Contagion Review ( A review written because of the coronavirus)


 

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In the fall of 2011, Steven Soderbergh directed a film that shocked audiences around the world about how seriously a virus can impact the globe. Contagion is a dark, sad, and honest emotional thriller about the steps people should take in the event of a pandemic. When people first watched Contagion, it made them want to wash their hands after they left the film in fear. Today, the world is experiencing this pattern almost as accurately as Contagion presented it. The film has recently had many views on streaming services because of the current virus. I think people are now making the connection with Contagion because of its realism to what is happening around the world.

The plot of Contagion revolves around Beth Emhoff (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) who is traveling back from an international trip when she starts to experience flu-like symptoms. She views the symptoms as just a common cold, but later it gets worse and leads to many other health risks. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff (played by Matt Damon), starts to take the illness seriously and get tested, but it is not long until the virus grows out of control around the world. Many government officials and doctors then begin to take precautions to protect the globe during the pandemic. Research doctors, Erin Meer (played by Kate Winslet), Ellis Cheever (played by Laurence Fishbourne), Leorona Orantes (played by Marrion Cotillard) and many others try to figure out the science to determine what can prevent the flu from spreading. There is also a scientist who argues with the media, Alan Krumwiede (played by Jude Law). Krumwiede has many other beliefs which are in conflict with the media, but the pandemic continues to worsen.

In the coronavirus situation that our world is in in now, I keep thinking back to Contagion. That is because the film shows places that are closed as well as stores that remain open, but the essential items are gone.  Eventually, the stores become too overwhelmed to handle the amount of people that are trying to remain safe. The Contagion film has a unique layout where the days are listed as the film progresses. Soderbergh’s directing has this format to give his audience an idea of what may happen or may not happen. There are some resolutions, but the quarantine makes people start to lose hope and go into panic mode. To those who have not seen Contagion, it is a faithful and dark film which now seems very realistic considering what is currently going on in the world.

I will admit that the film has moments where the intensity is over-done. However, it is a thriller that will make people think about how they can help contain the spread of COVID-19 by following similar steps to the ones that Damon’s character takes to keep himself safe.  The question of the duration of the pandemic remains unanswered as it is difficult to predict when things can go back to normal. As I mentioned previously, the film has been ranking high on streaming services which is a bit surprising to me, because even though this is a captivating thriller, some may find it hard to watch now.  Still, there is no question that the film’s message to stay inside and save lives plays a big role in the pandemic today. I give Contagion three stars.  Keep in mind that for some people it may be worthy to watch now, but for others, it probably hits too close to home.

 

The Assistant Review


 

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Director Kitty Green delivers an eerie psychological drama that is based on issues related to the prior problems of Harvey Weinstein. However, it is not focused on just the news stories being revealed, but instead the discreet communications, disturbing phone calls, unexplained schedule changes, and odd strategies that strike the main actress as red flag while doing her job. The Assistant lacks use of music and scoring by including a generous amount of silence which makes viewers feel like they are sharing the moments with Jane (played by Julia Garner) as she comes across critical realizations. The problem is that if she complains, she feels she is bound to lose a position that is top-notch. She tries to avoid a disturbance, but the more the weird conflicts arise in emails, phone calls, or meetings, her anxiety slowly grows.

Jane is an assistant to a prestigious executive in a film office. She handles most of the day-to-day responsibilities that require her to work long hours. While she has adapted to her work routine, over time she starts to become more aware that her position is shady based on the tasks she is told to do by her boss. For example, Jane comes across phone calls with his wife who is angry with him (that is a red flag), she gets many notifications of cancellations with other executives (that is another red flag), and she is told to write many emails in a way that does not make sense to her. This starts to make Jane realize that her boss is being intentionally discreet when she is told to continue the process of what she is doing even though it does not look professional or appropriate. As more aggravations come across her desk each day due to how her boss wants processes done, the more she realizes that there are unacceptable elements that she feels she needs to try to figure out.

I felt that Julia Garner was the perfect type for the role of playing the assistant, Jane. She is professional, not popular, comes to work and stays on task. She also keeps it cool without showing the uncomfortable anxiety she has building up. Garner also did an outstanding job expressing how she is feeling as time progresses.  I felt that she was what stole the movie. The film is decent, not great, but her acting is what drives the film’s main problem.

The Assistant is dry in moments. That is because it’s simply set in the same place throughout the movie and it tries to stay on pace with the setting of a film office (with the strange operations hidden). As Jane discovers more weird problems to take care of or get rid of for her boss, we wonder what her next plan is. It will make viewers ask themselves if she going to do anything.   This question is one that kind of drags on, but in the end the film is truly a haunting thriller based on Jane’s discoveries. I give The Assistant two and a half stars.

 

 

Blue Velvet (30 Year Anniversary Review)


 

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In 1986, David Lynch brought us a sinister, psychological, disturbing, yet inviting masterpiece, Blue Velvet. The trademarks of filmmaking that Lynch is known for in his films include slow-motion with scenes of violence and strobe lights to heavy surrealism. Those trademarks are all used in Blue Velvet and they set the tone for the dark setting that his audience is about to experience. In the introduction, the background colors are faded, the music is unpleasant, and the film begins with a depressing scenario before the horror conflict is revealed. Lynch uses small clues in the beginning that lead us to what is about to be a nightmare that is hard to forget.

Blue Velvet takes place in a quiet town in Lumberton, North Carolina. Our main character (also the protagonist) is Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle MacLachlan). Jeffrey is back from college due to his father having health issues and being hospitalized. Since his father is in this position, he needs to manage his father’s hardware store. It is not long before Jeffrey comes across a severed ear on the lawn of his family home. When he makes this discovery, he delivers the evidence to Detective Williams (played by George Dickerson). Jeffrey becomes friends with the Detective’s daughter Sandy (played by Laura Dern). They become very close as friends and are fascinated by what may have resulted in the severed ear. They believe it has to do with someone named Dorothy Vallens (played by Isabella Rossellini) who is linked to previous weird activity and some criminal behaviors in the area. This tempts Jeffrey to spy on Dorothy, but when he does, she catches Jeffrey which involves him in a dangerous situation with Dorothy.  In fact, Dorothy is a slave to Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper), a cruel, negative man who abuses his power to get whatever he desires out of Dorothy. With Jeffrey now in the middle of the situation, he feels he cannot leave this horrid scene, until it comes to an end.

Frank is just insane when he realizes that Jeffrey and Dorothy are friends. He gets more abusive, forces Jeffrey into situations he does not want to be part of, and worst of all, is even more crazy towards Dorothy. The sad part is Dorothy is stuck because Frank has connections to the police, so if she tries to get help, Frank can find out and get even more violent. Due to Jeffrey’s involvement, the good people in his life, including Sandy, her father and Dorothy’s family (that Frank has locked up somewhere) may fall-down with him.  Blue Velvet becomes a rollercoaster ride of evil, little to no time to get to safety, and more realizations that turn out to be scary and disastrous for Jeffrey. Once Frank knows Jeffrey is in the loop, he only makes matters worse.

Blue Velvet is still a sensation thirty years later, because of its audacious style of cinematography mixed with sinisterism. The more the evil power grows with Frank, the cinematography becomes darker. The mind of David Lynch still speaks to people with Blue Velvet and that is because the film haunted many fans with its setup, its conflict, and the twisted ideas that Lynch possessed which resulted in the making of Blue Velvet. I found the film hard to watch again, because I viewed it on the big screen late at night. Given the film has many violent nighttime scenes, leaving the cinema felt kind of strange, yet I was still blown away by the dark experience. Lynch is an idol of mine when it comes to giving his films deep meaning with his strange technological effects. Four stars for Blue Velvet (even after thirty years).

Come to Daddy Review


 

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Actor Elijah Wood fits the pattern of playing characters that are gutless and non-violent. But in many of his films, including those when he was quite young, the characters he plays often grow and be brave.  Wood’s roles fit this pattern in The Good Son (1993), The Ice Storm (1997), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), and Green Street Hooligans (2005). Come to Daddy is a movie where that pattern is still with him, but instead of being serious or sad, this film is mixed with comedy and horror. Come to Daddy is hysterical with comic violence, but the violence is also disturbing. It is a film that had me thinking seriously one moment, and then laughing the next.  This film is a strange journey of wonder and unanswered questions that have many disturbing, yet funny outcomes.

Come to Daddy gears on a man named Norval, an artist of music and other forms of entertainment (not specified) with previous alcohol dependency issues. He decides to travel to see his father who he has not seen for decades. Supposedly, his father is Gordon (played by Stephen McHattie). Norval visits him at his giant home that is on a scenic waterfront in Canada. Norval goes to visit because he has received a letter from his father for that purpose. However, as the visit begins, Norval begins to realize that Gordon displays some bothersome language and creepy personality traits. With Norval’s prior issues with alcoholism, this is a dangerous situation because along with Gordon intentionally being a jerk, he also drinks heavily. In short order, the father and son time for Norval and Gordon turns out to be a horrid adventure for Norval as the movie continues.

Many people view Come to Daddy as silly or average and I agree due to how the film evolves. The tense moments between Norval and Gordon are sparked by the personality traits of Gordon. We see that in the moments where Norval tries his best to establish a form of connection, but Gordon rejects it with opinionated humor, and consistent mocking. Those scenes grasped my attention because it made me think of real-life scenarios in times of conflict. The answers Gordon gives Norval are not what one would normally expect. McHattie has the evil looks, the menacing laugh, and the snarky comments that make it clear that Come to Daddy is only going to get uglier.

As I mentioned earlier, Wood is someone known to be play gutless characters who build guts later.  In this film, he runs into various scenarios as he makes dangerous discoveries along the way. This makes Come to Daddy funny because Wood’s character, Norval, is still not very brave, but he approaches the life and death problems being unprepared and finds himself at odds thinking about whether he did the right or wrong thing. Wood’s ability to portray a sensitive personality along with genuine comedic flair is a plus for Come to Daddy. I had a fun time with this movie although Come to Daddy is a movie that not everyone will enjoy.   However, if someone wants a good laugh with some unexplained conflicts thrown in, it is an entertaining film. I am going to give Come to Daddy two and a half stars.

Scarecrow Review


 

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At the Music Box Theatre in downtown Chicago, I had the chance to attend a screening of Scarecrow.  The movie, originally released in 1973, is directed by Jerry Schatzberg and stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino.  The film was in 35 MM projection and is a superb dark flick that is not remembered or appreciated. Back in 1973, Scarecrow was in a competition section at the Cannes Film Festival and won the big award, the Palm d’Or (back then it was called the Golden Palm), but it shared the award with the Alan Bridge film The Hireling. Besides receiving that award, Scarecrow did not receive much attention. That is unfortunate because it is a deep and authentic drama that is essential for avid film fanatics.

The film gears on Max and Lionel (Hackman and Pacino). Max is an ex-con artist who is a drifter with a goal to save money by opening a car wash. Lionel is an ex-sailor who is homeless. Once they both get acquainted, they begin to go on the road together in hopes of finding ways to make income and start a car wash business. However, the title Scarecrow has a meaning which Lionel explains during a discussion in the movie.  However, it is important to see it in order to   understand the connection and why the film has this title.

Realism is such a critical element of Scarecrow. This film brings its audience back to the era of low technological support. The film also shows how networking was such a challenge in this time frame. There are moments where Max and Lionel hit plateaus and experience other troubles that make the goal of the car wash even more challenging than they have anticipated. Also, Max starts to resent Lionel, because he feels Lionel has no craft and is lacking in so many areas required for success. The realism with the anger and frustration brings out the harsh authenticity that Scarecrow portrays.

Given how brilliant Scarecrow is, I believe if it got the recognition it deserved, it would have led to more opportunities for the actors and people involved with the film. Hackman has said this role was his favorite, but because it was poorly recognized, it prompted him to pursue more commercialized films. While the movie got some recognition with awards and reviews, for some reason it never found an audience to help the film grow. Unfortunately, the film alone was off the grid, and not released on DVD until many years later.

Despite, the poor attention, Scarecrow is a film that is imperative for the 1970s and the film world we are in now. The film needs to be seen because of its character development, and its central conflict. The dialogue is top-notch, and viewers will sense deep feelings during this movie.  There are many films like this one I love that are also underappreciated. I am giving Scarecrow four stars.

Birds of Prey Review


 

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From the opening of Birds of Prey, the audience already knows what kind of rollercoaster ride is coming their way. The film opens with our lead actress Margot Robbie (who plays Harley Quinn).  In the first twenty minutes, she narrates what crazy conflicts exist and describes what her ridiculous priorities are which include graphic violence. Robbie steals the opening act with her violent, spunky, and neurotic personality. Birds of Prey is the one film where I believe DC makes its mark as it almost rivals Marvel’s Deadpool. That is because it opens almost the same way with vulgar yet funny language, and acts of violence intended for laughs. However, Birds of Prey takes the hysterical violence to a whole different level.

The plot of Birds of Prey is gearing on life with Harley Quinn after breaking up with the Joker. Viewers are used to viewing Quinn as the villain, but in this one she is geared more on being the protagonist. She falls into a position where a wealthy and egotistical villain, Roman Sionis (played by Ewan McGregor), and his assistant Victor Zsasz (played by Chris Messina), are after a young woman named Cassandra Cain (played by Ella Jay Basco), because she has something that is worth a lot to Sionis. This puts Quinn in a position where she falls into a scenario of building up a team of other crazy ladies who include Renee Montoya (played by Rosie Perez), Helena Bertinelli/the Huntress (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Dina Lance/Black Canary (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell). The film becomes a ride of over-the-top, lethal, and loud violence that will make viewers laugh.

The acting by Robbie is superb and McGregor is also outstanding. However, I found that some of the violence seemed repetitive. I figured that this was done to keep the audience laughing. An example of this is there are scenes where Harley or others break people’s legs. The leg breaking is comical, but it was just repetitive. Also, I felt that the film was only gearing on breaking of body parts as a goal to keep the action going. The dialogue is top-notch, but the fighting moments are repetitive.

What grabbed my attention the most with Birds of Prey was how both Robbie and McGregor play such egotistical characters. Each had moments where they felt they had more power over the other and then it would be the other way around. That made the film interesting for me because it gave me a hint that later one character had something that the other character was not aware of, and then another catastrophic moment would come around. The film is full of surprises.

Overall, Birds of Prey goes over the top by utilizing the same acts of violence, but it’s still a funny and entertaining time for those superhero fanatics. I find that it is one of those films that DC has been needing. A film where the violence goes up many levels because that is what gives a DC movie its mark by making the intensity and realism feel dark and heavy. I am giving Birds of Prey three stars.

 

Color Out of Space Review


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Nicholas Cage has been doing experimental film after experimental film, and Color Out of Space may be his most experimental one yet. He went from doing a few Blockbuster flicks to ones that have bizarre concepts. Color Out of Space is a film in which Signs (2002) is mixed with Poltergeist (1982) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial with an odd concept of horror. I found myself having fun during some moments with Color Out of Space, but also consistently wondering how hard the film is trying to seem visually grotesque with crazy sci-fi elements. I believe it is more of the film’s setting that makes it strange for its audience.

Nicholas Cage plays Nathan Gardner, the owner of a farm that is hit with a meteorite that carries revealing elements for Gardner and his family. An alien force has taken over the farm. When that happens, a variety of disasters occur causing the family to experience scary situations with the animals on the farm. And, the damage keeps on growing. Color Out of Space displays weird scenarios that are not unlike Mandy (2018). That film also starred Cage and had a similar plot, but was much more disturbing with gory violence. The current movie was also quite disturbing with alien-type revelations and unexpected jump scares.

For me, Color Out of Space seemed to be more a sci-fi thriller that needs to find its audience. I had moments where I was interested and some where I was not interested, and that is not because of the film seeming weird, but instead because the acting and writing seemed to be dry. Fortunately, the visuals are top-notch. That is important and what ultimately makes people want to watch Color Out of Space. People will watch the film more for the strange plot over the acting or the writing. This is a common type of film for Cage to do. It fits him, but it felt too much like watching Mandy all over again. Alien movies (like this one) require a certain type of audience who enjoy violence with alien attacks and lots of gore. That is what Color Out of Space consists of.

After much thought, I am going to give Color Out of Space two stars. Honestly, I like to be fair and rarely bash movies. However, this movie is close to two hours of experimentation with many ridiculous scenarios consisting of animals and people’s weird behavior, all because of a meteorite. I wish there would have been better rationale for how the conflicts evolved which is why I viewed the film to be a below average experience.

 

 

The movies are my escape!