Category - Movie Reviews

Review: ‘El Angel’

El Angel shows the true effects that a child goes through while growing up in a working-class family. A child in this type of social class family grows up wanting freedom and not working to be a slave to the workforce. The lead character Carlito Puch is a remainder of this effect. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, the word freedom is repeated with a sad demeanor, but with an adventurous eye position. We become eager to know and understand freedom through Puch’s eyes.

Puch’s dad’s philosophy is that working hard will get you the things you want. A person should follow this theory instead of borrowing things from people. Puch follows his father’s advice in an utmost way throughout the film. Puch is a character that makes you want to enroll at a university to study Stealing 101. Is this an Argentina version of Robin Hood? The film makes it seem that people who are not outlaws or artists are not cool or need to reevaluate their lives. His partner in crime partner Ramon sums it up. “The world belongs to artists and outlaws.” Yes, this could be theoretically true because in both worlds the person is solely working on themselves and their deep passions in life. Whereas, people outside of the outlaw and artistic world, for the most, are working to survive and put food on their table. Puch has watched his father work for companies in which he did not own.

In the first seven minutes of the film, the young boy’s mother mentions them not having enough money. This implies the effects that are put on parents living as a working-class citizen. Puch hears this and wants to be out of the government’s work entrapment. His mentality becomes rebellious. The opening lines to the film are about him wanting to live in a world with no rules and to do whatever he wants at any time. This character’s rebellious nature shows just how much he does not want to be like his parents. To him, they are not happy and not free. His goal seemed to not become a product of the working class and fall into the mentality of “Being obsessed with work. Working endless hours on something that has nothing to do with him. Not owning anything but bettering someone else.” His answer was to go against the system in the ways he thought were possible. It was to use his imagination and fight hard to get it. He becomes his boss, which got him his own money and other resources. Also, we get the sense that outlaws are the freest in this world and the most artistic. Puch’s character says, “They don’t know about art. They are outlaws.” The style of the people Puch hung with and his mind creates the theory that to be insubordinate is a good thing because you become adventurous and creative enough to explore the world.

This film shows criminalization from an artistic, ambitious, and meek point of view. Puch is not stealing for the money, but more for the fun of it. He is a young boy who has blonde hair and a very skinny body frame. He is not a very average criminal. The Argentina native was also free with his sexuality, but not with love. He came from a shy family, and he embodied this same shyness. His sexuality was implicitly relayed to the audience and not very much said through his mouth. El Angel is based on a real story of a male with the same name who is the longest serving inmate in the Argentina’s prison system.

Review: ‘Happy as Lazzaro’

Happy as Lazzaro has garnered a number of awards and nominations, including the Canes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. It is an enchanting insight into an aspect of Italian history and tradition that doesn’t often take center stage in the movie theaters.

Rather than sweeping cathedrals or regal art galleries, Happy as Lazzaro opens on a dusty, rustic farm. The impoverished farmers who work the land are apparently engaged in sharecropping; trying to pay off a suspiciously large debt to the wealthy family who owns the land with the crops they cultivate and harvest. Between the feudalistic layout, the presence of modern machinery and folksy atmosphere, you as a viewer are left genuinely uncertain as to what era the film is meant to take place in.

In the midst of all of this is Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a pixie-like young farmer who floats through the dirt and noise with childish acquiescence and an angelic demeanor that makes him seem like a being from another world. Lazzaro befriends Tancredi (Luca Chikovani) the son of the farm’s cruel mistress, which leads to a shocking twist that explains the mysterious nature of the estate and injects a dramatic dose of magic, mysticism and traditional Italian folklore into the story.

The movie may test the short attention span of today’s cinema goers. In the beginning it moves rather slow, depending largely on keeping the audience confused to maintain their interest. As the story progresses, a powerfully relevant theme of worker exploitation and the tremendous gaps that can exist in a society emerges.

 

Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

David Yates and J.K. Rowling bring the magic back to the big screen in the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts series, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Taking place in the Harry Potter universe during the 1920s, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels to Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a boy with the power of the dark magic parasite known as the Obscurus. Along with the help of his American friends witch Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and witch Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), the crew discovers secrets along the way including dark family pasts and the involvement of dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald.

Despite the film being called Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, you don’t really see much of these crimes. As a matter of fact you don’t see much Grindelwald either. Yes, Johnny Depp makes his official character debut as the dark wizard and sworn enemy of Albus Dumbledore. However, any appearance he makes in this film is just small subplots.

A big problem with this film is that it tries to tell four different stories at once, essentially seeming more like a bunch of subplots smashed together to make one movie. The film at times is very hard to follow, with too many unexciting plot twists thrown in just to keep the time limit of the film going. The film is visually stunning and introduces new magical creatures, however it lacks any of the heart or charm that the original Harry Potter series gave audiences.

The film is top box office in North America with $62.3 million, however this is a 16% drop from its predecessor film. It also marks the lowest opening for a film in the Wizarding World franchise.

Director Plays a Director in “Newly Single”

“Newly Single” is not the peppy romantic comedy its name may suggest. This explicit film, directed by and starring Adam Christian Clark, is an intense emotional rollercoaster about the dating life of an unbalanced filmmaker.

Clark plays Lester, a conceited young man struggling to make it as a writer and director in Los Angeles. The movie weaves back and forth between his efforts to get his film off the ground and his romantic life after/during a difficult breakup.

As the story progresses, the parallels between the two become more and more evident, in ways that range from comical to sinister. By the end of the movie you can’t help but wonder whether the film he is struggling to make is his outlet for how he would like his love life to be, or the other way around. What’s clearer is Lester’s inflated ego is far more fragile than it appears at first. He wears a different mask depending on who he’s with, and he’s with so many different people in the story that even you, the viewer, has to actively try to discover who he really is.

Through its music, style and clear use of symbolism, the movie definitely has an old-fashion vibe to it. Indeed, the old-time charm that it opens with makes its increasingly explicit sex scenes that much more surprising.

Its plot is fragmented to the point of feeling directionless at times. While its seeming lack of purpose can make it hard to stay interested, Clark’s riveting and convincing portrayal of a delusional, insecure teenage boy in a man’s body, as well as the performance of rest of the cast, does not.

Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

“Fearless Lives Forever.” That is the slogan of the trailer for the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it is indeed suitable. This movie is not shy about depicting for the audience how Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury, was all about defying labels and transcending conventions in every aspect of his life.

Mercury was born in Zanzibar, a kingdom which would cease to exist within his lifetime, and spent most of his childhood in India before his family moved to England. His status as an immigrant is not given lavish attention, but from disputes with his family to being mistaken for Pakistani, it is definitely present. In many ways the story of Mercury’s early life is reflective of the struggles children of immigrants around the world face; the conflict between conforming their present surroundings and the expectations of their heritage.

Mercury, it seems, resolved this dichotomy by rejecting both. Musically and personally, he created a whole new identity for himself instead of accepting any that were offered to him. He broke all the rules. The movie showcases this by depicting the smallest details, from methods for composing music to his chronic tendency to show up late. In his very first performance in the movie, he dresses in women’s clothes and breaks the microphone off its stand because he finds it too limiting. “Formulas,” he says in response to criticism of the song Bohemian Rhapsody, “are a waste of time.”

Mercury also refused to accept the boundaries of limitations. From the start of the movie, we see him unapologetically aspiring for greater things after his day job moving luggage at the airport. He convinces a band about to give up taking a chance on not just him, but themselves. He convinces them to believe in music that defies categorization.

For being a film about one of history’s most famous rock bands and its famously flamboyant front man, the cinematography is rather tame, at least in the beginning. The dusty looking scenes where dialogue takes center stage creates more of a documentary feel. Slowly but very surely it builds to the climax of Queen’s performance for LiveAid. Here, just as with the real performance itself, nothing is spared and Mercury’s ability to captivate every single member of such a massive audience is beautifully recreated.

“The big difference is that unlike a concert movie, we’re trying to tell a story,” said cinematographer Tom Sigel in an interview with Motion Pictures Association of America. “There is the occasional point of view of the audience member, but really the great thing we can do in a movie and the thing that this story demands is you put the audience on the stage with the performer.”

The film strives to present an intimate portrait of who Freddie Mercury and the band Queen were rather than an experience of going to one of their shows, and it achieves that beautifully.

“The Angel” Explores the Labyrinth Life of Double Spy Ashraf Marwan

Ashraf Marwan was a double spy for both Israel and Egypt during the 1970’s.  He was the son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser.  His relationship with Nasser was filled with strife. Western educated Marwan thought it was a mistake for Egypt to ally with Russia and should instead find a way to make an ally of the United States.  It was not long before Nasser died and his second-in-command Anwar Sadat took power.  Marwan soon became a confident and advisor to Sadat.

Since Marwan is no longer living (he died in 2007 under suspicious circumstances) we can only guess at why he became a double spy, selling Sadat’s secrets to Israel for cash. It could have been a need for money (Marwan’s education was on the line after his father-in-law’s death), to prove his worth, to prevent war; or all of the above. But what is known is that the information he provided Israel is credited with stopping bloodshed in a Sadat planned coup.  He paid for this with his family and ultimately his life.

Simon Istolainen produced alongside Antoine Stioui. Together they recruited Academy Award-nominated screenwriter David Arata to write the script.  Danish actor Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express) portrays Ashraf Marwan with an intensity that is captivating.

The complexities of the Middle East are confusing, and this does not help The Angel.  The film must be watched with attention and even then, it merits more than one watch to understand.  Adding to the confusion is that the film is in three languages with subtitles; English, Arabic and Hebrew.

However, the Middle East is as important today as it was during Marwan’s time in 1973.  This is an important film that merits watching and understanding.  Accolades to Netflix for supporting the makers of this film and to the creators for having the courage to create a human Sadat and not a caricature evil villain.

Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer Find Forgiveness on the High Seas in “Like Father”

Be prepared to cry a lot and laugh a lot while watching Like Father.  Rachel (Kristen Bell ) gets left at the alter when  her fiancé realizes he can’t compete  with

Like Father

her first love – her job. Along comes her estranged father (Six time Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer) whom she hasn’t seen since she was 5 years old.  After an all-night binger she wakes up on her honeymoon cruise – with her father in tow. Trapped together at sea, it doesn’t take long for the two to discover that they suffer from the same affliction – they are both workaholics.  Lucky for them one of their table mates is a recently licensed therapist.  It doesn’t take long for Rachel’s much wiser father to realize that she is making the same mistake he did – putting her career first at the expense of losing those who love her.  It takes a lot for Rachel to find forgiveness but some hilarious misadventures help. Seth  Rogen plays a recent divorcee who reads too much into his one night stand with Rachel.   Rachel finally gets in touch with her true emotions after their Jamaican tourist guide gives out more than local history.

Lauren Miller Rogen, who  wrote the screenplay, directed and co-produced Like Father could have taken the easy route and made a movie with a lot of  corny jokes and false sentimentality. Instead, Rogen created a tale filled with raw emotion and truth. Every daughter and father should watch this film together.  Just remember to bring the tissue box because even laughter can bring tears.

 

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Andy Warhol’s Filmography

While some may be quick to criticize Warhol’s films and call them “boring” or “dull,” it must be considered the time period of their creation. Film and television in the sixties wasn’t like the uproarious, explicit media we are so accustomed to consuming. Neither profanity nor nudity were common practice, so for Warhol’s bold films to exist in such a tame time was revolutionary. For Warhol to show half of the subject matters he did was groundbreaking for cinema, regardless of how underground his projects were.1964’s “Blowjob” showed a tight shot of a man’s face while he received oral sex while 1969’s “Blue” was the first sexually explicit, pornographic film in the U.S. to receive a wide theatrical release. The latter went on to inspire Bernardo Bertolucci’s Marlon Brandon-starring “Last Tango in Paris” and Gerard Damiano’s “Deep Throat” with Linda Lovelace.

Warhol’s films are an acquired taste, and some are concretely hit or miss. His filmography is littered with improvised movies of his friends standing around and rambling about nothing, never really pushing the plot into any action and never really serving any purpose. But it is to be remembered that Warhol was a pioneer in not only the art world, but also within the independent film industry. His experimental films broke ground by flirting with societal taboos like homosexuality, drugs, and sex which wasn’t being discussed in the mainstream media.

Without further ado, let’s discuss Warhol’s filmography from best to worst.

 

Women in Revolt (1971)

“Don’t you know there’s something more beautiful than that thing between your legs? Have you heard of women’s liberation?” This satirical examination of women’s liberation three years after radical feminist and author Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Andy Warhol by shooting him in the chest. Solanas is known for her novel, SCUM Manifesto which proposed that women should form a society for cutting up men. “Women in Revolt” plays on the idea of extremist feminism and misandry and stars three trans actresses, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn that form their own political group, PIG – politically involved girls. These three women received an X-rating for its depiction of sex and assault, but easily stands out amongst Warhol’s filmography for its hilariously ironic plot.

5/5: It’s a laugh riot.

 

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977)

Warhol succeeded in his job of making a film “about evil women and incompetent men” with his last film, 1977’s “Bad.” This X-rated, low budget, slightly tacky soap opera film revolves around a grandmother who uses her beauty salon business as a covert murder-for-hire home, well-equipped with sadistic hitwomen troublemakers who do nothing but cause a stir in the New York City streets. While Warhol may have been a key member of the Pop Art movement, his films are much less abstract than you’d imagine coming from the man who made millions off simple soup can paintings. Warhol’s obsession with commercialism and consumerism pokes its way through “Bad,” and not a scene goes by without some sort of American branding hidden in the frame, whether it be Wonder Bread or Coca-Cola. Throughout the hour and 45 minutes of debauchery on screen, we witness car crashes, toilet-clogging, dog stabbings, and even a baby thrown out of a window in brutal detail, splashing blood onto the face of a passerby civilian. While this campy, borderline pointless film may not be the most polished, the vandalism it depicts does make for a semi-entertaining pastime. Warhol’s style may not be for everyone, but within even the most absurd of technique comes some sort of statement and in this case, some sort of warning of the dangers of greed and vanity.

4/5: It’s kinda bad…ass.

 

The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (1966)

Here we see the famed 60s band The Velvet Underground, led by singer Lou Red, rehearsing and performing for an hour. Consisting entirely of instrumental music with no sung word, this film acts as a pseudo-documentary and encapsulates the genius of the band during their heyday. It makes for perfect background music to rock along to and provides a perfect portrait of one of the greatest bands in history.

4/5: It’s rocking.

 

 

Kiss (1963)

Just as the title suggests, this piece of avant garde cinema is a compilation of various couples kissing for about an hour. Tender and romantic, yes, but a worthwhile film to watch in the theaters, maybe not. This is the beginning of Warhol’s dabbling in film and in the same vein as “Sleep,” “Eat,” and “Blow Job,” each consisting of a long-running take of their title’s action, focusing rather on the emotional and physical response to the task being executed. The couples on screen vary from straight relationships to gay ones – woman on woman, man on man – and it does make for a progressive piece of cinema for its period. “This is my favorite theme in movie making – just watching something happening for two hours or so. Hollywood movies are uncaring. We’re pop people,” the famed artist once told the press about his method.

3/5: Too much tongue.

 

Sleep (1963)

On the more experimental side of Warhol’s filmography is “Sleep,” a five-hour “anti-film” of Warhol’s then-lover John Giorno doing just that: sleeping. While unrealistic for the average viewer to indulge in five hours of cinema in any subject matter, the ambition of this film is what matters. Warhol not only watched Giorno sleep for five hours but stayed awake to record the entire thing without the slightest hint of boredom. This is the pinnacle of avant-garde cinema, despite how simple or dull it appears to be, it is extremely influential for a film of its time. Nowadays with live-streamed television shows like “Big Brother” quite literally showing houseguests sleeping and airs it on national television, it doesn’t seem like Warhol’s vision was too far off. “Sleep” was also the first film Warhol had ever shot.

2/5: It’s okay to sleep on this one.

 

Blue Movie (1969)

Here’s one of Warhol films that transcended the art world and found success in the porn industry. The plot was simply just a man and a woman in bed talking, kissing, and copulating unsimulated. It doesn’t have a lot to it, which is very true to Warhol’s agenda, and was shot in New York City with a $3000 budget. “Blue” made history for being the first widely released theatrical film to include actual explicit sex, and went on to usher in the Golden Age of Porn in the seventies in which pornography and its stars were at an all-time high in Hollywood.

2/5: A lack of action on screen may leave you feeling kinda blue.

 

The Chelsea Girls (1966)

Warhol found his first commercial success in this split-screen style movie. Running as a three-hour film with two different events unfolding at the same time side-by-side on screen, the unique format is meant to contrast the good and evil depicted on screen. Instead, the doubled video and audio tracks only make for a haphazard, confusing experience with no plot structure to follow. A film like this would be perfectly displayed at an art museum like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (and it was last year), but for a typical theatrical release it makes no sense. While a lot is unfolding for the viewing audience to watch, not much progress or any conclusions are reached, and you will only leave the theater with a headache and confusion.

2/5: These girls provide a splitting performance.

 

Flesh (1968)

Humorous with its trashy moments, this film follows the mundane life of a male hustler looking to save up enough money to fund his girlfriend’s abortion. There’s not too much happening on screen, but again, that’s Warhol’s style, and its sexual content made it revolutionary for its era. Much like Warhol’s 1970 film “Trash” and 1972’s “Heat,” it’s a whole lot of nothing coupled with tons of nudity and drug use that contributes virtually nothing to its appeal or intrigue. And while the budget and shooting is very commercial and has potential for theater release, the films run too long without any major plot to hold on to.

2/5: Not as much skin as you’d think.

 

I, A Man (1967)

Released as a response to popular Scandinavian movie “I, a Woman” from two years prior, the film centers around a man and his sex life. When famed critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film, “[It’s] not dirty, or even funny, or even anything but a very long and pointless home movie,” he was right. It seems as if Warhol’s signature technique of ad-libbed dialogue and nudity without reason didn’t score so high with this release.

2/5: I, a man, am bored.

Lonesome Cowboys (1968)

Opening the film with an explicit sex scene sure is one way to grip your audience. Unfortunately, the rest of the film falls flat and fails to prove any purpose or have any concrete plot.

1/5: Skip this rodeo.

 

Vinyl (1965)

A dull black-and-white rendition of Anthony Burgess’ classic A Clockwork Orange comes up short and delivers a bad excuse for the experimental film genre.  There is absolutely nothing remarkable or visually appealing about this horribly acted, lazy attempt at abstract cinema. “Vinyl” plays out like bad high school theater, set on a ten-foot stage too small to hold all seven of its actors. The film itself was recorded spontaneously one day in Warhol’s famed Factory and such spontaneity is evident in its unrehearsed, amateurish quality that is cheap cinema at its worst. Borrowing heavy influence from the gay S&M scene, the weight-lifting, leather-clad, bleached-blonde, cigarette-smoking leading man has as much stage presence as a can of soup. You’d be better off watching Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the novel, at least there is tons of visual stimuli, albeit shocking and controversial, to keep you interested.

1/5: Hard Brillo-pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Feel Pretty” is Semi-Attractive

In Amy Schumer’s third leading role since 2015, “I Feel Pretty” sees the popular comedian as an insecure woman working a dreadful job in a basement for a cosmetics company’s website. During a biking class at Soul Cycle, Schumer sustains a head injury and wakes up suddenly confident and spiritually awakened.

Now, with a sense of superior self-esteem, Schumer goes out into the world to chase her dreams and create a better life for herself. Along the journey, Schumer’s character falls in love, becomes estranged from her best friends due to her newfound vanity, and gets a huge promotion at the cosmetics company she works at.

“I Feel Pretty” is a slightly cheesy comedy with a unique premise that is very important in this modern day and age where self-presentation and beauty means everything. While the film promised a quirky journey of one woman’s journey to delusional confidence, it instead delivered an average comedy that instead acts as one long infomercial for the power of Soul Cycle.

Schumer’s newest venture into acting isn’t awful, but it isn’t spectacular. It grossed over $80 million on its $30 million, but critics were less than impressed with her role. Many believed the film inappropriately targets and panders to plus sized woman and persuades them to change their bodies (through Soul Cycle) in order to achieve inner peace.

Chicago Tribune writer said, “[The film] succumbs to all the wrong Hollywood contrivances. It’s just not funny or fresh enough, and that has everything to do with the material and how it’s handled visually, and nothing to do with the people on screen.”

Aside from Schumer’s role, the film also stars funny ladies Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”) and Busy Philipps (“Freaks and Geeks”) and even Michelle Williams (“My Week With Marilyn”) as an airheaded rich CEO.

If you’re looking for groundbreaking comedy, head elsewhere. If you’re looking for a laugh or two, stick around. If you’re looking for an increase in your confidence levels, head to Soul Cycle.

“You Were Never Really Here” Showcases Joaquin Phoenix’s Acting Abilities

2017’s gritty thriller “You Were Never Really Here” with lead Joaquin Phoenix adds a notable film to the actor’s already impressive resume. Rather than going the typical route of the genre and focusing on utter madness and horrifying jump scares, “You Were Never Really Here” instead takes an understated, moodier, arthouse approach to crime and the battle for justice.

Phoenix plays Joe, a hitman who rescues young girls stuck in the sleazy human trafficking industry and uses his brute force to kill those who held them captive. Joe is a war veteran, a grizzly, rough-and-tug type of man with beefy biceps and a long beard. One look at him and you know he plays for real.

Joe’s past is littered with childhood abuse from his father and gruesome acts he was involved in during his years serving in the military. An emotional yet outwardly strong man, he is plagued by his past which frequently surfaces during spouts of PTSD. While upon initial viewing it seems like Joe is the bad guy, it’s later in the film that you realize he’s the one saving the day. Or in this case, saving minors from the traumas of coerced sex work.

Set in New York City, the blurs of nighttime lights and street chatter contribute a dramatic element to the otherwise quiet film. Unlike how other high-action, crime thrillers of modern day rely heavily on loud gunshots and pulsating rap music during their fight scenes, “You Were Never Really Here” barely features any audio at all aside from Joe’s dialogue and natural sounds like foot steps and traffic. It’s this almost poetic nature that sets the film apart from its contenders, standing out amongst ultraviolent gorefests popular of today. Also, its intensity is hardly contained within its 90-minute length.

Phoenix’s previous hit roles include Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic “Gladiator,” M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and “The Village” respectively, and Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi love story “Her.” Phoenix went on a hiatus after his 2010 rap mockumentary “I’m Still Here” failed to make any impact or receive any acclaim from critics. He returned in 2012 and has since starred in ten feature films.

The importance of “You Were Never Really Here” in addition to Phoenix’s acting resume provides a more complex, sensitive role than he has played in the past. While he did sappily fall in love with his computer in “Her” and play another WWII vet in “The Master,” neither shed insight on the scope of his true abilities.

By playing Joe, Phoenix sheds his skin and underwent not only a buffing of his physical appearance, but also stripped down to his bare emotional spectrum to understand the delicacy in which to play hitman Joe. More than just a hitman, he plays a savior to these young girls enslaved in the sex trade whilst remaining brawny and vulnerable, achieving a complexity unpracticed by most Hollywood heavyweights.