Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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Reviewed 9.29.20 For those predispositioned to loving animals (or in this case one wicked smart mollusk), you'll feel all eight tentacles of her octopus hugs. Craig Foster is feeling lost, so he returns to the kelp forest of his youth, off the coast of south Africa. The high production values of the lush underwater footage leads to an almost meditative vibe. And upon meeting an octopus during one of his dives, Foster wonders what would happen if he returned to visit her every day. Cue the magic. Stories like this are of particular importance at this tumultuous ecological moment. Scientific research continues to reveal deeper and more complex awareness among a variety of creatures. And if an octopus can join this group, then almost any critter should be up for consideration. And if they can be seen in a more empathic light, perhaps it will diminish the ignorant apathy we continue to display towards even the most enlightened creatures with which we share the planet. It's about time. If you're inspired by the possibility of connecting with 'the other,' it's a heart-warming visit to another world.
Reviewed 9.6.20 It has been 70 years since All About Eve won Best Picture in 1950, yet the subject matter has only grown more topical. Who knew that writer and director Joseph Mankiewicz's scathing observations on mid-20th century celebrity would seem so quaint in comparison to today's Kardashian level vapidness. Times change, but whereas talent wasn't always enough, now it isn't even required.
Blind ambition is as old as MacBeth, yet Mankiewicz delivers a modern twist, with the new celluloid royalty of his time. The dialogue hasn't lost a step, as delivered by a who's who of A-list stars. From the previous generation's greatest, Bette Davis, to a darling of the moment, Anne Baxter. Toss in another Oscar winner in Celeste Holm, along with the woman that still holds the record for the most best supporting actor nods, Thelma Ritter. It remains the sole film to receive four acting nominations for female actors. You will never see that again. Oh, and someone named Marilyn Monroe appears in her first cameo role too. The final result, 14 Oscar nods, a record yet to be broken.
Along with his directing win, Mankiewicz rightfully took home a statue for best screenplay. His broad script brought to light the blatant ageism that plagues female actors till this day, while also exposing the sycophantic relationship between performer and critic. As scum personified, George Sanderson nails the pivotal role of Addison Dewitt, scoring yet another Oscar for the film. It's an iconic movie that remains relevant, filled with characters you won't soon forget. On the must-see list for any classic film buff.
Reviewed 3.21.20 JoJo Rabbit attempts something so bold and original, you have to respect it on that merit alone. Using gallows humor to denounce the Nazi regime (and fascim in general) has been done, think Mel Brooks or even Charlie Chaplin. But that was parody, a full on lampoon. This is something different, both comedy and drama, even within the same scene. Oh, and did I forget to mention the imaginary childhood Hitler friend?
Such outlandish writing requires a subtle hand, and talented triple-threat (writer/director/lead actor) Taika Waititi is up to the task. He somehow manages to turn the crumbling last days of the Third Reich into a whimsical adolescent journey, without pulling any punches. This literal and figurative mind field is one of the greatest writing challenges I can imagine and it rightfully resulted in an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay, along with five additional nods, including Best Picture.
Those that feel Waititi was somehow softening or trivializing Nazi atrocities expose their own ignorance. This may be the most brutal takedown of Nazi Germany, and by extension the absurdity of war in general, since Apocalpyse Now. But to appreciate the full genius of his script requires more than a surface understanding of WWII history, and the ability to grasp satire.
Criticism of the tonal shifts are fair, it comes with some emotional whiplash along the way. But without realistic suffering alongside the humor, the film would slip into farce, and lose its emotional effectiveness. There's a reason no one attempts movies like this.
If you want to see fascism conquered the old-fashioned way, you have plenty of options. You can choose the emotionally manipulative path of a Saving Private Ryan, the thrill kill energy of an Inglorious Bastards, or any of the classic paint by number war movies. Or try this walk on the wild side, focusing on the idiocy over the brutality. Laugh at Nazi's while fighting off a lump in your throat. It's one of a kind.
Sam Rockwell is hilarious as emotionally complex, and light in the loafers, Captain Klenzendorf. His comedic highpoints juxtaposition alongside a life-affirming final scene that deeply resonates. His performance is matched by a radiant Scarlet Johansson, in an Oscar nominated turn as a loving mother with secrets of her own.
As the dumbing down of history continues, it's a movie likely to be overlooked for simpler war 'fare.' But for those with a broad sense of humor, or an appreciation for innovative writing, it's already a cult classic.
Reviewed 1.14.20 For a movie mining a classic book from 125 years ago, it hasn't aged well itself. Perhaps it's looking particularly dusty in comparison to Greta Gerwig's inspired 2019 version. Or perhaps it was always simply a paint by numbers version of Louisa May Alcott's classic. It does retain genre charms, for those that prefer their period pieces served up slow and warm, and there is nary a computer generated image in sight.
But for such a stellar cast, the acting is spotty. Winona Ryder leads the way as Jo March, for which she begins with an accent in the opening scenes, then quickly fades to modern American for the remainder of the film. Her Oscar nomination for best actress was a sham of popularity over product. A young Christian Bale appears in his first adult role, along with a teenage Claire Danes, both exhibiting flashes of the acting chops they would eventually cultivate. Susan Sarandon provides a stabilizing presence, although Gabriel Byrne is miscast, seeming too old to play the small but pivotal role of Friedrich, Jo's eventual suitor.
I admittedly may have liked this film more if I'd seen it upon its release in 1994. But viewing it immediately following the 2019 version, its weaknesses seem glaring. That said, it is the more traditional telling of the story, and for that it should remain a top choice for purist fans of the source material.
Reviewed 1.12.20 Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this latest version of Louisa May Alcott's classic. Saoirse Ronan is solid as always, serving up an empowered version of Jo March, as Alcott's fictional alter ego. While Florence Pugh adds strong supporting work, playing Amy with welcome dignity. Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper headline the senior roles, providing the gravitas lacking from the 1994 version of their characters. Only Timothee Chamelet seems miscast as a too boyish Laurie.
Gerwig deserves all the credit she's receiving for somehow reviving a staid story in it's 7th (12th including TV versions?) go around. Her version possesses superior character development, and most originally, her masterful use of time jumping vignettes. She basically cut the book up and pastiched it back together in a more cinematic manner. Bravo!
Unfortunately she eschews more deliberate identifiers, like date/location stamps, for more subtle hints, like alternating colour hues between scenes and stylistic changes for the characters. While the increased activity adds welcome excitement to her telling, it also results in a periodic sense of displacement too.
Those viewers familiar with the source material will follow, and newcomers will find their way. But the challenges persist in pivotal scenes involving the relapse of beloved sister Beth, and when Jo negotiates a deal while the character in her book lives out the editor's requested fantasy ending.
This is a bold return to Alcot's seminal work, loaded with vibrant energy and cinematic beauty. Gerwig's occasionally unwieldy screenplay distracts, but recreating such classic source material is no simple task. And the result feels both vital and timely. Who knew these little women had it in them.