Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

once upon a time

Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I’m a huge fan of the American Westerns of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My wife (the person who accompanied me to this film) is a huge history buff and knew a lot (going in) about Helter Skelter. And for most part, this movie had us smiling with satisfaction throughout. That said, I can see how someone who lacks interest in these two specific areas, may find “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” meandering, with a story that is almost nonexistent.

Set in 1969, the ninth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino follows has-been television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) who made his name as the star of a canceled serial Western, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they both ruminate on the next chapter of their lives. There is also a secondary plot concerning the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) by the Manson family (not a spoiler alert by any means).

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a Ted Talk, where Tarantino’s thesis seems to be: The Golden Age of Hollywood ended the exact moment Sharon Tate was murdered.

It’s undeniable that there are many technical aspects of this film which are not only nailed, but are perfected. It looks, smells and sounds the way I’d imagined Hollywood 1969 to be. A love letter to old Hollywood or a fetishized fan fiction of an infamous true crime, would both be true assessments. And it’s all done with spectacular attention to detail. Also, the characters are so interesting, that when Tarantino makes us watch Sharon Tate go to the movies and watch as the fictionalized characters Booth and Dalton have seemingly meaningless interactions and pontificate on the “ending of an era” for literally hours, we enjoy doing so. As for the acting, it’s really good, but clearly not the most impressive thing to see here.

Final Thought: Tarantino hates hippies..and editing. The ending was the only real issue I had. And while I won’t spoil it, my problem had nothing to do with accuracy and everything to do with tone. The final 30 minutes is explosive, giving Tarantino fans the pulp brutality we’ve all come to love and expect. But for me, this last bit really just didn’t fit with the story as well as I expect it was supposed to. It played like a short film, detached from the overall plot of the initial two plus hours. Another way of putting it would be to say that I had no problem with the aggressive content, but merely I enjoyed the“day in the life” stuff, more than the final 30 minutes of “action”.

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Avengers: Endgame


Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Be forewarned, this is a spoiler free review from a middling Marvel fan. Meaning, I’ve seen all of the big movies, but I skipped that “Ant-Man” nonsense.

This grand conclusion MCU story sees the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe,who directed this movie, “Infinity War”, “Captain America: Civil War” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) do a masterful juggling act in this superhero/heist film, juggling multiple plots in the most entertaining way possible, while also keeping it all thankfully coherent.

Synopsis: Since I will be keeping this relatively spoiler-free, I will only state that this movie sees the remaining Avengers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) Captain America (Chris Evens) Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) attempting to find a way to reverse what Thanos did in the last film (snapping the best Avengers out of existence. And when I say “best” I mean T’Challa). How they go about it may seem ridiculous at first, but through the power of good filmmaking, “Endgame” turns into an “Oceans Eleven” movie (only with superpowers) that had me leaning forward in my seat for most of it.

A well constructed finale should have you feeling a majority of emotions at some point. And most of the invested audience will run the gamut with this one. From the visually on-point action sequences, to the more dramatic multiple plot twists that will keep you guessing, to the spoiler bits near the end, the Russo brothers not only show what they can do in a superhero cinematic universe, but also show off their potential to branch out into other genres.

Side Note: My biggest issues with the past Avengers films almost had nothing to do with the stories themselves. I may be in the minority here, but while I enjoyed almost all of Marvel’s superhero films, these ensemble movies always came off as clunky. At the time I figured it came down to an abundance of characters and so I forgave the directors, as I figured it must be hard to have to take time to establish where everybody is before bringing them all together to defeat the bad guy. But it was still always an issue for me in terms of prolonged watchablility during these particular installments. So, if you’re like me at all, you’ll be happy to hear that “Avengers: Endgame” solves this issue quite nicely. It’s difficult to explain how, without giving away plot-points, but what I will say is that the first 15 minutes is crafted so masterfully (reminding me of the aspects of “The Leftovers” I loved the most”) audiences will be hard pressed to feel any kind of “dragging” exposition moments throughout.

Final Thought: Aside from a plot hole or two near the end which may have you asking “How does time travel work again?”, “Avengers: Endgame” not only stands as the best Avengers movie ever made and not only wraps things up with a nice little poetic justice bow, but more importantly it’s a three hour movie that doesn’t feel like one at all. I didn’t have to pee once.

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Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

As the credits rolled, I stared up at the screen and couldn’t have been more confused; not only as to why this remake was remade, but also as to the content of the movie, literally uttering aloud, “what did I just watch?” It was at this moment that I surmised “Suspiria” to be no more than a non-scary horror flick that interrupts long stretches of meandering and literal mumbling with shocking moments of macabre, grotesque and ultra violence, spread over a span of 2 hours and 32 minutes. And the only question I was left with was, was this meandering and ultra violence mash-up justified by the story director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and writer David Kajganich were attempting to tell? And the answer was a resounding no. In fact, if anything this is a story that could’ve been told in under an hour…and that’s being generous.

Synopsis: Set in Cold War Germany, an American woman (Dakota Johnson) joins a prestigious all female dance academy lead by an instructor played by Tilda Swinton; an academy which may be a cover for a witch’s coven. There is also a subplot about an elderly male psychotherapist (who for some reason is also played by Swinton) that can only be described as “an exercise in time wasting”.  Oh, and before you raise your eyebrow in interest due to Swinton playing two different characters, the truth is that she actually plays three characters. But, none of these characters lend themselves to powerful performances; only to rather alarming Nutty professor-esque makeup and prosthetics.

Anyway, as the plot pushes forward, “Suspiria” only becomes more unnecessarily messy and pointless. But that Thom Yorke score was really good. So, there’s that.

Not all of “Suspiria” is nonsense. There are some visually striking dance sequences and for a while the mystery aspect of the plot was something that interested me. But again, this movie is 2 hours and 32 minutes. I became disinterested in much of the plot by the end of the first hour.

Final Thought: Having never seen the original Dario Argento Giallo classic in its entirety, Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” was a stand-alone psychological horror/mystery piece for me; and not a very good one. Honestly, the only reason “Suspiria” gets the stars it does is that while I walked out of the theater savagely disappointed, throughout the runtime there was something which compelled me to keep watching and not zone out.  And while the acting is fine, but overshadowed by the repetitive visuals, and much that I feel is wrong with the movie had to do with the storytelling, Guadagnino had to have done something right for me not to absolutely bail on something I was absolutely confused with. At the very least this was a very slow moving, but compellingly filmed dumpster fire that put me into a trance. A part of me simply had to find out how big the fire would get and from what angles looked best.

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Markus Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars

“Hereditary” isn’t for everybody; I understand that. Some people who go to see horror movies come in with an internal ranking of importance, starting with jump-scares, followed by gore, followed by more jump-scares.  For those audiences, this movie may not be for you. But it should be. Honestly, even if you don’t tend to lean towards the more formulaic horror tropes, “Hereditary” may still be a mixed bag for you.  But you should still give it a try. Most of “Hereditary” scared me in a way that kept me up at night, not necessarily causing me to stare into a dark corner waiting for something to jump out, but more so marinating in thought, mulling over the films more disturbing tics. For me this film was like a worm that burrowed into my ear and settled into my brain, only to then make miniature replicas of a worm burrowing into my brain.

The story follows a family (mom, dad, son and daughter) after the death of the grandmother. We follow the mother (Toni Collette) a woman who builds miniature replicas as art installations, as she attempts to come to grips with the loss of her mother, a woman she didn’t much care for. We also follow the daughter (Milly Shapiro) as she begins to notice odd things like men smiling at her grandmother’s funeral, a flickering light that only she can see, and her dead grandmother waving at her from across the street of her school. This goes on for a little while and then things get disturbing. And if you think you know what’s going to happen next, you don’t. We’ll just say, this is a movie that begs for a big fireworks display ending, and it gets one.

Let’s get this out of the way, writer/director Ari Aster (who I’ve been a champion off ever since “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons”) does a fantastic job of slowly cranking up the uncomfortable atmosphere of this over 2 hour movie, until it overflows and burns down the house. Second, the acting here from Collette is award worthy. Even when this movie plays on the edge of ridiculous, I believed every syllable Collette uttered. Also, newcomer Shapiro and Ann Dowd give understated, but strong performances. As for the story, the first half (a half which is perfection) plays out as less of a conventional horror genre piece and more like a movie detailing how different members of a family process the loss of a rather abusive family member, with a nice horror glaze topping.  The second half is more of a calorie filled horror film, but not conventional by any means.  This is where the film will lose some.  I don’t know that even I fully understood or even liked all of the twists and turns “Hereditary” takes in this second half, but I still can’t stop thinking about them and immediately wanted a second viewing.

Final Thought: Maybe this is a better analogy: “Hereditary” is the equivalent of getting into a crowded elevator where one person is facing the back wall.  It’s disturbing the more you stay with it. Some will cut their losses and simply become frustrated and leave the elevator, while others will investigate and try to make sense of it, before maybe becoming frustrated as well. But others will allow the unease of the situation to build and wash over them. It is my opinion that everyone should try and let a movie like this wash over them at least once in their lives. And nowadays, in the era of “Purge” prequels and “Halloween” sequels, what more could you ask for out of your horror movies, other than to be different?

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Black Panther

black panther

Markus Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

It took me a couple minutes to wrap my head around the plot, but once the Trap music started, I knew this was going to be good.

“Black Panther” focuses on the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the Black Panther superhero, as he takes his place as the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, after the death of his father.

With vibrant and wonderfully Afrocentric performances from co-stars Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright (who plays the Alfred character to this African Batman) Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan (who is a powerful representation of the “forgotten African-American son” and a couple of white guys, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (I say this in jest. These are two of the most talented actors working today) this isn’t just another Marvel episode telling the story of an arguably lesser known character. As a film, “Black Panther” is a force that demands its own place at the table right alongside the heavy hitters and box-office kings of this thematic superhero kingdom. And I’ve yet to even touch on what Ryan Coogler brought to the table.

Aside from a superbly written script, and visuals, including fight scenes that rival films in the Mission Impossible and current 007 franchises, it must be said that writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) keeps “Black Panther” culturally focused more than any other in the Marvel universe. Meaning, “Black Panther” is a movie that is 90% focused on just African/African-American culture (real and fictional alike) first and foremost, rather than doing the more conventional “guy in a suit that saves people” thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I liken this to a Wonder Woman movie where Diana never leaves her island. But what Coogler did by making this a Black movie first and superhero movie second, much as he did with “Creed” (Black movie first; Rocky movie second) comes off as so new and innovative compared to what has become more and more a blur of Avengers theatrical releases.

True, Marvel Studios is likely to hit box-office targets no matter what movie it puts out, but much like “Deadpool”, “Black Panther” should revive an interest in the Marvel theatrical universe for the group that has become bored with the more conventional superhero stories. This is important, not only monetarily (because, Disney is gonna make its money) but also for the inclusion/diversity argument. In other words, it’s great to see this studio (in particular) continuing to put forth the same effort to appease multi-cultural audiences as they do everyone else.

Final Thought: Is this the best Marvel superhero movie of all time? Well…Marvel superhero movie rankings aside, “Black Panther” is simply an excellent example of grade A writing, meets grade A direction, meets grade A actors doing grade A work…but if you must know, in my opinion this is the best superhero movie to come out the Marvel cinematic universe; and I’m not just saying that because I’m Black.

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Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beast

Markus Rating: 2halfstars

Call me a poor sport or a fun killer or someone who takes movies too seriously or even a film critic, but as a movie-goer I found this live-action remake to be completely unnecessary and all together forgettable, just like that 2015 live-action Disney adaption of Cinderella. Remember that one?…I didn’t think so.

Synopsis: This “tale as old as time” (adapted from Disney’s 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast) once again tells the story of a vain prince who is turned into a hideous beast, until he can find a young girl who is able to see his inner beauty and fall in love with him.

This “Beauty and the Beast” does have some entertaining moments of its own creation, mainly when Cogsworth and Lumiere (played to perfection by Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor) take center stage. But that’s about all. Basically everything else I enjoyed about this movie was plucked directly from the 1991 animated version; a version which is arguably one of the greatest Disney films/musicals ever made. Now while I usually hate when people compare remakes to their originals, since when critiquing a film you really want to take that singular film experience and analyze it in as much of a “bubble” as humanly possible, in regards to Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast”, this is simply impossible since it’s pretty much a 80-90% shot for shot remake (obviously there are going to be things that must be altered when adapting straight from animation, i.e. you can’t possibly show Luke Evans who plays Gaston, eating five dozen eggs unless you want him dead). The main alterations being:  the live-action element (or course) the addition of a few new and completely forgettable songs and (spoiler alert) LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is gay now, which probably would have been seen as a more progressive move by Disney if he’d been in more than four scenes.

Bill Condon’s direction was serviceable, highlighted only by the set design and choreography during the musical numbers, but the CGI was cartoonish to the point of sloppy at times.  As for the other performances, Emma Watson as Belle was fine (undoubtedly this would’ve been my very same critique if she’d starred in “La La Land”) and so was Evans as Gaston. And even though as an actor Dan Stevens, who plays the Beast, usually annoys me because I believe his acting to be 99% facial expression, this facial recognition based CGI character seemed to suit him quite well.

Final Thought: I’m still giving this movie a minimal recommendation only because it’s not a bad film. As I said, there are entertaining moments, and the songs brought over from the 1991 version are always a pleasure to hear. But if you’re going to pay money and take your kids to see “Beauty and the Beast”, why not just stay home and watch the better version?

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American Honey



Featuring a cast riddled with amateur actors (aside from Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough (granddaughter of Elvis Presley)) “American Honey” is more than just another Cannes Film Festival calling card for writer/director Andrea Arnold, it is a gritty, startling master-class example of “slice of life” direction, the likes of 2016’s “Manchester by the Sea” or “King Jack”.

Synopsis: A teenage girl, living in extreme poverty, is recruited into a traveling sales crew filled with other teens in her same situation. The group travels cross-country, scamming people into buying magazine subscriptions by day and partying incredibly hard by night.

Arnold’s handheld camera work only helped immerse me into this lesser known subculture, watching these economically disadvantaged teens make sketchy life choices as they come of age inside a van sized commune of their peers. But it’s the stellar performance from newcomer Sasha Lane which gives major credibility to this film and justifies some of its more minor flaws as well as the run-time. Much of the satisfaction I received from “American Honey” came from watching Lane’s character evolve throughout.

Final Thought: There are a few misplaced lines of dialogue, which seem to force-feed a bit more than I would have liked, and at a nearly three hour run-time, this Indie will be perceived as an intimidating venture for some, but boy is it worth your time. The genuine atmosphere of “American Honey” speaks to this generation like not many movies do, and will stay with you for days after viewing.

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Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, drug/alcohol abuse-all involving teens





Markus Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Writer/director Jon Watts made a little low-budget drama called “Cop Car” which received fair reviews from critics. “Clown” was his other film; a film universally panned by critics as something akin to hot garbage and produced by Quentin Tarantino’s forgotten stepchild, Eli Roth. That said, is it an absolutely disgusting notion that I liked a movie about a clown who eats children?

Synopsis: A man finds an old clown costume and wears it for his son’s birthday party. In the morning he can’t seem to get it off. And when he tries, things get bloody. Layered atop this plotline is a really creepy eastern European clown origins story, which is actually more frightening than most monster movie horror origin stories.

“Clown” isn’t without flaws (shocking, I know). Basically everything Roth touches tries to be funny and just isn’t. And much like many B-movie horrors, this film suffers from a reaction problem from the people being perused by the titular monster (in this case, the reactions from friends and family are curiously calm) but that can be attributed to the level of actor used in this.

On the plus side for novice horror fans, much of the violence here is not as gratuitous as I would’ve imagined (as far as violence towards children is concerned) but more importantly, every kill is extremely well choreographed; not overly campy or silly, even with visible budgetary constraints. In fact the direction is the best aspect of this film by far, really elevating the more unbalanced and underwhelming melodramatic material in the 2nd Act into something visually disturbing and half-way scary.

Final Thought: Not going to lie, there were some quite disturbing and morbid sequences involving suicide (the best filmed suicide of 2016) and child consumption, which I rather enjoyed.  But all that is an acquired taste.

Rated R for horror violence and gore, and for language

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Lights Out

lights outMarkus Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars  

Whenever I hear about an acclaimed horror short  film being made into a feature, what I fear most is that it will be elongated in such a way, that a convoluted storyline will replace what I’d originally found scary about the short to begin with.

Synopsis: A young boy named Martin is discovered to have a fear of something in the dark, by his older sister, Rebecca. Soon Rebecca traces this fear back to their mother who has randomly quit taking her meds and to a monster that talks to the mom and can only survive in the dark.

Rather than do a long write-up of why “Lights Out” isn’t worth your time, let me fast-track it for you. Here are the top 15 reasons why “Lights Out” is a bad movie:

  1. Once the first death occurs, the movie’s timeline goes out the window.
  2. Nobody is as scared as they should be. Example: It is established that someone can only be attacked in the dark. Yet people in this movie spend a weird amount of time shuffling through drawers in a dark house and are shocked when they are attacked.
  3. The rules of this particular world vary by situation. Example: The monster has the power to turn off lights…well, only sometimes. Sometimes when the main character is vulnerable in a bathroom, it can only make the lights flicker, but other times it can shut off power to the entire street. Another example of rule-bending: Said monster can only survive in the dark, but somehow travels during the day from building to building. Wait…what?
  4. The makers of this movie don’t seem to know anything about how CPS (Child Protective Services) works.
  5. Awful cornball dialogue (especially the dramatic bits). “Lights Out” was elongated for the big screen by writer Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5).
  6. Characters make a ridiculous amount of stupid horror film mistakes. Example: When you are trying to get away from a monster who can only attack in the dark, you obviously run into the basement; the only room in the house with no windows.
  7. The only reason this story fulfills its 81 minute runtime is because of the line: “she’s still our mom.” While this excuse works for a little bit, when mom begins to blatantly put her children in harm’s way (i.e. making them live in a house with a monster in it) why continue to defend her? Because the movie would have ended, that’s why.
  8. If the mother takes her medicine, the movie is over.
  9. While there are attempts at scares within this film from director David F. Sandberg (he directed the original short) none of them are actually effective. Thus, there is not one scare in this horror film.
  10. No scares.
  11. No scares.
  12. No scares.
  13. No scares.
  14. Not scary.
  15. No scares.

Final Thought: The one aspect of this film which I didn’t totally hate was its resolution, which while predictable, did follow some form of movie logic. But listen, you can’t have a horror movie without scares, in the same way you can’t make chocolate chip cookies without chocolate. It’s (by definition) impossible! So tell me why I’m still seeing reviews from “Lights Out” apologist using the phrase “not scary, but still good” when talking about this horror film. “Good”? A “Good” what? A “Good” movie? Anyone who sat through this elongated mess of a story could see that “Lights Out” wasn’t a good movie. And with its lack of any scares, it can be neither considered a horror movie. What does that leave us with? A nondescript cookie.

Rated PG-13 for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content

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Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” remake was actually pretty good…until it wasn’t. With a runtime of nearly 2 hours, filled with tons of laughs, great cast chemistry and a healthy dose of fun creepiness, the first 90 minutes seemed like 60, but shockingly the final 30 seemed like 90; for some reason losing all momentum during its final “action-packed” sequence. That said, this was still better than “Bridesmaids”.

Synopsis: A comedic ragtag group of scientist/paranormal enthusiasts (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon) and one non-scientist (Leslie Jones) team up to stop a city-wide malevolent ghost invasion.

The cast, which was the most important aspect (no matter what anybody says) of remaking the 1984 original (simply because it was the most contentious) was almost solely responsible for transitioning the first 90 minutes of this fairly thin storyline into the realm of visual entertainment. With Wiig (arguably the best comedic actress working) leading the way and McCarthy acting as a formidable side-kick (where she tends to shine the brightest) director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) and producers come out looking like  geniuses for pushing forward with this powerhouse female lead cast, under heavy scrutiny. Well, except for Kate McKinnon; she was just plain unfunny here. And when push came to shove, she becomes rather annoying. Whoever hired her made a mistake.

Final Thought: Full disclosure, I’ve never seen the Ivan Reitman original, which to some is considered a blasphemous statement and would furthermore totally negate my opinion on this remake. And to those who think this way, I say: WHO CARES! Like I’ve always said, movies should be reviewed on their own individual merits and any good critic should avoid comparing remakes to the originals, to the point where it mutates the integrity of the criticism of the remake. End of story.

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