Friday, May 27, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Movie Name/Year: Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Genre: Action, Drama
Length: 2h 11min
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Central Partnership, Constantin-Film, Eagle Pictures, Paramount Pictures Germany, Paramount Pictures International, Paramount Pictures UK, Paramount Pictures, Towa Pictures, United International Pictures, Universal Pictures International, Paramount+
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Actors: Bashir Salahuddin, Charles Parnell, Chelsea Harris, Danny Ramirez, Ed Harris, Glen Powell, Greg Tarzan Davis, Ian Gary, India Everett, Jack Schumacher, Jake Picking, Jay Ellis, Jean Louisa Kelly, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, John Wilcox, Kara Wang, Lewis Pullman, Lyliana Wray, Manny Jacinto, Mark Anthony Cox,Miles Teller, Monica Barbaro, Peter Mark Kendall, Raymond Lee, Roberta Sparta, Thomasin McKenzie, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer
IMDb Blurb: After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy's top aviators, Pete Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.

Cat’s Point of View:
I think I almost cried when my husband surprised our daughter and I with tickets to a matinee showing for the opening day of Top Gun: Maverick yesterday. It was hard to contain my level of excitement and anticipation for this movie. Fans of the original Top Gun (1986) have been waiting and hoping for this sequel for so many years, subsisting on breadcrumbs of information and fervent prayer. I have been among those shaking a fist at the sky due to the delays. The wait was finally over.
Top Gun: Maverick dominated the top spot on my Top 20 Movies to Look Out For in May 2022 article. The question now that I’ve seen it would be: did this Top Gun sequel satisfy my need for speed?
My answer is a resounding yes. Top Gun: Maverick took me on a surprisingly meaningful journey at Mach speed and my heart was pulling serious Gs from the action, thrills, and emotional rollercoaster.

All of the aerial shots were absolutely worth every penny of the $11,000+ per hour or so the production had to pay the Navy for access to the F-18s for shooting. All of the plane shots (for the most part) were done with real aircraft. The cast had to go through the same conditioning actual fighter pilots use to be able to endure the physical strain of flight and maneuvers at such high speeds. The only 2 aircraft that had to rely on movie magic (to my knowledge) were the hypersonic test plane in the beginning (as well as teased in the trailer) and the F-14 Tomcat towards the end. (The F-14 has been decommissioned and none are in working service currently.)
The production value of those decisions was monumental. When you rely too heavily on CGI in situations like this, you run the risk of having a situation like when you show actors driving cars in movies – but what’s outside the window was clearly composited in. It could look fine and realistic but there’s just this tiny voice in the back of your head that tells you ‘that’s not real’ and keeps you from completely suspending your disbelief. Top Gun was the real deal, and it was breathtaking.

Let’s talk cast. It wouldn’t be a true Top Gun sequel if there weren’t at least some callbacks to the original film. Tom Cruise’s (Knight and Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission Impossible - Fallout) Maverick was a must, and goes without saying since he was the titular character from this story. There would have been no Top Gun: Maverick without Cruise spearheading this passion project.
Bringing the story of the other Top Gun graduates forward from 30 years ago was also necessary to connect the two films. I was profoundly moved by the way they included Iceman in this tale. It was done respectfully and gave some much needed grounding for the span of time between then and now. I could just feel the history between the characters nearly palpable on the screen and there were echoes of the old Iceman in Val Kilmer’s (The Snowman, The Super, A Soldier's Revenge) performance. Further, I adored the way they honored Goose and also Meg Ryan’s (Serious Moonlight, Web Therapy, Ithaca) character. Miles Teller (Footloose, Whiplash, Thank You for Your Service) was absolutely brilliant portraying Rooster, Goose’s son. The dynamic between his character and Maverick was off the charts and had me in tears.

I was actually surprised when I realized that Charles Parnell’s (Transformers: Age of Extinction, A Million Little Pieces, The Last Ship) Warlock wasn’t in the original movie. His performance and offering to the story had me 100% on board that he and Maverick went ‘way back’ together to those times. He fit right in. I could ramble on about the cast forever. There were so many talented and phenomenal performers here.
Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, Only the Brave) took this story into the stratosphere, in my book. I have enjoyed all of his films (and even his shorts) so far and am looking forward to his future work, too. Kosinski has a movie with Teller and other members of this Top Gun cast as well hitting Netflix next month, and I’m excited – but not nearly as excited as I was to see Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen.

My heart even did a little flippity-flop of joy when some of the iconic Kenny Loggins score from the original was incorporated here.
There were moments that echoed some of the iconic scenes in the first movie, such as motorcycles racing jets and beach-side ball games; but Top Gun: Maverick was definitely its own stand-alone story every bit as powerful and successfully realized as the original. This sequel met the challenge set by the original and then raised the bar.

If you're able, I would encourage you to ‘fly’ to your nearest theater to catch Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen. This is also the first movie of its kind to shoot with IMAX film, so if you can see it on one of those screens, even better. Small screens would still be fun when Top Gun: Maverick eventually hits streaming availability (in at least 45 days), but it was ultimately intended as a big-screen experience and excels as such. Absolutely worth the price of admission and then some.
When Top Gun: Maverick eventually hits a streaming service, keep your eyes peeled on Paramount+.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 97%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 99%
Metascore – 79%
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 8.7/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

P.S. CBS released an article here, which includes a video with some behind-the-scenes on how the actors trained for the flight sequences in the F-18 Super Hornets.
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Belle (2022)


Streaming Service: Amazon Prime ($3.99)
Movie Name/Year: Belle (2022)
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama
Length: 2h 1min
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Studio Chizu, BookWalker, Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Kadokawa, Nippon Television Network, Toho Company, Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation, Toho, Golden Village Pictures, Purple Plan, GKIDS, Koch Films, BfParis, Wild Bunch Distribution
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Writer: Mamoru Hosoda
Actors: Kaho Nakamura, Kenjirô Tsuda, Kôji Yakusho, Mami Koyama, Mamoru Miyano, Michiko Shimizu, Rina Izuta, Ryô Narita, Shôta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Ikura, Ryôko Moriyama, Fuyumi Sakamoto, Yoshimi Iwasaki, Sachiyo Nakao, Sumi Shimamoto, Ken Ishiguro, Ermhoi, Hana, Takeru Satoh, Taichi Masu, Asami Miura, John Eric Bentley, Tom Bromhead, Tiana Camacho, Paul Castro Jr., David Chen, SungWon Cho, Courtney Chu, Victoria Dean, Jessica DiCicco, Brandon Engman, Larissa Gallagher, Jessica Gee-George, Heather Gonzalez, Barbara Goodson, Bentley Griffin, Martha Harms, Xanthe Huynh, Andrew Kishino, Anjali Kunapaneni, Wendee Lee, Ben Lepley, Lilypichu, Kyle McCarley, Noelle McGrath, Kylie McNeill, Julie Nathanson, Aaron Phillips, Zeno Robinson, Stephanie Sheh, Michael Sinterniklaas, Rachel Slotky, Laura Megan Stahl, Ellyn Stern, Frank Todaro, Cristina Valenzuela, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Aoi Yûki
IMDb Blurb: Suzu is a shy high school student living in a rural village. For years, she has only been a shadow of herself. But when she enters "U", a massive virtual world, she escapes into her online persona as Belle, a globally-beloved singer.

Cat’s Point of View:
I have been chomping at the bit to watch Belle since it came to my attention in preparation for the Top 20 Movies to Look Out For in January 2022 article. I was so excited for Belle’s release that I listed it as my #4 pick.
Now that I’ve watched Belle (multiple times, at that) I sincerely wish that I’d listed it higher (especially since a certain Marvel movie I’d listed as #1 didn’t even release as planned that month).
At some point this month, Belle became available for rental On-Demand at a price that fit my budget. My daughter had also wanted to watch Belle and so the moment we saw it available, we knew it had to be watched ASAP. As I write this review, I’m actually viewing Belle again (in the background) for the 3rd time. My daughter has already watched it 3 times, herself – one instance while I was out running errands. I digress…

Why so many times? It deserves it and we are eking out every moment we’re able to out of the rental period for Belle. I’d say it’s safe to call Belle one of my new favorite movies of all time.
What’s the big deal, you might wonder? Belle was gorgeous and profound. The music was sensational, the imagery spectacular, the story layered and nuanced, and the performances were emotional. I resonated with the narrative on so many levels. The first watch-through nearly involved ugly crying. Admittedly, I can be a sap at times, but the themes echoed some of my life experiences to a degree. Music helped me find my ‘voice’ and break out of my shell when I was younger and the digital universe helped me connect with some of the most important people in my life.

In my Top 20 article, I compared Belle to a mash-up of the universe style of Ready Player One (2018), some similar tech to Sword Art Online (2012-), and the classic fairytale of Beauty and the Beast. On the surface, the story tackles coming-of-age in this increasingly digital age with social media and the like. The plot takes on bullying – particularly the cyber variety where netizens are quick to harass and cancel people from behind their mask of anonymity. The characters also had to navigate the craziness of High School. I thought it was a brilliant touch that the story used a game something like Risk as imagery of how kids and young adults have to navigate school factions and the rumor-mill, and what an extra nightmare that sort of scenario would be for a shy, introverted person or someone struggling with anxiety.
What the trailer doesn’t make clear, however, is that Belle also takes on trauma and loss from multiple angles.

Each of these elements became woven so deftly into the story so that I cared deeply for the characters. I understood their drive. I rooted for their friendships. It celebrated the essence of Beauty and the Beast without delving into the Stockholm Syndrome story we’re all used to. It leaned, instead, on compassion and empathy as well as finding inner resolve and taking action to right wrongs rather than just paying lip service with platitudes.
I am absolutely in awe of the work Mamoru Hosoda (Samurai Champloo, Wolf Children, Mirai) accomplished as writer and director of Belle. Hosoda’s Studio Chizu was given an amazing 10th-anniversary celebration with this production. I have enjoyed his work in the past and I certainly hope that he brings more ambitious projects like Belle to the table in the future.

At the moment, Belle does not appear to be included on any specific streaming platforms; however, you can find ways to view it by clicking here for its JustWatch listing.
If you’re able to find it, I couldn’t recommend Belle enough. I can tell you with certainty that this movie will soon become part of our ‘wall-o-movies’ personal collection in my home and I will be looking to purchase the soundtrack as well. I can’t get these songs out of my head.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 95%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 95%
Metascore – 83%
Metacritic User Score – 7.7/10
IMDB Score – 7.2/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5
P.S. – Stills from scenes throughout the movie are shown during the credits.
Movie Trailer:

Monday, May 23, 2022

A Banquet (2022)


Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: A Banquet (2022)
Genre: Horror
Length: 1h 37min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Tea Shop Productions, Riverstone Pictures, Reliance Entertainment Productions 8, IFC Midnight, Front Row Filmed Entertainment, HanWay Films, Shaw Organisation, AMC+, Shudder
Director: Ruth Paxton
Writer: Justin Ball
Actors: Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan, Kaine Zajaz, Richard Keep, Deka Walmsley, Rina Mahoney
IMDb Blurb: Widowed mother Holly is radically tested when her teenage daughter Betsey experiences a profound enlightenment and insists that her body is no longer her own, but in service to a higher power. Bound to her newfound faith Betsey refuses to eat, but loses no weight. In an agonising dilemma torn between love and fear, Holly is forced to confront the boundaries of her own beliefs.

Cat’s Point of View:
I am frustrated with A Banquet. It had the potential to be a visual feast for horror fans, but the fare was underseasoned.
That being said, let me focus on the positives from this movie before I get into the rest.
A Banquet took good advantage of an interesting setting. I loved the house the family resided in. It was architecturally fascinating. There were some stunning visuals offered to the audience here. I particularly enjoyed the shots of the moon. Had this production gone better, overall, I would be giving kudos that its release was timed on the heels of a very real blood moon lunar eclipse event. Eerie coincidence, perhaps, but because the night sky was little more than window dressing in the story, it amounts to naught.

The acting performances were all solid. Everything felt believable. No one was too dramatic or over-the-top. I bought in on every emotion conveyed by the grieving and strained family, and it all seemed visceral and genuine.
There were even moments when I really identified with the characters. Those blips in time where the characters spaced out from everything because they were simply overwhelmed were completely relatable for me. It was also easy for me to step into the mother's shoes. I have been on a rollercoaster with my own daughter, and it's definitely hard to try everything in your power to help your child and, yet,  feel helpless when they continue to struggle. 

Unfortunately, then A Banquet lost me.

When we watched the trailer to consider A Banquet for the February 2022 Top 20 article, I was generally uncomfortable with what I saw in the trailer. I held out hope that the story would work out and justify these choices, but alas there was no payoff.
It’s a seriously tricky thing to toy with eating disorders in a movie – especially these days. You don’t want to send mixed messages or mishandle the portrayal. In the case of A Banquet I can’t really decide whether or not it would be effective as a cautionary tale. I was relieved that anorexia was not glorified or treated lightly. The family reacted appropriately – for the most part. 
Another issue that made A Banquet problematic for me was its pacing. Things progressed so slowly that I struggled to stay tuned in to what was going on. I had to replay a few scenes because I started nodding off. My ADHD was acting up and as soon as my attention started to drift, fatigue tried to set in. I managed to make it all the way through, but it was not a small effort.  

I was left with so many questions as the final credits rolled following the strange and unsatisfying ending.
A Banquet had the potential to take this story in a different direction, and unfortunately meandered away from its more redeemable qualities. As a horror story, this was certainly successful – it was a shockingly horrific experience… especially watching from a parent’s perspective. It is not, however, something I would seek out to watch again or steer others towards. 
Shudder will be releasing A Banquet for members of their streaming service on Thursday, May 26th.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 54%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 50%
Metascore – 59%
Metacritic User Score – 5.010
IMDB Score –4.7/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 2/5

Trust the Dice: Parental Guidance Rating – R
Movie Trailer: