Friday, June 19, 2020

Ready or Not (2019)

Streaming Services: HBO Max, HBO NOW, HBO Go, DirecTV
Movie Name/Year: Ready or Not (2019)
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Mystery
Length: 95 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Mythology Entertainment, Vinson Films, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Argentina, 20th Century Fox, Big Picture 2 Films, Forum Hungary, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E., Odeon, Press Play Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Writer: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy
Actors: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, John Ralston, Liam MacDonald, Ethan Tavares, Hanneke Talbot, Celine Tsai, Daniela Barbosa, Chase Churchill, Etienne Kellici, Andrew Anthony, Elana Dunkelman, Kate Ziegler

Blurb from IMDb: A bride's wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

Selina’s Point of View:
The movie I was supposed to watch today got delayed in release. Since I had Ready or Not on my want-to-watch list, I thought I’d finally take the time. I’ve heard a ton of good stuff, after all.

Of course, that’s a gamble. There’s been so much hype about this film that there was a chance that this flick could never live up to its reputation. I’ve learned to keep my expectations lower when the hype is high, in the hopes of giving the movie in question the best chance I can. I reminded myself that this could just be a slasher flick with a slightly unique script or something. People tend to go overboard in praising stuff like that – myself included.

So, with my expectations managed, I sat down to really watch Ready or Not.

The hype is so real.

Ignoring the fact that I’m predisposed to enjoying comedy/horrors already, this film had everything going for it. The plot was already interesting and the trailer brought that home. Then there was Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Bad Girl, Mayhem) acting her ass off as one of the modern-age scream queens. She was surrounded by people like Mark O’Brien (Goalie, Marriage Story, The Front Runner), Adam Brody (Promising Young Woman, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Shazam!), Andie MacDowell (Lovestruck, Cuckoo, Christmas Inheritance), and all the rest, who were bringing their A-games as well.

Every time I thought I knew what Ready or Not was serving me, it switched things up just a little. Not enough to make me question if the change fit, though. Every time a twist hit the story, I just got sucked even more into it.

Then came the ending… which was the most perfect ending to a film I have ever seen. It was satisfying, it was horrific, it was funny… and any other ending would have cheapened the story. I firmly believe that any other writers or directors that could have touched this movie would have changed the ending and ruined it. I’m not familiar with the writers and directors of this film, but you can bet your ass that I’m going to be seeking out more of their projects in the future.

I loved Ready or Not. I cannot stress that enough. This is one of the best horror movies ever made. Twenty years from now, people are going to look at it as one of the classic greats. And if they don’t, they’re wrong.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 88%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 78%
Metascore – 64/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10
IMDB Score – 6.8/10
CinemaScore – B+

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Artemis Fowl (2020)

Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Artemis Fowl (2020)
Genre:  Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Length:  95 minutes
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Tribeca Productions, Marzano Films, Disney+
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Conor McPherson, Hamish McColl, Eoin Colfer
Actors: Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Colin Farrell, Ferdia Shaw, Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nikesh Patel, Adrian Scarborough, Jake Davies, William Moseley, Sally Messham, Grace Molony, Molly Harris, Matt Jessup, Joshua McGuire, Michael Abubakar, Arian Nik

Blurb from IMDb: Artemis Fowl, a young criminal prodigy, hunts down a secret society of fairies to find his missing father.

Cat’s Point of View:

I feel I must open my review with the disclosure that I have not yet read the Artemis Fowl book series. My love of the fantastical and all things Irish pulls me towards the books; however, my to-read list grows by the day. What a problem to have, though, right? I digress.

The general consensus I’ve noticed from far and wide is that if you love the books, you might not enjoy the movie quite so much. There were evidently some big changes. From what I’ve gathered through various online sources and even IMDb’s Trivia section for the film, I can’t say that I blame fans for being a bit miffed.

The movie rights were gained before the books hit the shelves, however, and it’s been knocking about development hell since 2001; so one could generally expect a few hiccups along the way. Then you add into consideration Sir Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, All Is True) at the helm, directing, and you get a little inkling of where things went a hair sideways.

Branagh’s work is known for being visually stunning and cinematically complicated – if a bit eccentric. One example of his hand in some of the changes that likely have die-hard fans up in arms is the casting of Nonso Anozie (Zoo, 7 Days in Entebbe, The Laundromat) in the role of Dom Butler. Apparently, the character in the books is supposed to be of an ethnicity where it’s hard to determine where he’s from and thus makes it easier for him to blend in. Anozie is certainly not someone that blends in easily. Added to that, there were some rather interesting aesthetics used for his character in the movie that would make it even harder to do so.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Anozie’s work and I loved him in this role. He’s just not likely who anyone was expecting.

Considering the series author, Eoin Colfer (Prodigy, Half Moon Investigations, Poison Pen), took an active role in the film, quite literally, as a cameo character; one would think he was on board with this vision of his work. He’s stated in interviews that he found watching the film surreal due to the amalgamation of his imagination and Branagh’s, but that he was ultimately happy to be involved with the project.

Aside from those issues, the film had an unbelievably talented cast, for the most part. Dame Judi Dench (Skyfall, Tulip Fever, Red Joan) was outstanding in her role as Commander Root, delivering the serious and gruff, but motherly, touch harkening back to her role as M in the Bond movies. Colin Farrell (Widows, Dumbo, The Gentlemen), who is known for being a little eccentric with his own movie choices, knocked the role of Artemis, Sr. out of the park – even though he didn’t get nearly as much screen time as I would have liked.

Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Murder on the Orient Express, Little Monsters) was probably my favorite of all with his character’s wit and sleight of hand mastery. Even relative newcomer, Lara McDonnell (Love Rosie, Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, The Delinquent Season) gave a rousing performance. I completely bought into her character’s inner conflict and desire to clear her father’s name.

Of course, we have to address the elephant in the room – the fact that this movie simply didn’t live up to its potential.

My heart soared with the lilting Irish whistle in the film's score. The effects and costumes for the fairies and their kin were also well done. Some of the scenes, however, were a bit frenetic – having a few too many bells and whistles when something a little simpler would have been fine. Instead, it felt a bit like Branagh had borrowed a few notes from Michael Bay (Armageddon, Transformers, Pain & Gain).

That, by itself, wouldn’t be enough to steer me away from the movie. When you add it to a lackluster performance from the movie’s main and title character, however, there’s something amiss in Denmark.

To be fair, this is Ferdia Shaw’s first and only acting credit in IMDb. He’s got raw talent that he likely hasn’t had a chance to tap into yet, much less refine. In time, I’d like to see where his career takes him – but for now, this wasn’t entirely the part for him. Visually, he was believable as the young Artemis. He hit all the right points aesthetically. Unfortunately, he lost me in his rather wooden delivery of the dialogue.

I wanted this movie to be good. It was at the top of our lists for this month. It’s not horrible, though. The good elements certainly outweigh the iffy ones. If only those same iffy bits weren’t glaringly front and center. All told, I’d say this was generally at or below par for a standard Disney Channel movie. The fact that it premiered on Disney+ rather than the global box-office likely worked in the film’s favor. If you have kids to entertain on a summer day, this movie wouldn't be a bad choice.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 10%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 21%
Metascore – 31/100
Metacritic User Score – 3.2/10
IMDB Score – 4.0/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, June 15, 2020

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Genre: Adventure, Drama, War
Length: 154 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Rahway Road Productions, Netflix
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Actors: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Nguyen, Y. Lan, Lam Nguyen, Sandy Huong Pham, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman, Van Veronica Nguyen, Anh Tuan Nguyen

Blurb from IMDb: Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.

Selina’s Point of View:
No one has a voice like Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman, Chi-Raq, She's Gotta Have It) has.

Whenever you have a Spike Lee production, you know you’re going to see something unapologetically unique. It doesn’t matter how you wind up feeling about the actual content of the film, it will be 100% original.

The thing is that you can’t actually watch most Spike Lee movies without delving into race. That’s his point, though. So much of his voice involves screaming for the equal treatment and inclusion of blacks. His films being unique makes him great, but that bellow that Black Lives Matter makes them essential.

Da 5 Bloods pulls no punches. Within the fiction is shown scenes of truth. It’s not subtle. There are actual clips of historical events edited into various parts of the film – most notably in the beginning and near the end. A lot of those clips are significantly difficult to watch. They’re brutal and graphic and you should try not to look away.

Those moments in history are there because they highlight the failings of humanity. Every graphic second is included as a reminder of the worst of that era. You’re reminded of the horrific nature of war. It’s historical. And, when you forget the past, you’re doomed to relive it. Maybe the world is the way it is, because we keep forgetting.

The point is that there are people who lived those lives. They suffered those injustices. The least we can do is keep our eyes open to it and remember.

Aside from the historical necessity of those images, they also serve as a setting.

Through those scenes and historical flashbacks, you get a better look into what the four original main characters lived through and where their mentality comes from. So, again, it’s brutal and difficult – but don’t look away.

The way Lee separated the fictional past and the present in the film was unprecedented. The use of aspect ratio to differentiate memory from current events made it almost impossible to get lost. There was an instantaneous moment of understanding every time the edges of the image shrunk or grew that a lot of films that bounce through timelines just don’t offer. Aside from the obvious creative benefits, as a person with attention issues I appreciated it on a deeper level. There were no guessing games and that meant I never got pulled out of the story.

We all know my feelings on Chadwick Boseman (Gods of Egypt, 42, 21 Bridges), so I’m not even going to dwell on how good he is – especially since he’s not in it as much as the others. Jonathan Majors (Captive State, White Boy Rick, Hostiles), Clarke Peters (An Acceptable Loss, Harriet, Come Away), Norm Lewis (Magnum Opus, Just Mercy, Scandal), and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Lost Holiday, Seneca, The Lost Husband) pulled out some amazing performances. I believed every single moment of their time on screen. That said, I want to talk about the other main actor.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Delroy Lindo (Do You Believe?, Domino, Gone in 60 Seconds) is a treasure. I know that he gets some appreciation, but I will always think it’s not enough. He is highly underrated as an actor. He’s got a range that people just don’t talk about and I don’t know why. His take on the character Paul, for this film, was amazing. He portrayed every emotion and paranoid moment so well, that I had trouble not following his mind down that path. It is the most perfect performance I’ve seen this year. There are moments where he’s monologuing directly into the camera that give me chills. There was no one better for his part.

Even when you look past the racial and cultural importance of Da 5 Bloods, you’re still left with a good movie. It’s got an interesting plot, it’s filmed in a new and exciting way, it’s acted well, and the dialogue is so natural and easy to listen to. The imagery and the foreshadowing is also on point. I even loved the soundtrack.

We need more movies like this. It is nearly creatively perfect and culturally demands action. There’s a fight going on right now to end systemic racism and this is the kind of movie that could give that movement a second wind. It’s what this country needs right now, a reminder of how important that fight is.

Final thought? Spike Lee is one of the greats and his films can change the world. This one included.

Cat’s Point of View:
When you hear that Spike Lee has written and directed a project, it’s a safe bet to say that it will be hard-hitting, unapologetic, and carry a powerful message. Da 5 Bloods certainly lived up to those expectations.

There are a lot of movies that focus on the Vietnam War, but this is the first one I can think of that follows veterans returning to the land of the conflict years after-the-fact. Not only that, but I can’t think of any films in the genre that have a black soldier’s point of view. Bubba in Forrest Gump (1994) doesn’t count. In fact, that sort of character portrayal is exactly why this movie, and projects like it, are needed to fill in the chasm left by Hollywood’s tendency to give a primarily Caucasian perspective of the controversial conflict.

When you factor in how guilt and greed tend to affect people on top of the struggles of battle-scarred soldiers, this story puts together quite a few combustible elements that you know are going to explode sooner or later.

Da 5 Bloods had some eerie timing for its release. Films with a strong message, however, might just help bring about much-needed understanding in the world. The story was well executed and the cast was phenomenal.

If I strip everything down to the basic essence of the film, it’s a solid combat action with gunfire, explosions, and intrigue. Add to that, though, the brotherhood of these soldiers, the legacy left by their lives, and the fateful decisions made along the way, and you have something elevated above your average shoot-em-up.

If war movies are your thing – and even if they aren’t – it’s definitely worth a watch.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 61%
Metascore – 81/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10
IMDB Score – 6.8/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer: