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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Crude, sexist and “inadvertently” making fun of people, Borat is back! This time on a quest by his government to travel to the United States and bring a monkey (and subsequently, his daughter) to Mike Pence as a gift…you heard me. OK, this was either going to work or it wasn’t. And to Sacha Baron Cohen’s credit, it works “very nice”-ly.

Of course, this sequel will be compared to the previous movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakstan”. And while it may not resonate as a fresh idea, this is an anti-Trump, anti-Trump supporter, anti-Qanon sequel, which is a perfect example of the right place at the right time. Coming out just weeks before the election, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (at this point in time) is the better of the two films.

Nearly every hidden camera prank is well choreographed and executed. At the very least, it’s fascinating to witness what Cohen (who plays the Borat character) gets unsuspecting Americans to go along with. For example: Borat gets a feed shop owner to sell him a cage for his daughter to live in, he goes to a debutante ball and asks how much his daughter would be worth and gets a response, and yeah, there is that now infamous Rudy Giuliani “shirt tucking” scene.

As we should all understand by now, the point of this is to again put the Borat character into ridiculous and borderline illegal situations and see if ignorant Americans play along; and also, to showcase the worst that American capitalist/misogynist society has to offer.

Cohen’s previous satirical films (The Dictator, Bruno and “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) were directed by acclaimed comedic director Larry Charles. In my opinion, director Jason Woliner does a fine job of maintaining Cohen’s Andy Kaufman-esque vision. The “How did he pull this off?” reaction is still definitely there, you’ll still be surprised at how much he gets away with, and the shock value of it all is still entertaining and quite impressive.

While nearly every bit hits its mark, the addition of the Borat’s daughter storyline (played by Maria Bakalova) may bring the only real lulls in the film. Not to say that her storyline doesn’t work. The estranged daughter character actually is the glue that holds this thing together. Also, pushing this character to the forefront of many of the comedy bits, allows the Borat character to sneak around the background unrecognized. That said, in the final act things do slowdown in order to focus on the scripted material. During these moments my mind did wonder a tad, as I awaited the next prank.  

Final Thought: Cohen’s political satire television series “Who is America?” is better than this movie, mostly because the humor is streamlined, as there is no story to maintain. But “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” still displays what Cohen does best. Is the humor mean-spirited? Sure. But most of the people he makes fun of are Trump supporters, so it’s OK.  

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Antebellum

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Opening quite effectively, we follow a little white girl in a colorful dress skipping along a “Gone with the Wind” inspired plantation in the antebellum South. The camera then begins to explore the grounds, exposing the hidden horrors.  

In this directorial debut from writer/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (and trailers give it away, so calm down) a black woman (Janelle Monae) living in modern times, finds herself a slave trapped on a plantation. I won’t give anymore away than that, since the movie brings little more to the table than a strong premise and final twist. 

Everything I found disappointing about “Antebellum”, I found in its direction.

It’s not for lack for trying. First, there are sequences here which engage on a suspenseful level. And the depiction of this radicalized “Make America Great” inspired group of bad guy characters throughout, seemed current and eccentrically familiar.

But…

Although this is an R-rated slavery film, Bush and Renz’s depiction is tame. While one or two people are stabbed or shot, the lack of violence is startling. While I never seek out a movie clamoring to hear the N-word, the lack of realistic language used in this was noticeable.  Again, the directors placed more importance on the premise than visceral authenticity. Story aside, this is an emotionless vision of slavery, which doesn’t stand up to movies such as “12 Years a Slave” or “Django Unchained”. This is only an issue because it feels as though the intent of the filmmakers was to visually get close to these modern genre masterpieces.      

The protagonist is painfully one-dimensional. She is given one speech in the middle of the movie, regarding progressing feminism and racial inclusion. From that speech we are to assume everything else about her personality, since for the rest of the film she doesn’t seem to have one.  Does Monae do a good job in this lead role? Sure. She’s good in everything she does. She does the most she can with this cookie-cutter depiction of a successful Black woman.

Final Thought: Seems as though the filmmakers were content with a strong premise and promise of a twist ending being the thing which carried audiences through the hour and forty-five minute runtime. It does not. It’s a slavery thriller, with little gravity. There are stakes, but it’s all surface. Bush and Renz come off as either scared or unable to push this film to its limits. A better director would have handled things with more nuance and creativity and not allowed “Antebellum” to fall so flat. It’s not a horrible movie, just mishandled. Although, this may contain the best use of yoga in a movie, ever.

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The Devil All the Time

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“The Devil All the Time” is the nihilistic movie we deserve right now. Just to be upfront, this form of woefully depressing, life is meaningless storytelling is right up my alley.  

Adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s acclaimed debut novel of the same name (he also serves as the narrator in this movie, oddly enough) by writer/director Antonio Campos, and set between World War II and the onset of the Vietnam War, this “Hillbilly Gothic” tale follows the lives of three groups of people, a war vet and his son, a couple of evangelical preachers and a couple of serial killers, all seemingly trapped in a hyper-religious area within the Bible Belt, whose lives intersect in random and vicious biblical ways.

To some, the things in this movie may come off as violent and random, but every action and event that happens to these characters has divine meaning to them. This is the key thing to understanding how these characters interact with one another and the dichotomy at play. These are characters who live in a closed off world crawling with random acts of violence and predatory preachers. It’s our job to watch them squirm. So, if that sounds like a painful experience, then “The Devil All the Time” will be a tough watch.

That said, with tons of moving parts Campos does a superb job of methodically maintaining this ever changing two hours plus story of relentless despair and making it engaging while teasing us with hope and a plethora of fantastic characters. 

The movie also stars Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska and Jason Clarke. I just made the runtime seem so much more tolerable, didn’t it? And the performances do not disappoint; especially from Pattinson, who is only in this for all of twenty minutes, but really shows why his willingness to take chances will eventually lead to an Oscar. Also, Jason Clarke does the best southern accent of any non-American, or even American actor working today. Someone had to say it.

Final Thought: If “A Serious Man” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” had a child, “The Devil All the Time” would be it and have a similar score.

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Based on Iain Reid’s acclaimed 2016 book (which I’ve heard is fantastic and filled with tension), “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” the movie, is unfortunately very (cough cough) Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman is one of the best screenwriters working today, I’m not denying that. But his directorial endeavors are at times, treacherous.

Beginning on a relatively entertaining foot, we follow a woman (Jessie Buckley) who is “thinking of ending things”, as she takes a trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents. Right from the get-go we see that these are two people who don’t belong together. As their personalities begin to clash, a breakup seems imminent. And all the while, throughout this unusually long car ride, the woman continues to internally repeat the phrase “I’m thinking of ending things”.

And then they get to their destination and we meet his parents (the parents played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis). And then time begins to alter. And then characters begin to push the term “acting peculiar” to its very limits. And then visuals attempt to approach the levels of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Adaptation”, but just can’t quite get there because Kaufman is not a director who seems to care about making sense. It’s at this point that the movie seemed to slip through Kaufman’s fingers, like a small child losing a balloon his parents just purchased for him not fifteen minutes prior.

The final hour is a hodgepodge of things nobody asked for. There are multiple sequences of characters referencing the musical “Oklahoma”, a diatribe concerning John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”, a talking pig, a random dance sequence which goes on so long it seems as though Kaufman is making fun of his audience for staying with this, and more!  

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” really bangs you over the head with its stream of consciousness narrative, while trapping us in a car with these two characters who seem more confused about where this story is going than I was.

The acting here, while overshadowed by the bonkers story, is led by two strong performances from Plemons and Buckley. Both are such enjoyable actors to watch, that your heart wants to stay with them long after your mind has checked out. Also, it’s a real shame that Jessie Buckley’s character is treated as an afterthought as the story progresses, since she is the most entertaining character of the film. Just saying.  

Final Thought: Sure, the visuals pop, Kaufman’s dry sense of humor works at times and the randomness is unsettling. It just simply all becomes so dreadfully unentertaining. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is the equivalent of being forced into a conversation with a long-winded individual that you’ve been seated next to at a party. You might be able to tolerate the conversation for a while. You may even be entertained by a story or two along the way. But in the end, the entire exercise will become excruciating. I would rather watch any of Adam Sandler’s original Netflix movies, than sit through “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” again.

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She Dies Tomorrow

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An experimental movie with a great Twilight Zone synopsis, “She Dies Tomorrow” comes at us with the question: What if the mere mention of death was contagious, like a cold?

But does the movie itself work?

Advertised as a dark comedy about a woman (Kate Lyn Shel) who believes with all of her being that she is going to die tomorrow, it sounds like it should work. Sad to say, it doesn’t work as much more than a mood piece. Think “Melancholia”, just not as profound (and that’s saying a lot). 

Is it funny? Sure. There’s ONE section of awkward comedy which is done well. But again, as intriguing as the concept is, even with a short runtime of only an hour and twenty-five minutes, it’s simply too long. And due to some definitive visual choices made by writer/director, Amy Seimetz, it’s too incoherent.

These visual choices translate into large pockets of meandering, which seem only to exist in this film for the sake of having extended sequences ripe with multi-colored filters. This aspect, while technically sound (I guess) happen repeatedly, adds nothing to the story, while also giving audiences zero hope that in the end “She Dies Tomorrow” will be anything more than a concept in its first draft.

The performances from the likes of Jane Adams (Happiness), Chris Messina (Devil) and Katie Aselton (The League) are good. In fact, they are damn good considering the emotions asked of all characters throughout only range from dreary to sullen.  

Final Thought: Seeing “She Dies Tomorrow” as an allegory for anxiety, relating to the idea of one spiraling into an anxiety attack as a speck of dread grows into a monster, makes this film a bit more digestible. But watching the movie, it’s hard not to realize that there’s just too much added ponderous nonsense injected to be watchable.

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First Cow

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Truthfully, I spent much of this movie waiting for the cow to come back on-screen.

“First Cow” opens with a rather long sequence of digging, followed by another long sequence that just so happened to be the movie itself. In all actuality the opening shot of this film does something very important, it sets up the pace of this movie; a pace that is very much content with simply taking inventory of the scenery. Meaning, this movie may be too slow for some (renter beware). At times the movie stops just so we can listen to the sound of wood being chopped or so characters can survey their surroundings in real time. But if you are familiar with writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s work (Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women) she’s known for these types of beautifully blocked visual sequences that are deliberately “meditative”.

Synopsis: A cook (John Magaro) traveling through the forest with a group of fur traders in 1820’s Oregon, crosses paths with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee). They become friends and together come up with a risky business venture involving the arrival of the first cow to be shipped into the area.

Reichardt and Jon Raymond adapt Raymond’s own novel (The Half-Life), developing a script where the dialogue is riddled with lines which on the surface seem quite simplistic, but in context speak bitingly to the themes of greed, colonialism and capitalism. It’s just a shame that Raymond’s work was paired up with Reichardt’s pacing.

So, the entire movie isn’t slow. Just the first hour…and the final thirty minutes. I have no problem with movies that take their time or “mood pieces” that are all about establishing the moment by forcing audiences to feel every second of time that ticks by. But if it’s so slow that I cease to care about characters or plot, then how much can you really expect me to endure?

There are movies where the less you know going in, the better the viewing experience will be. “First Cow” is not that movie. It’s a film I struggled to get through due to the initial hour, partially because I didn’t know the story would eventually pick-up.

Final Thought: I get it, “First Cow” is supposed to be “Midnight Cowboy” A24 style. And I am not at all surprised that this film has garnered such critical praise. It’s just my belief that “First Cow” gets this praise solely based on some beautiful cinematography, well written dialogue, the performances from the two leads and a folksy score. For the most part this is a boring movie, with a somewhat intriguing if not playful premise when it finally gets to it. “First Cow” could have been a short film. It should have been a short film.

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Vivarium

vivarium

Markus Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars

Twenty minutes in you might get the feeling that at its peak “Vivarium” is about to be something akin to a decent episode of “The Twilight Zone”. And by the twenty-first minute you’ll realize that you were right. It’s simply a decent episode of “The Twilight Zone”.

Synopsis: A young couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) looking to buy their first home, find themselves being guided through a new housing development by an oddly mannered real estate agent. Inside this community all the houses look identical, the grass, dirt and clouds don’t seem to be real, there’s nobody else living in any of the other homes and (oh yeah) this young couple can’t seem to find their way out, no matter how hard they try. And then there’s the appearance of a child in a cardboard box. And from there, things just get weird.

Sure, this could have been a short film, but with a runtime of a little over ninety minutes, director Lorcan Finnegan really keeps the entertainment value high; first, by using an underlying level of dark humor and second, by presenting his nightmarish dreamlike take on the Lynchian suburb. Actually, much like “Eraserhead” (David Lynch’s surrealist nightmare concerning his anxiety over the birth of his child) “Vivarium” seems like Finnegan’s and screenwriter Garrett Shanley’s anxiety driven fever dream concerning buying a home in the suburbs and starting a family.

Final Thought: The ending. The ending may leave some feeling hollow, especially for those expecting a grand “tie up all the loose ends” finale. But for those who enjoy a sci-fi/horror which asks you to suspend belief, sit back and watch a quick little social experiment, this may be your jam. “Vivarium’ is an interesting concept to say the least, with a final ten minutes that acts as the satisfyingly nihilistic cherry on top.

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Oscar Nominated Shorts

It’s Oscar Sunday! And today I will be giving you a very brief rundown of the Oscar Nominated Shorts for each Animated, Documentary and Live Action category. After summarizing, I will be telling you which was my favorite and also which film I have my money on to win.

Here we go:

Short Film (Animated) Nominees:

Dcera (Daughter):daughter-daria-kashceeva

The only one of this group that had any “real flaw”; the flaw in question being how the plot of a little girl coming to grips with her father’s illness was actually told. In reality, the structure was a bit confusing. That said, what “Dcera” lacks in story telling ability, it more than makes up for in jarring direction, it’s Laika-esque animation (but more papier mache looking) and some absolutely grade-A sound mixing. Honestly, this short contains the best sound mixing of any film nominated at the Oscars.

Hair Love:  hair-love-700x295

My favorite of the bunch, “Hair Love” tell the story of an African American little girl who attempts a new hair style by way of online tutorial. And while it all becomes visually quite comical and creative, what it transforms into is a genuinely moving story about family bonds, which delivers on all levels. Also, it stars Issa Rae.

Kitbull:kitbull

A stray black kitten befriends a Pitbull that has been used for dog fighting. Why this was so effective has really nothing to do with the animation, but more so the story, the violent turns it takes (people in the audience were gasping by how brutal this cartoon actually became) and how well the filmmakers do of making us root for two of the most stigmatized breeds of animals in America.

Memorable:memorable_still

Simulating what it must be like for someone going through Dementia or Alzheimer’s through claymation seems like it would be a stroke of genius, as there are many sequences of life pealing away and objects morphing before our very eyes. And in the final two minutes the film really does work. But for the most part “Memorable” comes off as a director putting way more emphasis on the surreal imagery, rather than telling a particular story.

Sister:sister

The animation reminded me of something Wes Anderson would do…or has done. From writer/director Siqi Song, “Sister” tells a tale of a younger sister, narrated by an older brother, through humorous anecdotes growing up in 1990’s China. There is a twist that might make people uncomfortable, but this may also be the reason it is a front-runner to win an Academy Award.

Who I think will win: “Hair Love”

My favorite short in this category: “Hair Love”  

 

Documentary (Short Subject) Nominees:

Walk Run Cha-Cha:runwalk

The simple but powerful immigration story of a Vietnamese couple and their enduring love, seen as they practice for a ballroom dance tournament. Why this works as well as it does, has to be because of how lovingly filmmakers Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt portray this couple, creating an overwhelming sense of relatability. “Walk Run Cha-Cha” gave me the same feelings as I had when watching “The Farewell”.

In the Absence:IntheAbsence

Containing actual footage as well as accounts, “In the Absence” documents the sinking of a South Korean ferry in 2014 and the subsequent coverup of the over three hundred people who drowned that day. It’s the hardest watch when you realize what you are actually seeing and how pathetic the rescue attempt was. It won’t win, but is a great example of how documentary filmmaking can be used as a tool to shine a spotlight on atrocities happening in the world that we may not be aware of.

St. Louis Superman:st-louis-superman

For me this was the least impressive of the lot. We follow activist/public servant/battle rapper, Bruce Franks Jr. as he attempts to pass a bill critical to his community. While it does have a strong subject matter, as it is set against the backdrop of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, it comes across as just another MTV “True Life” episode. It just could’ve been better.

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl):how to

Inspiring and a great would-be companion piece to last year’s winner “Period. End of Sentence”, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (It You’re a Girl)” follows a school for girls in Kabul, where they also learn to skateboard as a means to build confidence. Living in an area where women don’t have many rights, we see the teachers at this school attempt to give these girls independence. We really root for these girls to make it, to stay strong in this environment, as well as stay on the skateboard. Also, the structure of this documentary pretty ingeniously ties the stages of learning how to ride a skateboard in with life lessons.

Life Overtakes Me:Life Overtakes Me - Still 3

A Netflix original, this was my second favorite short in the category, primarily because it was something I had never seen before; Resignation Syndrome. In Sweden hundreds of refugee children seeking asylum, have fallen into a coma-like state over fears of deportation. It may sound bizarre at first, but once you see what this actually looks like (these children so riddled with fear that their bodies literally shut down for years, in some cases) it’s devastating. “Life Overakes Me” shows the effects of childhood trauma better than any documentary I can remember.

Who I think will win: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”:

My favorite Short in this category: “Walk Run Cha-Cha”

 

Short Film (Live Action) Nominees:

Brotherhood:brotherhood

The heartbreaking story set in Tunisia, about a father and his estranged eldest son who returns home with a child bride, after being suspected of joining Isis. Pride plays a big role in this politically relevant drama. Also, the cinematography of this film is gorgeous. And for that, it was my third favorite of the group.

Nefta Football Club:nefta_football_club2

The sometimes-comedic story of two kid brothers (one who really loves soccer) who discover a mule by the side of the road, on the border of Algeria. And the mule is carrying something very valuable and pretty obvious. For me, this was the most engaging of the tales, as the direction (it’s the best directed of the bunch; Yves Piat is the director) and the two lead child actors will have you invested in the story almost immediately. This also contains a really well thought out twist ending that had me smiling.

The Neighbors’ Window:the neighbor

This comedy sees a couple (probably in their mid to late thirties) living in a high-rise apartment building with their three children, becoming infatuated with the lives of a beautiful young couple in the apartment across the way. This is probably the most easily digestible short of the group, but the moral of this story is pretty lackluster. Anyway, the direction is solid and the acting is pretty good.

Saria:saria

Based on a true story of an escape attempt organized by a group of girls from a Guatemalan orphanage. These girls have dreams of getting to the United States; dreams which ended in the tragic loss of 41 lives. The direction from Bryan Buckley is absolutely fantastic, the story is undeniably strong, but the truth of the matter is, the film is just too relevant not to win the Oscar.

A Sister:a sister

Late night, riding in a car with a man, a woman uses her cell phone to call her sister. Moments later we come to find out who she’s really calling is Emergency Services (or 9-1-1). This is a short which reminded me a lot of a film from Denmark called “The Guilty”, but with more straight forward direction. The thing “A Sister” has going for it is the tension it provides throughout, as the female dispatcher attempts to help the female passenger, who seems to be getting kidnapped.

Who I think will win: “Saria”

My favorite Short in this category: “Nefta Football Club”

 

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My Top 10 Movies of 2019

 

It’s the end of the year, so let’s get right into it:

 

  1. Knives Out: KnivesOutWhen the patriarch of a wealthy family dies under suspicious circumstances, an investigation filled with zany characters as well as twists and turns ensue. More than just pure escapism though, this Clue inspired whodunit has a fun political undertone along with one the strongest and most original scripts of the year. With a star-studded cast, including Chris Evans, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis and Daniel Craig, I could say that Daniel Craig’s Southern accent is the standout, but honestly pick your poison. Everyone is great here. Every aspect of this film is highly entertaining. Writer/director Rain Johnson comes through with a stylized comedic murder mystery that should be up for an Oscar or two. And maybe this is the movie which proves to the neckbeards that “The Last Jedi” was pretty great. Or, maybe not…

 

  1. Jojo Rabbit:jojorabbit Beginning with a montage that compares the frenzy of Hitler’s fan base to Beatlemania, “Jojo Rabbit” shoots immediately into Mel Brooks territory with its “out of bounds” hilarious satire. But it also has that irresistible heart found in other comedies from writer/director Taika Waititi. Set in Germany during WWII, this comedy follows a young boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who is a part of Adolf Hitler’s army and has dreams of capturing a Jewish person for Hitler in order to become his best friend. But one day he is confronted with a dilemma, when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a teenage Jewish girl in the walls of his home. Also, Jojo has an imaginary friend. It’s Hitler. And it’s played by Waititi himself. So, I get it. This synopsis sounds like it very well could be an unpleasant watch. A heartwarming comedy about a child Nazi? Yikes. At the very least the logistics of making a movie like this sounds insane; let alone getting us (the audience) to laugh, as well as root for its characters. But this is the magic trick performed by Waititi. And it is a great one. Because, by the end, “Jojo Rabbit” becomes this hilarious coming of age story for the whole family.

 

  1. Joker: joker2“Joker” is an R-Rated stand-alone prequel of sorts about the man who would become the titular Batman villain. This version of the Joker story was not one that I was familiar with and thus I was happy with sitting through two hours plus of this mentally unstable character, as he watches the world burn. Even though plot-wise there isn’t really much more to it than that, there’s a lot here to appreciate. I think we all knew Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, You Were Never Really Here) was going to be an excellent Joker. I mean, the man is an eccentric character in street clothes. And he is spectacular in this. Not any better or worse than Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance as the Joker. Phoenix’s Joker is a whole other beast. From his dance inspired erratic contortions, to his body transformation, to that laugh, with this performance Phoenix reinvents the character so much so, that audiences will actually find themselves rooting for the Joker; unironically. Also, Todd Phillips, the director of the horrid “The Hangover” trilogy, has probably made the best movie he’ll ever make by nailing this fan fiction “Taxi Driver” homage.

 

  1. Under the Silver Lake: Under-the-Silver-Lake-1.1Every year there is one movie like this. A movie that is bizarre and profound, hated and loved in equal measure. A movie where after watching, you may feel as though there is so much more to uncover, while others will proclaim whoever enjoyed this movie to be unbearably pretentious. “Under the Silver Lake” was that movie in 2019 (with a release date having been delayed for months). From writer/director David Robert Mitchell, this begins as a fairly straight forward crime drama/neo-noir, following an unlikable young man (Andrew Garfield) who becomes infatuated with a woman (Riley Keough) whom he sees in his apartment complex; and then one day she disappears. But in very Lynchian style, there is much more (ugliness) when you dig beneath the plastic façade. And as we start to pull back the layers and the story becomes almost too convoluted to find “believable”, that is when the fanboy “cult classic” magic begins. This is a movie that can and should be dissected for some time after its viewing; even if all of the work that goes into post-viewing analysis may be altogether meaningless. This is the love child of “Mulholland Drive” and “Chinatown”, even though rumor has it “Southland Tales” may be the real father.

 

  1. Booksmart: booksmartThis high school comedy about two super smart female friends having a “life crisis” the day before senior graduation, was said to be the “Superbad” of this generation, but I thought it was much better. It’s the funniest movie of the year, as well as the best “buddy comedy” I’ve seen in ages. And as great as the acting is (Beanie Feldstein is not only hilarious as one of the two leads, but also a sensational actor) I have to equate the fact that this movie reaches teen comedy perfection multiple times, to the direction of Olivia Wilde, who gives us one of the best directed movies of the year.

 

  1. The Irishman: irishmanThe movie was nearly three and a half hours long, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Martin Scorsese directs a movie about a mobster (Robert De Niro) recounting the killing of Union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). For me, this was not only the finality of a trilogy that consists of “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, but it reads as a more complete thought; that means I thought it was better (de-aging aside). Fight me.

 

  1. Parasite: parasiteSadly, the only foreign film to make my list (sorry, “Monos”) there could be a strong argument made that “Parasite” should be number one for everything it attempts and absolutely nails here. No lie. Watching “Parasite” is like watching a two-hour juggling act. Even though I was a huge fan of 2009’s “Mother”, here writer/director Bong Joon Ho makes his Hitchcockian masterpiece, telling the story (set in South Korea) of an unemployed family that begins to weasel their way into the lives of a disgustingly wealthy family. This movie not only hits on the solid story (stories) aspect you look for in a film (there are literally 3 or 4 different stories going on at once) it also layers in tons of dark comedy and some scathing political satire regarding not only North and South Korean relations, but of South Korean and the United States as well. Now that I’m thinking about it, this probably should be higher on my list…well, maybe next year.

 

  1. Midsommar: midsommarWriter/director Ari Aster was right. This really was Willy Wonka for perverts. This “horror” film tells the story of a young woman (Florence Pugh, who gives my favorite performance of the year by a female lead) who goes on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends, in order to participate in a Coachella-like festival (just with more white people). What “Get Out” did for white people in the suburbs, “Midsommar” will do for white people internationally. It’s that effective. And it’s twisted in all of the right ways. That said, if you think of this as less of a standard horror flick (because it isn’t traditionally “scary”) and more of a relationship/breakup movie, then this two hour plus bright and beautiful looking nightmare will come full circle like an aggressively sadistic yet satisfying joke. Also, the final scene of “Midsommar” solidified Aster as my spirit animal, hitting another twisted homerun in this follow-up to last year’s “Hereditary”.

 

  1. Luce: luce-movie-octavia-spencer-tgj-600x317My favorite protagonists are highly flawed. Speaking as a Black American, “Luce” is everything I want in a movie. Directed by Julius Onah and co-written by J.C. Lee, this slow-burn thriller tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) an honor student, originally from war-torn Eritrea and adopted at age ten by white American parents (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). One day a teacher (Octavia Spencer) becomes suspicious that Luce’s calm and affable exterior may be hiding something a bit more sinister. It’s quite fascinating to see all of the dynamics at play. From the white American parents who struggle with how much to trust their black child, to the black teacher whose ideology comes in direct conflict with Luce’s. And Luce, a character that struggles with his identity as an immigrant person of color, going to a predominately white school, where he is praised for his eloquence and ability to basically make the white people around him feel good about themselves, is a revelation of a character. The beauty of a film like this is that ten different people could watch it and come out with ten differing takeaways. To me this isn’t a story about a sociopath or a star student, but rather a commentary on being black in America; how as a permanent immigrant (based on skin color alone) there is a dichotomy within the community and individual, which causes a schism in mentality and social norms. What does it mean to be a Black American? Is it Obama? Is it a rapper on BET? Is it a Mammy? Is it even an American? Or is it all of these things and none of them at the same time? “Luce” asks all of these questions, while making the bold statement that the Black American is culturally schizophrenic and as James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To me, “Luce” is an example of how one perfectly tells the story of what it’s like to be black in America.

 

  1. Marriage Story: Marriagestory-1280x533Noah Baumbach writes and directs the most perfect film of the year. “A Marriage Story” contains the best script, the best direction, the best editing, the best all-around performances and honestly, made me cry multiple times. If you haven’t seen this Netflix film yet, I’d describe it as a more expansive version of “Kramer vs. Kramer”. We see a couple (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) who once loved one another, go through a divorce. And then we are made to witness them figuratively cut each other up for a couple of hours. I’ve never been through a divorce myself, but this looked pretty accurate to me; and more vicious and with more bloodshed than most war films. Also, I know what you’re saying, and trust me, a movie that contains not one person of color is not a conventional pick for me; but here we are. What I will say, in my defense, is that this is a movie that punched me in the stomach and when I was on the ground, proceeded to start kicking. Yeah, that sounds like more my type of movie.

 

Just missed my list:

Babu Frik

 

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Jojo Rabbit

jojo

Markus Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Beginning with a montage that compares the frenzy of Hitler’s fan base to Beatlemania, “Jojo Rabbit” shoots immediately into Mel Brooks territory with its “out of bounds” hilarious satire. But it also has that irresistible heart found in other comedies from writer/director Taika Waititi.

Synopsis: Set in Germany during WWII, this comedy follows a young boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who is a part of Adolf Hitler’s army and has dreams of capturing a Jewish person for Hitler in order to become his best friend. But one day he is confronted with a dilemma, when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a teenage Jewish girl in the walls of his home. Also, Jojo has an imaginary friend. It’s Hitler. And it’s played by Waititi himself (a Jewish man).

So, I get it. This synopsis sounds like it very well could be an unpleasant watch. A heartwarming comedy about a child Nazi? Yikes. At the very least the logistics of making a movie like this sounds insane; let alone getting us (the audience) to laugh, as well as root for its characters. But this is the magic trick performed by Waititi. And it is a great one.

As much praise as I can heap on the performances from a supporting cast which includes Johansson (who is surprising good in this) Sam Rockwell, who plays the Hitler Youth commander and Stephen Merchant who plays a member of the Gestapo, to adorable newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, who is (again) adorable as the titular Jojo, everything I loved about this movie had to do with Waititi. His performance as the imaginary friend Hitler, is absolutely inspired. But this shouldn’t be a surprise as Waititi has always shown himself to be a fantastic physical comedian. That said, what the man should receive Oscar buzz for is his direction.

Waititi as a director takes this would be “problematic” concept and creates a superb narrative. He keeps the comedy at a high level, while continuously reminding audiences that what we’re watching is set during an actual genocide. Also, he makes Jojo a lovable character, while at the same time showcasing his ignorance and condemning his beliefs.

Final Thought: This may seem odd to hear, but “Jojo Rabbit” is a hilarious coming of age story for the whole family (well, I mean, it’s still PG-13). Also, at the very least this movie answers the question: What would you do if you found out that your son was a Hitler fanatic…or a Trump fanatic?

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