Welcome to July 2020. Around the world, we are combating the COVID-19 pandemic – which, of course, has obviously negated the chance for big tentpole flicks. Of late, all of my reviews on this site have been VOD releases – some terrific and absolutely worth watching (Driven), some falling short of the mark (Darkness Falls). Regardless, each new piece has a chance to compete and be seen, one of the only few positives for artists coming out of our current situation.
(A personal note: please wear a mask when in public. Your car or your home? That’s your space, and you have every right to do how you please regarding mask-wearing. But when you’re in public, there’s a responsibility to each other which people have long since forgotten; we’re too busy caring about the “me” and not the “we.” It’s well beyond time to get back to working with each other to at least try to stave this virus off.)
Oh, by the way, did I tell you my family and I were in a commercial that filmed on March 1st? I had to fly to Savannah, GA and back in the space of 38 hours, and even then, every cough or sneeze on those four flights I took (I went through Charlotte, NC) resulted in a little horror movie playing out in my mind. Here’s the commercial, where I play the younger version of my dad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQv5DBfYpCQ
Before the lockdown, the good folks at Gunaxin published my reviews of some of this year’s bigger releases, whether in theaters or on streaming platforms. Here’s some extra commentary these reviews didn’t cover. Language warning: I go into the nuts and bolts of how Hamilton was released on Disney+ with a PG-13 rating.
As always, thanks go to Philip Van Der Vossen and the Gunaxin staff for giving me a chance to reach a wider audience.
Underwater – January 9
- I saw director William Eubanks’ previous film The Signal in the small MPAA theater on I Street (before its renovation and rebranding – they’re now called the MPA). The Signal was such a rich film – so full of the power of human will and an eagerness to discover, no matter how disturbing the discovery might be. Watching it in this tiny theater – hell, watching any movie in this tiny theater – was a pleasure.
- That said, I was unprepared for how he would translate that kind of ethos to Underwater, a larger-budgeted film with a more familiar and larger cast. Thankfully, he treats the material with the same, singularly-focused care given to The Signal, staying entrenched in the humanity of the story while still pinpricking us with fear throughout.
- Why is it that TJ Miller plays the annoying sidekick in movies? Cloverfield, Deadpool and Deadpool 2, and now, this – his schtick in this movie grows so tiresome after his first two lines. Seriously, I wanted to punch his character for saying stupid stuff from the moment he enters to the moment he exits.
- Could the creature attacking the human characters be none other than Cthulhu himself? Why, yes, I believe it is.
1917 – January 10
- Some critics disliked this movie, saying the one-take conceit isn’t film. I say film is whatever it wants to be, and 1917 is just as good a film as any. We’ve got no editor as our lives unfold second by second; to see something of this scale adhere to that notion is a hell of a thing.
- However, I will not lie and say that parts of 1917 weren’t fatiguing to me. I was unable to attend a theater screening and had to rely on a screener disc sent to me, so I was able to pause it when I needed to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. And boy, I am thankful for that pause button. I do wish I’d seen this on the big screen, though; a good-sized HDTV and a 5.1 home theater setup just doesn’t quite make it for a film like this. It’s like watching Star Wars in letterbox on a 10-inch portable black-and-white TV.
- I almost wish they’d gone with an entire cast of unknowns or lesser-knowns for the big cameos at the beginning and end to keep the believability of the film. Seeing Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch almost proved to be too much of a distraction, even though both played their parts well.
Bad Boys For Life – January 17
- Bad Boys is one of Michael Bay’s finest movies. The camaraderie between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence was unmatched, and Bay’s films hadn’t turned into the sick pleasure machine which clogged America’s movie theater arteries like so much cholesterol. All of this was undone by the time Bad Boys II arrived in multiplexes, being louder, faster, raunchier, and more misogynistic than before; it was a truly mean-spirited film which displayed none of the natural ease with which Smith and Lawrence operated in their first outing together. Not to mention it ripped off Jackie Chan’s Police Story from 1985 with an overcut and messy recreation of its opening shantytown destruction.
- That said, I enjoyed Bad Boys For Life, overuse of the Inner Circle song notwithstanding. It’s a more coherent film than the second, and its attempt at making things personal with Mike Lowrey’s connection to the overarching case worked for me. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, I guess.
- But I do not truck with them retconning Lowrey and Marcus Burnett’s personal and professional relationship. At all. It’s like the franchise bible got thrown out and people started making up stupid shit (the exact word to describe what they wrote) which makes no sense when looking at the previously-established timeline.
Ford v Ferrari – January 28
- Again, I saw this via awards screener. I wish I could’ve seen it in theaters. I’m looking forward to buying the 4K disc; this review was written to tie in to its home video debut. (Physical media FTW, by the way.)
- I have been watching the Starz television show “Outlander” on and off with my wife, who watches it religiously. Caitriona Balfe is excellent there and in Ford v Ferrari; no one steals a fight scene from under its combatants quite like she does when Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) mix it up in the first third of the film.
- Full disclosure: I’ve never been a motor race fan, NASCAR or otherwise; for me, the recreation of the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans was a thrilling experience.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn – February 6
- I frickin’ hated Suicide Squad. Not one redeeming bone in its body.
- Except for Margot Robbie, who wound up being why I gave it a begrudging pass. That she has her own movie to expand the character beyond her limited screentime in Suicide Squad is reason enough to rejoice. I love that she’s all over the map with her emotions and snark, essentially going unfiltered but also having a damn hilarious, deviously scheming mind.
- Is it all right that I didn’t much care for the character Ewan McGregor played? Roman Sionis is simply not written enough in either direction to make me give a hoot. I don’t believe him as a cock-diesel psycho, nor do I believe him as a guy acting by his whims.
The Call of the Wild – February 20
- Oy… enough with the CGI. Just… enough. Parts of this movie were headache-inducing because of the obvious, glaringly fake backgrounds. Y’know how I mentioned above that critics didn’t like 1917’s one-take conceit? Well, guess what: I don’t like overdone CGI movies with humans thrown in almost as an afterthought, which this movie was dangerously close to becoming.
- But the story is powerful enough to get past it, otherwise I wouldn’t have given it good marks. I love friendship stories like these, even if this one strays from Jack London’s original novel.
The Invisible Man – February 28
- I offer my sister my second seat to every horror movie I review. Watching these with her is so much fun; she’s as much of a fraidy-cat as I am, and she often makes these movies more scary just by being around her. It’s kind of fun watching this 45-year-old sibling of mine watch a horror movie through her hands at the scary parts. (It was especially comical in this instance, being that our screening of The Invisible Man took place in a totally fuck-your-senses Dolby Vision theater.) Don’t get me wrong – she’s a willing participant; quite simply, we both like being scared by movies.
- This time, though, both of us were cowering in the fetal position and crawling into the backs of our chairs at certain points. The Invisible Man is such an intense movie, neither of us could fully unclench our muscles until well out of the theater. We buy easily into horror movies, but this one didn’t have to make us buy into it; The Invisible Man forced us into submission right from the start.
- It’s hard to believe that this movie cost only $7 million to make. It easily looks like a movie ten times that budget.
- I’ve been a fan of Leigh Whannell’s creative output since the first Saw. He’s come far as a director and writer, and I’m happy there’s his kind of DIY ethic still floating around out there.
Bloodshot – April 1
- This was the first movie I reviewed for almost a month, the previous review being Onward on March 6.
- This was also the first big-budget Hollywood new release I’d seen for a month, waiting as studios and publicity firms re-strategized. Did that play into why I didn’t dislike it as much as some others might have? Possibly. But I have to admit: I don’t mind Vin Diesel. Aside from his Fast and Furious movies, he’s had some good roles; people often forget he’s in Saving Private Ryan, and I don’t think Steven Spielberg would’ve put him in there if he wasn’t capable of doing the job right.
- Also, we watched this because – as I mentioned before – my wife’s a big fan of “Outlander,” which stars Sam Heughan, who plays the evil henchman in Bloodshot.
- Dude. We may have come to the movie for big action and hulking biceps, but Lamorne Morris runs away with it the minute he appears on screen. I’ve been a fan of his since “New Girl,” and I hope to see more of him in the future.
7500 – June 17
- I’ve always liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s come a long way since his “3rd Rock From The Sun” days, and he suffers a bit from what I call Leonardo DiCaprio Syndrome: it’s hard to see him in adult roles. Not that I see him as Tommy from “3rd Rock,” mind you; it’s more that his youthful looks have been spared the ravages of a lifetime in the industry, and it’s difficult for me to see past this. However, his performance in 7500 enabled me to see the man he’s become, and I think my problem has to do with the fact that I’ve never seen him as a parent before. Here, he’s the father of an unseen child, and he’s making his decisions based on getting himself and his partner – along with the rest of the passengers on a plane – out of a hijacking.
- The use of Muslim hijackers doesn’t sit well with me. After all the Muslim community has done to foster good relations in the wake of 9/11, this feels like a huge cop-out, an ill-wielded crutch which lands superficially and without thought other than “These are the bad guys.” Could’ve been any number of ethnic, religious, or racial groups carrying this mission out; there is no purpose, no deeper meaning, no reason for this hijacking other than to kill. Without any depth, it’s just a means to an end, a caricature. I get that the writers and director wanted a matter-of-fact, real-time movie, where it’s not outside the realm of reason that things would go unexplained. But there’s a lot of conflict within one of the hijackers which could have led easily to some kind of understanding.
- The entirety of this film takes place in an airplane cockpit, yet there’s not a hint of staleness to wear away at the film. For being a bottle episode in such a small space, the urgency never bleeds dry.
Hamilton – July 5
- My family has been lucky enough to have seen Hamilton performed twice – once on Broadway, once at the Kennedy Center in DC. Both casts were energetic and moving, and my praise of this original cast in this review should not be taken as a slight against them.
- I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since 2016, and I still don’t have all the nuances down. Reading the book Hamilton: The Revolution contains anecdotes and the entire libretto of the play with footnotes by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself which are a huge help in understanding the ins and outs of his process, along with the various in-jokes littered throughout.
- Back in 2003, Juniper Lane (the band I play drums for) shared an outdoor bill with a band called Swath out of Baltimore (I think?), and they performed a song called “Millard Fillmore.” It read like a term paper set to a rock track, which was totally thrown off by the song’s final line: “All the ladies did the butt with President Fillmore!” When I first heard the Hamilton soundtrack, Swath’s song was the first thing I thought of – it felt like a high school history lesson, and I sucked at history. So I gave up on Hamilton – sin, I know. But hearing Miranda also did music and lyrics for Moana made me rethink how to listen to Hamilton again, and my family and I wound up absorbing nothing but the original cast recording for months on end.
- The film’s PG-13 rating was a compromise due to its language. For those keeping score, there are several “shit”s, some suggestive sexual dancing/grinding, and 3.5 uses of the word “fuck” in the play. One “fuck” was already bleeped on Broadway for comedic effect; for the film version, the other full two were reverse-censored, while the only surviving half-obscenity is more of a “fuuuuhhhh” without the closing consonant. PG-13s have been given to films with at least three of these; hell, The Right Stuff went to theaters and home video in the early ‘80s with seven “fuck”s and a PG! Then again, this version of Hamilton was released by Disney; they’d sooner close down Disneyland permanently than release a movie under their banner containing this word, I’m guessing. Also, it’s going out over the Disney+ streaming service, so they couldn’t have this kind of language on there. I’m hoping a Blu-Ray comes out with an uncensored audio track.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda is a gift we don’t deserve. Positivity, creativity, imagination – we should all hope to use each of our talents as well as he does for the betterment of people. And apparently, he’s a totally nice guy. (Did I mention how he retweeted me spotting his name in the credits of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker?) I’m looking forward to seeing the film adaptation of his previous Broadway musical In The Heights.
Stay safe and healthy out there. I’m still here and I’m still writing, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading.
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