. Therefore, when the movie was finally released and critically panned, it didn’t come as much as a surprise to me. What I wonder though is, if it was actually good, average, or even intended for a very, very small audience to be enjoyed, would the hate had still been there because it’s so easy to make fun of and hating things is the Internet’s favorite pastime? I guess we’ll never know…

Cats has many, many problems and it deserved the criticism it deserved. I’m not denying that, but there are some good moments in it. Cats isn’t the total dumpster file you were led to believe. Sure, the first thirty minutes might be the worst thirty minutes of a movie I’ve seen in a long time, but the film is not all bad.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many things done so bad and so well in one movie. They had high quality actors and some of them give poor performances. Cats signifies a career low for James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellan, and Ray Winstone. The only actors who come out fully unscathed (in my opinion) are Francesca Hayward and Jennifer Hudson. Most of the musical numbers and songs are lame, but there are two that are compelling and one that is a blast. Francesca Haywood singing “Beautiful Ghosts (Victoria’s Song” (a song that deserved an Oscar nomination more than other songs nominated this year) and Jennifer Hudson singing “Memory” are the emotional high points of the movie. Steven McRae singing and tap-dancing “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” is just pure fun. Third, for the most part, the visual effects are very impressive, but there are other times they look awful.

Just to keep it simple, some of the actors are good, but most of them give performances below their talent. The visual effects are great the majority of the time and bad all the other times. I guess you could say consistency is the main problem for Cats. I think Tom Hooper may have bitten off more than he could chew in regards to how much time he had to make the film and the amount of money he was allotted. It’s possible that the technology to make Cats is not yet at the level it needed to be to fulfill Hooper’s vision. Nevertheless, I respect him for taking a risk.

I find it hard to understand how Cats is even a compelling musical because although Cats feels like a film and not a recording of stage performance, the film still feels very theatrical. This is partially due to the difficulty – I’m sure – of the visual effects for the settings as well as the actors themselves, but even as a film it feels very much like watching a play, which doesn’t work for it. Cats does have its moments and breaks from its minimal locations, but the story, performances, and conversations that take place are not compelling enough to sustain its low number of settings.

Yeah, Cats is bad, but it’s not the worst movie you’ll ever see. At the end of the day, at least we got to see Hayward and Hudson sing, as well as Steven McRae dancing and singing along railway tracks.

3.0/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

American Woman (2019)

At first glance American Woman may look like a crime film or mystery, but it’s actually a family drama and character study. Sienna Miller’s Deb Callaghan serves as the character study, a gentle and loving one at that. Despite the film not being a mystery, her daughter’s disappearance is always on your mind, her presence felt in every scene, giving you a glimpse of what Deb feels and what others feel when a child has gone missing.

Sienna Miller carries the movie on her shoulders, but is supported greatly by her costars, including, but not limited to, Christina Hendricks, Amy Madigan, and Aaron Paul.

You might have missed this one during 2019 (like I did), but if you really like character studies you will be pleasantly surprised. However, if you’re looking for a clear cut crime drama, American Woman probably isn’t for you.

7.6/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

21 Bridges (2019)

The main problem with 21 Bridges is that nothing sets it apart from the rest. In a few years or less, we’re going to think back and either have forgotten this film or have merged it in our minds with the films that it mimics.

The story is interesting, albeit a little cliche, but good enough to keep us entertained. Nevertheless, I cannot help but believe that the more interesting story lies with Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch). I think their point of view is the only aspect of the film that keeps it mediocre. Chadwick Boseman’s Andre Davis is the paper thin son-of-a-cop archetype we’ve seen too many times. It is amusing to think how riveting 21 Bridges may have been entirely from the lens of Michael and Ray. Changing this point of view would have prevented the filmmakers from building up a half-baked twist.

The “twist” of 21 Bridges is so obvious from the very beginning and you can tell the filmmakers know it too. Anyone who has seen a cop movie in the last ten years could probably tell you that there are dirty cops and also point out who they are. The filmmakers telegraph to the audience who is dirty and narratively the audience knows the cops are dirty way before Davis does. All it becomes is a matter of figuring out who the dirty cops are. It appears that the filmmakers were handcuffed to this genre cliche “twist” because they barely commit to it.

At the end of the day, 21 Bridges is a decent movie, but not worth seeing if you’re looking for something a little more fresh.

5.0/10.0