More Film Reviews of 2020

A Brazen Riff On 'Groundhog Day,' 'Palm Springs' Is Better Suited For The Small Screen | The ARTery

Since I watched more contemporary films than I usually do for award season, I put together some capsule reviews. There’s not too much rhyme or reason to these, but I thought I would include them here. Let me know what you thought of these movies. Thank you!

Palm Springs

In some serendipitous twist of fate, Palm Springs feels like the film made for the year of the pandemic — where the days are recycled and we are besieged by all the existential questions the world has to offer. It’s not just Groundhog’s Day redux because while Andy Samberg and Cristin Miloti spark romantic chemistry, the key is how they are stuck in a wedding day time loop together.

There are two ways to go about it: either accept the status quo or rage against it in the pursuit of something better. It speaks to love and intimacy and marriage in a way that wades through the refuse and the raunch and comes out with a resolute optimism. Life’s not just about finding your “Irvine.” It’s also made better when you find someone to walk alongside, especially when it’s for an eternity. 

The Way Back

If you’ve seen Hoosiers or any of those sports movies of old, there’s nothing particularly new about The Way Back. In spite of this, there’s something compelling; it’s borne on the performance of Ben Affleck — the inner demons of his character and this fractured road to redemption. It means something genuine and true to people who have played sports — been filled with that indescribable elation — and those who have been subjected to tragedy. It’s not just Affleck, but there’s a quiet and reserved profundity to many of these performances. I appreciated it a great deal more than I was expecting. 

Promising Young Woman

It grieves me that a film like this is deemed relevant in our contemporary society and of course I have no argument to the contrary because it’s true. Although the pieces of plot and fluctuating tone never totally gel with me, Carey Mulligan gives an evocative showing as per usual. I’m particularly fascinated by Fennell’s use of the thriller genre as a commentary, which feels perhaps more incisive than a one for one based on a true story expose might be.

All the pieces are there, the twists and turns, and the stings to a misogynistic society. But rather like last year’s Joker, I still rue the fact we’ve come to such a place in contemporary cinema — another discomforting representation of man’s inhumanity of man — much less man’s inhumanity to woman. It’s not like we were totally unaware of it before. However, we’ve given ourselves over to the vindictive nihilism of it all. I hope and pray for restoration. 

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The film itself boasts a bounty of Classic Hollywood references and the kind of mimesis that might well turn moviegoers into black and white junkies. Alas, for me it had the opposite effect and despite any amount of technique and artistry by David Fincher, there never was a sense of true suspension of disbelief. Like Trumbo or Hitch, and other films before it, regardless of some notable performances, it all felt a bit like play-acting. And of course, such material cannot be taken as gospel. It’s a movie about movies after all.

But somehow the picture also lacks movie magic. I never felt truly captivated. For a film that took a closer, more personal look at one of the architects of that grand monolith Citizen Kane, somehow I wished the film had taken a more intimate even mundane scale. Oldman is winsome, but I couldn’t help flashing to Seyfried and Collins. Somehow their characters proved his most fascinating talking partners, though many have all but forgotten them in the shadow of Orson Welles and others.

Wonder Woman 84

Although it’s slow to get going and the pieces don’t always feel totally cohesive, there’s still a modicum of relish to be had from Patty Jenkins’s latest actioner. The 80s are not simply set dressing and eye candy, but they provide the perfect apex of consumer culture. Beyond hairstyles and workout regimens, it’s the emerging generation of instant gratification. Comfort and easy fixes are the world’s salve for any number of discomforts. But society still manages to splinter at its seams into an unfathomable entropy.

Diana (Gal Gadot) is once more a mighty protector of the nations, but the absence of Steve (Chris Pine), leaves a void in her life. This is her version of discontentment. While it never delivers the emotional import of its predecessor, it does attempt to synthesize some moderately intriguing thematic ideas. The ultimate temptation comes with the devil telling her she can have everything she wants. It becomes a tension of trading out selfish gain for a kind of utility, even personal sacrifice in service of truth. Wonder Woman’s greatest strength once again is her perceptive empathy. This doesn’t fail even when the blockbuster does. 

The Truth

While it provides a radically new context for Koreeda’s cinema, the quietly meditative quality that pervades his work is still present. The content feels foreign to us, but the form is familiar. Logistically, you can only imagine how the principal members were able to pull it off without a shared language. Still, cinema prevails. It’s steeped in this history, real and imagined, as the real-life legacies of Deneuve and Binoche, in particular, provide a richer backdrop for the film. Within the context of this tenuous mother-daughter relationship, it’s hard not to consider aspects like the tragedy of sister Francoise Dorleac or the missed opportunity to work with Hitchcock.

However, as Deneuve has her granddaughter brush her hair, we see the actress’s face in the mirror, and it must give us pause. She’s older but poised and immaculate as she has been for generations.  It’s so easy to impart our own desires of what the movie might be. After all, we have some of the greatest talents in French cinema. In comparison, Koreeda’s picture feels slight and deliberate. But for the gracious viewer, all these elements might just play to its advantage. 

Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' Hopes to Kick Off Moviegoing Again - Variety


Christopher Nolan is a director with unparalleled ambitions in the realms of narrative. It’s true Tenet is firmly entrenched in the traditions of Memento and Inception as he sculpts with time, in this case inverted, like we’ve rarely seen it before. It brings together many of his fascinations and folds them into a globetrotting spy thriller. There is so much here. We sit back, our minds racing as we take in the spectacle and look to play catch up with the story.

Because it is a puzzle and cipher for us to break as John David Washington, Robert Pattison, and Elizabeth Debicki are all implicated. There’s only one problem; it seems like comprehensible emotional stakes are missing altogether because we spend the whole time trying to crack Nolan’s code. There’s room for nothing else. If you’re contented with the perplexity of it all, the pincers through time might be enough, but I have an inkling a myriad of people will be dissatisfied. Still, others will feel he’s outdone himself. He’s a director always up for a new challenge.  

Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods stands at the crossroads of Vietnam and the black experience carved out across a tumultuous half-century of American history. There can be no other soundtrack than Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Spike Lee is made to tell this story and he uses the tableau of newsreel footage to lay the groundwork for our story if it’s not already inculcated within our collective consciousness. It’s an impassioned collage of history, culture, and the like from Apocalypse Now’s “Flight of the Valkyrie” to John Huston’s Treasure of The Sierra Madre.

There are moments where the scripting feels corny and even the special effects feel abruptly unpolished. However, it revels in these moments of b-grade thrills creating a vehicle for a band of brothers to reunite in one last mission.  As our Bogey stand-in, Delroy Lindo positively seethes. Although when he marches off into the woods bellowing out the words of Psalm 23 or embracing his long-lost comrade Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), there’s a semblance of healing rising up through his veins. He aids in making the movie about something substantive.

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac2007PosterAfter watching this film I was certainly intrigued but I thought that it was a rather slow film in many respects. However, when you think about it this film is really intriguing. One reason is that as a procedural the film utilizes this pacing to its advantage as it covers the events of the case.
Another reason is that Zodiac is based on the true events that took place in Northern California in the late 60s and early 70s. Furthermore, the culprit was never truly found even if there are a number of suspects who seem the most probable based on circumstantial evidence and testimony.

The point is we still don’t know who the Zodiac killer is even at the end of the film and this adds to the legend, mystery, and intrigue that surrounds the whole story.

Most definitely deserving of a movie adaption, director David Fincher, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, make Zodiac work as a engaging albeit plodding procedural.

4/5 Stars

Gone Girl (2014)

b15ec-gone_girl_posterMy only advice for Gone Girl is to leave all your preconceived notions at the theater entrance because you are about to be blown out of the water. This is not the movie you were expecting–probably very few people were.
The story is based on the source novel of Gillian Flynn who also happened to be the film’s screenwriter. Behind the camera is mystery-thriller phenom David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) directing his two stars Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice).
From the beginning, we get a personal view into the married life of Nick and Amy Dunne. Back in 2005, the romance was just beginning to bud. Now on their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy is gone. Nick is the obvious culprit and we suspect him from the outset of the film, but why would he call in the police to search for his wife? He seems genuinely worried and befuddled by it all.
Soon the police are being taken on a treasure hunt while the whole town becomes frenzied behind the giant media carnival which is having open season on the find Amy campaign. The underlying tension of every present day sequence makes for a nerve-wracking procedural juxtaposed with the romantic journal entries of the gone girl. The race to find Amy is on with the days counting down and Nick collaborating with Detective Boney (Kim Dickens).
By this point, it is insanely difficult to catch up with the narrative because just when a conclusion seems certain a new wrinkle is inserted. There are no givens. Is Nick good? Who is Amy really? Who Knows?
Fincher’s film has one last grand ploy. It shows its hand earlier rather than later, feeding its audience one juicy twist. Far from being done, it continues to follow the fate of poor Nick and Amazing Amy. Gone Girl grows more and more uncomfortable as the days pass and not for the reason you would suspect. On the surface, life seems perfectly normal once more to the still clamoring media, but it’s not the first time that the cameras and reporters fail to see what is really going on.

This is one of the most intense dramas that has come out in years and it in many ways functions as a thriller, a black comedy, and even a satire of the media. The often grisly depictions of violence make the proceeding moments of laughter all that more uncomfortable. Fincher made thrillers before, but nothing quite like this. It’s fidget-inducing, spine-tingling, and utterly perplexing.
4/5 Stars

The Social Network (2010)

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake, this film follows the rise of Facebook as well as its creator Mark Zuckerberg.

The film opens with the nerdy Harvard man getting dumped by his girlfriend and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The story flashes forward to two lawsuits where Zuckerberg is being simultaneously sued by two twins from Harvard and his former partner Eduardo. The plot shifts back and forth showcasing Zuckerberg’s programming skills as well as his difficult personality.

He then takes the initial idea of the facebook and launches it at Harvard, helping it to quickly become a trend. However, with the help of his acquaintances, he works to expand his idea to other campuses all the way to Stanford. After a falling out with Eduardo, Mark takes his team and heads out to Cali on the urging of an entrepreneur named Sean Parker. Facebook has begun to take off across the globe but not without a cost.

After coming to California, Eduardo learns his share of the company has been diluted while Sean is busted for having cocaine in his possession. We leave Zuckerberg in the present as he sits in front of his lap top, the world’s youngest billionaire, but utterly alone. I cannot attest to how much truth there is in this depiction but I do think it is highly pertinent to this generation. It is impressive that a subject that could potentially be dry, is quite engaging thanks to a great script and solid acting. More than anything I felt sorry for Zuckerberg because he wasn’t really a jerk, he just tried too hard to be one.

4.5/5 Stars