Friday, July 10, 2020

Crawl (2019)

Streaming Services: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu
Movie Name/Year: Crawl (2019)
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Length: 87 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Paramount Pictures, Raimi Productions, Central Partnership, CinemArt, Constantin-Film, NOS Audiovisuais, Odeon, Towa Pictures, United International Pictures (UIP), Universal Pictures International (UPI), Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Media Distribution
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Actors: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark, Ross Anderson, Jose Palma, George Somner, Anson Boon, Ami Metcalf, Tina Pribicevic, Srna Vasiljevic

Blurb from IMDb: A young woman, while attempting to save her father during a category 5 hurricane, finds herself trapped in a flooding house and must fight for her life against alligators.

Selina’s Point of View:
The ambiance in my house was perfect for this film. I had a loud thunderstorm echoing outside, I caught a spider on my foot at the same time as the main character had to deal with a bunch of them. The universe was trying to make it easy for me to enjoy Crawl. It shouldn’t have needed that much help, either, because I love creature features.

I felt like this story was an easy idea. Not in a bad way, either. It hit some marks for believability. It’s easy to combine things like hurricanes and alligators in a setting like Florida. There’s no moment where you’re drawn out of the film by the thought that something doesn’t belong. Sometimes it really does pay to keep it simple.

Honestly, the gators themselves were also really well done. They looked right, if a little bigger than I would expect. Of course, it’s a horror/thriller. They needed to be menacing. Making them bigger helped.

I found no fault in the visuals. Alexandre Aja (Horns, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) is a great director; I’ve liked the majority of his stuff. He’s not a favorite of mine, but I would call his name on a project a selling point. Crawl feels right for one of his flicks.

The majority of the problems I had fell to the script. There were some really hokey lines. It stuck as close to a recipe as possible – to the point where I could predict what was going to be said next. There were a couple of moments that caught me off guard, but for the most part it felt like a B-movie script that was adopted by A-movie creators and actors.

I didn’t hate it. It’s a decent film to throw on when you’re looking for some creature feature action, but it’s not a movie that’ll cross my mind when people ask for recommendations.

Cat’s Point of View:
Let me tell you, the premise of this movie is the stuff of nightmares.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I’ve spent my life in the more land-locked northern portion of Louisiana. Hurricanes tend to lose a lot of steam by the time they get to my neck of the woods. We still have plenty of wetland areas, however, and gators. We also see the occasional flood. It’s not just rivers and lakes, though. Our water table is so high that sometimes all it takes is just some good soaking rain.

All the same, when the words ‘hurricane’ and ‘category 5’ are mentioned together, I can’t help but twitch. I think it’s something that is likely ingrained into most residents here – especially those that were around for 2005’s Katrina.

We’re not really talking about Louisiana for this particular movie, though. We’re talking about Florida. The two states have a lot in common, however. Here, even in Northwestern Louisiana, we have the occasional gators trying to cross roads and causing hazards. Florida is the state that launched memes of gators climbing fences and chilling in a residential pool on top of an inflatable alligator. Both states share another issue aside from modern dinosaurs. Because the aforementioned water table is so high – we don’t generally have basements. We have crawlspaces under our houses if you have a pier and beam foundation instead of a slab.

In the case of this movie, the house here has tall piers so there’s a good amount of space underneath for the ductwork and plumbing – why not gators? If you have openings present, wildlife is going to find its way in just because it can.

Pardon my rambling. I had a bit of a kneejerk reaction when I noticed that so many were considering the film setting a basement. The title of Crawl is symbolic for more than just the reptilian adversaries, but also where the majority of the film takes place.

This movie was high on my July 2019 Top 20 list for a reason. I’m happy to say that it lived up to expectations for me. I didn’t sleep very well after watching this the first time, either. Not only was the premise of the movie plausible, but it was also generally based on something that actually happened.

I have a real soft spot for creature features. This one really takes the cake. The gators were rendered so well that I honestly could swear that they weren’t CGI. The production team did a bang-up job there on the behaviors of these toothsome terrors. I believed every minute of the animal encounters. I’ve seen the feeding-time shows at local alligator parks, and have seen first-hand these behaviors.

I appreciated some of the little ironies and references scattered here and there throughout the film. I’m not going to spoil them for you, so see if you can find some of them as you go.

All told, this was a really solid edge-of-your-seat thriller. For this sort of movie, there was even a surprising amount of character development and emotional interaction between the leads. Kaya Scodelario (Clash of the Titans, Skins, Tiger House) and Barry Pepper (Snitch, Monster Trucks, Bitter Harvest) were well-matched as a father-daughter pairing. I do wonder how much swim training Scodelario had for the role, or if it’s something she’s had in her life outside acting. Either way, I completely bought in, whether she had a swim double or it was her own skill shown on screen.

I would recommend Crawl in a heartbeat.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 83%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 75%
Metascore – 60/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.1/10
IMDB Score – 6.2/10
CinemaScore – B

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Desperados (2020)

Streaming Services: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Desperados (2020)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Length: 105 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Production/Distribution: Lost City, Good Universe, MXN Entertainment, Netflix
Director: LP
Writer: Ellen Rapoport
Actors: Nasim Pedrad, Anna Camp, Lamorne Morris, Sarah Burns, Robbie Amell, Heather Graham, Jessica Chaffin, Izzy Diaz, Rodrigo Franco, Scott Rodgers, Toby Grey, Jessica Lowe, George Basil, Allan McLeod

Blurb from IMDb: A panicked young woman, with her reluctant friends in tow, rushes to Mexico to try and delete a ranting email she sent to her new boyfriend.

Selina’s Point of View:
Although Cat and I try to be unbiased when we review films, sometimes it’s hard. We’re humans, our environment and circumstances are going to alter how we view things. In this case, we went from reviewing one of the most culturally significant creative projects of this century (on Monday) to reviewing a film that prominently displays a woman getting smacked in the face with a CGI dolphin penis. It’s given me a bit of mental whiplash. I’m still trying to be fair, but it’s a little difficult.

Desperados was pretty much what I expected it to be. It hit all the tropes you would expect from the kind of romantic comedy that the trailer portrayed. It was cringy, it had a moral, and it stuck to the step-by-step recipe in order to create something that was mostly watchable without being a game changer.

I had hoped that the chemistry between Nasim Pedrad (Corporate Animals, Aladdin, Scream Queens) and Lamorne Morris (Bloodshot, Human Discoveries, Jumanji: The Next Level) would elevate the story a bit. I’m a fan of New Girl (2011-2018) – except for that strange last season – and I was looking forward to them being on my screen again. Unfortunately, I found that even their remarkable chemistry couldn’t really bring Desperados above its mediocre claim.

The biggest problem I have is that there were openings in the script for the film to take risks. Had the creators actually gone the risky route, it would have elevated the entire thing so high that even the extended cringe-inducing scenes couldn’t have brought it back down. That bothers me. That actually bothers me more than it would have if those openings weren’t there at all.

I also had an issue with the way the film portrayed the female friendship dynamic. [There’s a spoiler in the next few sentences, if you don’t want to read it then you’ll want to skip to the next paragraph.] The entire film shows the main character’s friends enabling her. They try to stop her a couple of times, but there’s no real effort in it and they eventually go along with the plan. Then, right at the end, they flip the issue and instantly have a problem with the main character making it all about herself. There’s no lead up to the conflict. It’s shoe-horned in, as if the writer suddenly thought to herself that three women couldn’t hang out that long without there being that kind of drama. It was unnecessary, lazy, and cheap.

All-in-all, Desperados was a basic rom-com. It’s not something I would seek out, but it’s not bad if you’re just looking for some background noise. Consider it Rated R, though.

Cat’s Point of View:
Desperados was a welcome dose of crazy fun, and surprisingly insightful. I had guessed the movie would be amusing, relatable, and endearing based on the trailer. I wasn’t counting on the dose of friendship goals with a side of wisdom.

While at times silly, there were still so many good points about this film. First, the comedy was on point. The story was full of both physical humor and wit. I completely bought what they were selling.

It’s sad, really, how much I identify with Wesley, played by Nasim Pedrad. I am both accident-prone and can be a bit dense sometimes when it comes to interactions with others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth or was oblivious about things that impacted dear friends.  I am so very thankful that my best friends understand (and put up with) my brand of crazy.

While the primary focus of the film rests on the messy relationship woes of Wesley, I loved how each of the trio of besties really got their time to shine in the story as well. Anna Camp (True Blood, Pitch Perfect, Egg) and Sarah Burns’ (Slow Learners, Brother Nature, Unforgettable) characters were excellent foils for Wesley’s shenanigans and had their own inner desperation to work out on the journey.

All told, this was a solid rom-com, and probably even could have been a bit higher on my list of the Top 20 movies releasing this month. I definitely would be comfortable recommending Desperados to anyone needing a good laugh.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 16%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 31%
Metascore – 43/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.0/10
IMDB Score – 5.1/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating2.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3.5/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, July 6, 2020

Hamilton (2020)

Streaming Services: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Hamilton (2020)
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Length: 160 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures, 5000 Broadway Productions, RadicalMedia, Nevis Productions, Disney+, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director: Thomas Kail
Writer: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ron Chernow
Actors: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Chris Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillipa Soo, Sydney James Harcourt, Thayne Jasperson, Jon Rua, Ephraim Sykes

Blurb from IMDb: The real life of one of America's foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Captured live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast.

Selina’s Point of View:
When Hamilton first came out, I had no interest. If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you know me. I just don’t go for historical dramas. I like musicals, but if they’re about something I’m not interested in, I don’t tend to care. I put off listening to the soundtrack for a long time, even with my husband nagging me to give it a shot.

I fell in love when I finally heard it. Historical dramas are still not my thing, but I’ll be damned if this one doesn’t speak to me on every level of my being. Alexander’s rough childhood, his unpolished demeanor in a situation where it’s deemed unacceptable, his ability to rise above his situation and press on… it all hits me so deeply that just listening to the soundtrack was practically a religious experience.

Needless to say, I watched it the second it came out on Disney + (and several times since). It’s long, but I don’t feel the time as it goes by.

As amazing as the soundtrack is, I couldn’t imagine I was missing anything. After all, it was already my favorite thing ever. But you do lose some of the experience when only listening to the soundtrack. The play opens up so many other aspects of the story. Facial expressions, the way an actor walks, the placement and motion of the characters… everything adds something more.

The performances are incredibly important.

The way Lin-Manuel Miranda (Do No Harm, Speech & Debate, His Dark Materials) expresses Hamilton’s quest for satisfaction, his desperation, and even his hopelessness, brings the character further to life. Leslie Odom Jr. (Harriet, Only, Central Park) portrays the ambivalence, the envy, and the delirious desires of Aaron Burr in a way that makes the audience understand why the man thought himself a hero right up until the end. Daveed Diggs (Ferdinand, Blindspotting, Snowpiercer).  goes from the rebellious French soldier Marquis de Lafayette, to the amusingly sarcastic and impossible-to-look-away-from Thomas Jefferson. Renée Elise Goldsberry (Altered Carbon, Waves, The Good Wife) is a firecracker and a role model as Angelica Schuyler while Phillipa Soo (Here and Now, The Code, Smash) is poised and brimming with resilience as Eliza Hamilton. Jonathan Groff (Frozen, Mindhunter, Looking) really puts forth the intensity of King George’s insanity, while Chris Jackson (Bull, Moana, Tracers) offers a much more logical and honest performance of George Washington – one that doesn’t hide the flaws of the person the character is based on. Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Monsters and Men, Patti Cake$) is hilarious and tragic as both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Finally, Okieriete Onaodowan (A Quite Place Part II, Station 19, The Super) is the embodiment of a call to action as Hercules Mulligan – whenever he sings you have no choice but to root for him. Is he sewing some pants? Is he a spy? Either way, you wind up demanding his success because he just goes so damn hard. Later on, he flips and offers a regal and politically minded performance as James Madison.

There is not a single actor that flubs any part of their performance. There is no ‘meh’ song on the soundtrack (and there usually is at least 1 in every musical I’ve ever seen). Even the ensemble is perfectly in sync and adds an ambience to the play.

When the song ‘Hurricane’ starts, the ensemble is seen lifting furniture in the air all around Hamilton and it gives a significant feeling of chaotic stillness to the scene. It FEELS like the eye of a hurricane. The way it’s done ensures that the audience knows something’s coming. It’s the perfect song to warn you that it’s time for your emotional preparations. It breathes out dread and is the epitome of that moment of calm before things go wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve never seen a story told that had such a clear moment that warned audiences to prep for disaster. No story hits this moment quite as well, in any medium. Listen to it, and when it comes on – prepare. Because devastation comes barreling after it. I’m always a wreck when Hamilton ends, even with preparations.

I don’t think it’s possible, in the current climate of our nation, to not talk about race here.

Hamilton is the best example of a creative project that proves – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that it doesn’t fucking matter what race the actor that plays a character is. Not only that, but it proves how much talent is out there. There wasn’t a single actor in this movie that pulled me out of the story, regardless of their race or who they were playing. Who cares that George Washington wasn’t black? Chris Jackson was THE pick to play him.  

I’m forced to ask why, then, is it harder for Black, Asian, Native American, and other non-white actors to find work in Hollywood? Facing the racial bias in one area is not enough, we have to face it everywhere. Head on. In the words of this films, we should “rather be divisive than indecisive.” I want to see Idris Elba as James Bond. I want to see films celebrating the culture of Native Americans in various situations – such as in Blood Quantum (2019). We need more of stuff like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Get Out (2017).

This play coming to Disney+ right now serves as a reminder that standing up to injustice is our legacy. It’s our duty. When the media stops writing about it and the hashtags are no longer trending, standing up to discrimination should still be your first instinct – right up until the rules change and privilege is no longer an issue because we’re all truly equal in the eyes of the system and each other.

Hamilton took the bar and threw it into outer space. It excelled at storytelling, casting, stage set, direction, and flipping discrimination on its head. Nothing can compare. It is the best creative project ever brought to life.

Cat’s Point of View:
The first thing that comes to mind when I begin to make an attempt at relating my experience of Hamilton to you is – it was more than worth the wait.

I can’t say that I’ve been this profoundly moved by a piece of musical theater since I watched a live performance of The Phantom of the Opera (1986-) at the Pantages Theater in Toronto my sophomore year of high school.

The music soared and the message was profound. I laughed, cried, and sang along in some places even though this was my first time hearing the majority of the music. I said it in this month’s Top 20, and I’ll say it again. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. I am in awe of his compositions and his lyricism.

The first time I heard about Hamilton, and that it was a hip-hop musical about one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, I admit I was a bit skeptical. Then the next thing you knew, everyone was talking about it. It was the hottest Broadway ticket and there were tales of people going to extreme lengths to afford tickets to the constantly sold-out shows. It was clear that there was something to this phenomenon. I’m just weird and wanted to be able to see the show before I went after the music. I don’t like knowing what I’m missing and pining away for something I felt was unattainable – namely Broadway tickets and the accompanying trip to New York City. It’s a dream of mine, but just not one feasible for the moment.

You can imagine the internal cartwheels that happened with the announcement that Hamilton would be hitting Disney+.

The whole production was brilliantly orchestrated. The scene transitions were fluid, and the messages rang loud and clear. I loved all the little modern pop culture nuances that were laced into the production. They just help draw in the audience, pulling them even further into the action taking place on stage.

The stage is also a major sticking point here. I’m grateful that the powers that be chose to keep this film a recording of a live stage performance, rather than shooting a standard movie adaptation. That doesn’t always turn out as hoped, and there would be too much room for the messages to get muddied. There’s something to be said for the feeling of watching a live performance as a member of a stage audience. This film gives you the best seat in the house.

This music is powerful. We’re still trying to navigate today some of the same problems that the founders of our country faced hundreds of years ago. It is my hope that it works its way into school curriculums at some level. The PG-13 rating may make it hard for it to reach younger audiences, but Miranda and company did purposefully censor a couple of f-bombs out of the final product so that they could meet those rating criteria.

If I had to pick a favorite character other than Alexander Hamilton, I think it’d have to be Thomas Jefferson, as played by Daveed Diggs. I adored the flair he brought to that role. The whole cast was magnificent, however, and shone in their diversity as a good example of great things that can be done when we just all work together.

What we do with our time on this earth matters. What will each of our voices say?

I would recommend this musical to everyone in a heartbeat. Have you watched it yet?

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 99%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 94%
Metascore – 90/100
Metacritic User Score – 7.9/10
IMDB Score – 9.1/10
CinemaScore – None

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

Movie Trailer: