Oscars 2023, Reviews

Oscars Watch 2023: Elvis Review

Tom Hanks’s Colonel turns a great movie into a good one, which is a real shame.

Score: 3/5

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis has the director’s unique style plastered all over the retelling of Elvis Presley’s life, for better and worse. The King of Rock and Roll’s career is a powerful and sad story all at once, but Luhrmann’s tendencies don’t necessarily make for the best film. For every interesting shot, there is a bizarre choice like adding modern music spliced with Elvis’s music as an example. Hearing a song from Doja Cat in a movie about Elvis is just odd and pulls me out of the experience every time. A bigger issue though that really hampers this movie is the story decision to frame this story around the narration and takes of Elvis’s business manager, Colonel Tom Parker played by Tom Hanks.

You see, on top of Hanks’ over-the-top performance feeling out of place with everyone else in the movie, Colonel Tom Parker is the villain of the film. Not an oh-you-like-this-guy type of villain. No, this is guy you just don’t want to be around. Except the writer’s decided that the best way to move through the events of Mr. Presley’s life was through the guise of a scummy con man that would fit more in the SNL sketch of this movie than the actual film itself. Like the music choices I mentioned earlier, it’s perplexing. The movie makes no secrets that this character isn’t one to root for, which is fine, but why have him be the glue of the story of Elvis? Why gloss over moments and other aspects of the central character for someone that is very one note? He wants money, he wants to use people to get money, and that is all there is to it. These questions only become more glaring as you watch the movie since Austin Butler delivers an award worthy performance of Elvis.

This movie would not be in contention for best picture without Butler’s performance. He’s excellent as Elvis and adds additional depth to the character where the script decided to focus more on the Colonel. Butler is electric and commands the screen in every scene. You can see that addiction to both the love of the crowd and the drugs in his eyes. There’s that pain that the movie doesn’t spend nearly enough time exploring that he makes clear in just looks. It’s always key to getting the casting right, and everyone else outside of Hank’s Colonel meshes well with Butler’s Elvis. They feed off each other and make for compelling moments, and fun concert scenes. Why it was decided to not let Elvis be the teller of his own story will always confuse me.

There is a better movie within the parts of Elvis, a movie that could have been close to a no brainer for winning the Best Picture. Instead, odd choices in the plot, production, and a wacky performance from Tom Hanks keeps this movie from being a great one.

Reviews

The Fabelmans Review

Spielberg captures the magic of movies as only he can.

Score: 4/5

Walking out of the theater after watching The Fabelmans it took me a while to process everything I had seen. The story is inspired by Director Steven Spielberg’s own childhood, and it explores many different subjects. The struggles of mixed support about a passion, a dysfunctional family life, and antisemitism, but at its core, it speaks to how powerful art (in this case, movies) can be to help any one of us in navigating through the trials of life. It’s about dreams, and how we shouldn’t push them aside no matter how hard it can be to accept what that may cost.

Like many of Spielberg’s movies, he finds the right balance in the emotional story while peppering in drama, comedy, and joy that all of his coming-of-age movies nail. Also, per the Spielberg norm, he has an eye for exceptional young acting talents in his main lead Gabriel LaBelle. In a movie with Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch it would be easy to get lost in their shadow but LaBelle shines as Sammy Fabelman. You feel for his struggles of having one parent who sees his passion as a mere hobby, and the other struggling to accept that they don’t love their partner. This is all on top of having no escape outside of the home with antisemitism at school.

It may seem I am painting the picture that this is a sad movie, but it’s anything but. Throughout we see the wonder of someone falling in love with their creative expression. We see how this affects his connection to his family, be it his mom, his dad, or his sisters. We even find time for some action set pieces that at once seem insane yet completely in line with the movie’s dance between whimsical and dramatic. It may seem par the course for Spielberg, but it feels different in this story. I also appreciated his peppering in of his Jewish culture exposing me to aspects of childhood that I have never experienced myself.

This is a movie that through all the dramatic and fun moments, comes back to the same idea, Sammy can’t escape, or ignore what he loves. It’s making movies and it’s that theme weaving in and out of all those moments that hit me hardest. As someone who continues to battle with the idea of following your dreams versus what the world at large tells you to do instead, this movie kept me entranced. While I may have known where things would end, I cheered for him to keep on pushing for his dreams, because what else is more magical than that? The Fabelmans isn’t just a love letter to film or a story about his childhood. It’s a charming and powerful reminder that no matter what, you must listen to your heart.

To all you artists out there, watch this movie, and feel that extra hit of inspiration. Spielberg’s got our backs.

Reviews

M3GAN Review

DON’T F WITH AI

SCORE: 3 / 5

Another first weekend of January, another horror movie to get the movie theater year going! This year Universal brings us the andriod-mixed-with-horror-doll movie M3GAN. I had a fun time watching this movie, it has a good mix of humor, and unsettling horror as an AI four-foot doll is tasked with protecting a young girl processing the death of her parents and as you’d expect it goes entirely off the rails.

Let’s get the not-fun stuff out of the way first. This movie falls back on a tried-and-true plot of many science fiction stories, don’t make a super advanced computer without putting in some aggressive guardrails. Otherwise, you get a Model 3 Generation Andriod (aka M3GAN) that very quickly decides the solution to most problems is murder. Along with that is the human part of the story to give a reason as to why M3GAN comes to be. M3GAN’s creator, Gemma, works for a company that makes somehow more annoying versions of Furbies. Remember those ugly-looking things? Anyways, the movie opens with her sister’s family on a car ride getting hit by a snowplow leaving just her niece, Cady alive. As a way to cope for Cady, and as an escape from being a parent Gemma finishes a prototype for a ridiculous idea for a future children’s toy, M3GAN, and introduces it to Cady. The movie glosses over the ideas of processing trauma and parenting just enough to justify the plot that follows, but it’s definitely the least interesting part of the movie. A standout moment of this is showing the level of withdrawals Cady will express when not with M3GAN. It’s a bit much.

That said, this movie knows what people paid for. A bonkers evil doll doing terrible things. Watching what is the size of a child incorporate a dance she learned from Cady as she prepares to murder someone is always entertaining. Instead of the supernatural twist of powers beyond her physical body, M3GAN is an AI and the movie leans into this several times to show that if there is technology to hack into, she will use it. Anytime M3GAN is on screen there is always either a moment of horror or comedy which is good news with this being the main draw of the movie. It’s simple and it works, focus on the killer robot doll and the movie shines.

All to say, M3GAN is still the typical horror movie with the same beats you have probably seen twenty times, but it’s the unique flavor of mixing AI, a terminator, and a toy doll that makes for a fun time at the theater.

Reviews

Three Thousand Years of Longing Review

Stories, and the discussion of them is important, this movie not so much.

Score: 2 / 5

I knew going into this movie that this wasn’t going to be another Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s previous masterpiece from 2015. Yet maybe it the trailer mixed with just the general storytelling approach from Fury Road that I had an expectation going into this movie. A wacky romance of sorts but with that same stellar show not tell wizardry that Miller employed with Fury Road. That is not what I got from Three Thousand Years of Longing. While it is a romance, the film both felt stretched too thin and too packed at the same time.

To explain, the movie’s plot structure felt like at times this was two different movies, or one story that needed a wrapper to feel complete for some audiences. One a story about stories themselves told through the fantastical journey of Idris Ebla’s Djinn. A Djinn by the way is like a genie with more depth. It’s the whole three wishes after being released from a bottle concept. Which that as the crux of the story would have worked! Yet then the romance piece of the story really takes hold and feels super disjointed. This story feels like a blanket around the concept that makes this movie interesting and not just another romance movie. This follows Tilda Swinton’s Alithea, who is a very introverted yet passionate woman the through the story falls for The Djinn. This story also could have been interesting! It just wasn’t the focus until it was. Again, it was this two movies in one feeling that just didn’t feel like it built off one another enough. To compound on this issue, the movie feels like it could have ended several times, and when it reaches the final ending, I felt exhausted. Not rewarded, exhausted.

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy some of the back and forth of Alithea and the Djinn, but I’ll be honest that I didn’t really feel the chemistry. You ever hear in a song or TV show where a character says, “you don’t love me, you love the idea of being in love?” That’s the best way I can describe how their love was coming across to me.

Something else that got under my skin were a lot of the transition and structure decisions. At a certain point it’s decided that this movie will use title cards to break up beats of the movie. That’s fine, but why wasn’t this there from the start? This issue also popped up in my head when we get to the more romance chunk of the movie. The amount of fade to black transitions just felt distracting, and sloppy. That’s the best way to describe the movie to me, it feels distracted and sloppy. Which makes it harder when Fury Road felt so damn laser focused and thought out.

Before I close, I will say, there is a bit of this movie that made it interesting for me. That would be the beginning through the several stories of the Djinn. They carried moments of terror, wonder, and spectacle. They felt special and I wished that these feelings continued through to the conclusion arc of the movie. They don’t though. They devolve or disappear entirely. Fantasy becomes heartless science. An interesting exploration and discussion of story falls into predictable love story mode on fast-forward. It falls flat in all ways for me, which yeah, after Fury Road it’s a big bummer.

Three Thousand Years of Longing has some interesting ideas, but through a disjointed approach to the story and sloppy pacing, it falls flat into a very skippable movie.

Reviews

Thor: Love and Thunder Review

It’s fine, Thor’s fine, Marvel’s fine. Right?

Score: 3/5

As Marvel Studios continues down the road of what the heck to do after Avengers: Endgame it has felt more and more like Marvel doesn’t know either. Maybe it’s a strategy to come back with a more robust vision in time, or an admission that what came before will not be possible to sustain going forward. All that is to say Thor: Love and Thunder is another fine, okay, it’s alright kind of movie. One or two every so often in this never-ending journey of Marvel characters is one thing but it’s getting a tad exhausting.

Getting that out of the way time to really talk about Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s solid, and pretty funny at points if you are into the child-like humor that director Taika Waititi is known for. My two personal favorites are a pair of ridiculous goats and a love triangle you may or may not see coming between Thor and two other “characters.” Chris Hemsworth’s more comedic Thor still works so much better for me than serious over-the-top drama pre-Ragnarök Thor ever did. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster / Mighty Thor feels like the first time that she has been given a fun role in a big blockbuster. It’s clear from the get-go that she got to enjoy herself and not feel trapped under the weight of a weak script for her character. Then there is Christian Bale’s Gorr. He is creepy, he is interesting, he is fun to watch on screen, and just like 85% of Marvel villains he gets very little time for the audience to enjoy him.

While the movie is funny and has plenty of action beats, I felt that as I watched the movie felt hollow. It ran at a quick pace like it wanted to be over as quickly as possible. Very few beats had moments to breathe or be challenged. Gorr, as I mentioned before, was severely lacking in some of that department. While on the topic of Gorr and Marvel villains again. I have reached a breaking point of seeing random monster henchmen designs. They don’t make for interesting action scenes after you have seen it done a bajillion times in the MCU. One last nitpick, for me, voice-overs are the hardest thing to pull off in a movie without feeling lazy or too over the top to get the point across and this movie has moments like that. It didn’t work for me in the slightest.

I still can’t quite put my finger on what has been going on recently with the Marvel releases but Love and Thunder continues the trend of being adequate. It isn’t wowing you with anything so amazing on screen that you can be distracted from other shortcomings, but it also isn’t so offensively terrible that you won’t have at least a good time at the moment. Thor: Love and Thunder is the second best-ish Thor movie, which after Ragnarök the bar is admittedly low. It’s fun at times, dumb at others. It’s very empty of a movie but moves fast enough that you may forgive it. It’s okay, which hey take that as you will when deciding if it’s worth seeing in theaters or waiting eight weeks for Disney+.

Reviews

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

The Multiverse of Madness delivers the horror, goofy, and MCU-ness but not quite on an impactful journey level.

Score: 3 / 5

After nearly 6 years Doctor Strange finally has a sequel to what I thought was an entertaining and interesting first movie. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels like the culmination of all the MCU projects that have come after Spider-Man: Far From Home uttered the words multiverse. It goes farther than even the Disney+ show Loki did in giving you a taste of what Marvel’s multiverse is. There are so many realities and trippy moments, and it notches up the horror and violence to a level that I don’t think we have seen so far from Marvel. The movie has so many “wow!” moments and fun cameos you’d expect from a multiverse story. Yet with all of that, I felt a bit underwhelmed.

It’s taken me a good bit of time to unravel the feelings I have had about this move and where I stand. Which is to say I feel like the big thing missing from this movie that makes the overall package feel lackluster is the journey of the two leads of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda/Scarlet Witch.  While the story of events happening was not difficult for me to follow or didn’t make sense, it just felt hollow. I know, I know, Marvel movies having depth? I’d argue many of them do. I’d even say the first Doctor Strange had more going on for the growth of Stephen Strange than anything that happens in this movie. It’s even more difficult for me to follow because of how nearly one-note Wanda becomes throughout this movie. I get the motivations but it sure would have helped to have more scenes to explore maybe some level of conflict inside her.

Moving aside from this aspect of the movie, it delivers some really interesting new things to the MCU. Director Sam Raimi injects some dark moments along with some of his signature goofiness. There is one sequence towards the middle of the film that really drew me in as it was genuinely horrifying to watch. I honestly am shocked they went that far at points. There are also some fun and mind-bending multiverse moments that fit right at home with the trippy scenes from the first Doctor Strange. The finale also gives us something that is uniquely Strange, and I loved it. There are some other things I’d love to dig into but I’m keeping this review spoiler-free.

Overall, I had a great time with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it has a great mix of horror, goofy, and the typical MCU-ness moments you want out of these movies, but some hollow depth for the lead character’s journeys of the movie left me feeling just alright instead of ready to go right back for another showing.

Reviews

Everything Everywhere All at Once Review

Everything Everywhere All at Once really does feel like everything, everywhere, all at once. It’s a masterpiece.

Score 5/5

Directors/Writers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is something special. It made me laugh, it made my cry, it made me reflect upon myself, and I can’t stop thinking about it after watching it. It’s one of the best films I have seen this year, and one of the best films I have seen period.

Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant mother trying her damnedest to keep her family and her family’s business from falling apart. In the start of the film her marriage is crumbling, her relationship with her daughter is strained, her relationship with her father is strained, and her family business is on thin ice with the IRS. It’s a lot for anyone person and just when it seems things can’t get worse, Evelyn learns an insane truth, she alone can save the universe from an impending doom by connecting with other versions of her life throughout the infinite alternate universes.

That last bit threw you for a loop, right? Well, it’s not even close for how wacky this movie gets, and while the film goes to absurd places it never loses that drama. It amplifies it, it dives in headfirst to speak about everything that Evelyn is going through. I don’t want to spoil how off the wall it gets, but it’s a film that oozes in confidence taking you on a ride that will make you feel many feelings and revel in the entertaining action that you have probably never seen before. Did I say action? Yeah, this is just as much of an action movie as it is an adventure, a drama, a comedy. I desperately want to say more about what you are in for, but I don’t want to spoil it. If you are even remotely interested, go in with as little information as possible. You’ll thank me later for that recommendation.

The main cast of this movie are excellent in this story that jumps all over the place. Michelle Yeoh is brilliant, she carries this film with poise through every wacky moment and every heartfelt dramatic beat. Ke Huy Quan plays Evelyn’s husband Waymond Wang with such child-like charm and energy. His positivity radiates even in the darkest moments. Stephanie Hsu rounds out the main trio of the cast playing Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter Joy. She has just as a heavy load to carry in this film as Yeoh does and she nails it. Everyone in the cast buys in to the absurd, to the dramatic, to the journey of this film. Like I said the film is swimming in confidence and you can see it in cast.

This is all wrapped in a production that just goes for it. You see it in the costumes and set design. You hear it in the score and sound. Every element is giving is their A-game. How I want to say more specific things, give you hilarious examples, but I’m resisting. This is a movie that if you generally like movies you have to see this. So don’t wait, find a theater, find a showtime, experience this movie!

Reviews

The Adam Project Review

The Adam Project passes the Netflix algorithm test.

Maybe Watch It?

It’s been a little while since I have watched a Netflix original movie. What I remembered from the last few I watched were they felt like they were created by an AI that just looks for the buzz words it can find from viewer patterns. I figured though, why not check out The Adam Project. Director Shawn Levy makes fun movies, and I enjoy the Ryan Reynolds humor. Well, this movie still feels like it was made by the Netflix AI checklist, but with the exact things I just described.

The Adam Project is a solid, unoffensive, pre-teen adventure movie. It has a simple sci-fi plot about time travel, which gives the excuse for some flashy special effects. It has very clear lines of good, Ryan Reynold’s Adam Reed, and bad, Catherine Keener’s Maya Sorian. It even gets MCU alums Mark Ruffalo, and Zoe Saldana in the mix to give it a little more star power. It’s simple, the plot moves quickly with little time to really think about what’s going on and isn’t really trying to do anything that will stick in your brain. Typical Netflix content.

I won’t waste time nitpicking the plot because the movie isn’t trying to blow your socks off in that department. It’s simple stuff, think of an even more bland version of simple MCU plots and you get the idea. The most interesting about this movie which happens to be the heart of the movie is the dynamic between Reynolds’ adult Adam Reed with Reed’s twelve-year-old self played by Walker Scobell. Reynolds has a very specific kind of humor and Scobell does a pretty great job nailing that style but in a young boy’s delivery. They have solid chemistry and honestly if it wasn’t for that this movie would be a slog to get through.

What you get is once more another by the numbers movie that you can put on with the family or have on in the background to pass the time. Do you NEED to watch this movie? Not at all, but if you enjoy simple action-adventure movies for families or family-friendly Ryan Reynolds you might want to give The Adam Project a watch.

Reviews

The Batman Review

Vengeance has arrived. The Batman is the detective take on the caped crusader that we have always been missing.

SEE THIS MOVIE NOW!

Director Matt Reeves and team have given me the Batman movie I have always wanted to see. It’s a detective story, one where we see Robert Pattinson’s Batman solving a mystery, specifically what Paul Dano’s The Riddler has in store for Gotham City. When I say it’s a detective story, it means we see a whole lot more of Batman observing, questioning, and trying to piece things together with some sluthing versus where previous Batman movies have the super Bat-Computer solving the mystery really quickly, and it’s more Batman has to do a Batman fight to solve the problem. This isn’t that movie, the focus isn’t about finding the next person for Batman to beat up, which he still does in the movie, but it doesn’t feel centered around it. Batman also teams up frequently with Jeffrey Wright’s Gordon, Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle, and Andy Serkis’s Alfred to piece together what in the world The Riddler is trying to bring to the light.

With so many side characters it would be easy for them to get lost, but the three-hour length really gives the movie time to give you moments with everyone. Everyone also includes more interesting villains like Collin Farrell’s completely unrecognizable turn as Oswald Cobbelpot aka The Penguin and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone. This movie has a lot going on, and a lot of characters to juggle but like a good Batman comic or the excellent Batman Arkham video games, The Batman intertwines them so well that it feels so much more interconnected. Everyone revolves around the central mystery of the dark past of Gotham and it makes for a fun watching experience as everything and everyone gets pieced together.

Storywise, this movie isn’t about how Bruce Wayne becomes The Batman. He already is. This movie is about Bruce understanding that there has to be more to The Batman than just fear and beating criminals up. While it’s not an origin story for Batman, it is for the several villians mentioned above, The Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, they all grow into who they are meant to be throughout this movie.

As for characters as a whole, the cast nails it. Everyone is super compelling and fun to watch. At times Pattinson’s Bruce may be a little too mid-two thousands emo, but he is also someone who never properly processed his parents’ death and is a reclusive rich white man who fights crime at night so I can allow it. I have been far over the constant, rich playboy version of Bruce Wayne. Bring on more of the tortured young man who is working through severe trauma. As Batman though, this is my favorite version of the character by a mile. His more makeshift approach to things, the more listening, and slow menace approach is super welcomed. He makes other versions of the Batman look like a theme park entertainer in comparison. This is a Batman that would scare people. Which is the whole point right?

Other standouts are the trio of villains. Paul Dano is so damn creepy as The Riddler. When something doesn’t go perfect and he has his violent outbursts, ooof that is something to watch. Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle / Catwoman is a lot of fun. You can feel for her situation and wanting revenge, while she radiates a playfulness that is both attractive and funny depending on the moment. Also, the chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson is excellent. I can’t remember the last time where Batman having some romantic feelings for another character didn’t feel super hollow and wooden. They both play tortured souls that have a connection very well and it shows. Finally, Collin Farrell as the slimy Penguin is just great. Beyond not being able to tell it’s Farrell, the guy is just that type of scum that you just want to punch in the face. He’s both pathetic and dangerous at the same time.

I would be remiss to not mention the visuals and audio end of things. Cinematographer Grieg Fraser masterfully captures the darkness and grime of this version of Gotham. The lighting, the shot composition, there are moments of this movie that would look excellent on a canvas. In the audio world, Michael Giacchino shows that it’s possible to make new themes on classic characters that have already had memorable scores in the past. All three of the big themes, Batman, Catwoman, and The Riddler perfectly complement their onscreen characters and elevate the scenes. But one bit of audio that I had to mention outside the score, is the thuds of when Batman is walking out of the shadows. It’s menacing and sets the mood that this guy is not someone to mess around with it. It’s great, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

All of this is to say I loved The Batman. There are far too many things I want to say about this movie and have every intention of seeing it several more times in the theaters. This is not just another Batman movie this is THE Batman, and if you are even a casual fan you need to check this one out as soon as you get a chance.

Reviews

Spider-Man: No Way Home Spoiler-Free Review

The best Spider-Man has been.

Watch This NOW!

Spider-Man films have always had a chip on their shoulder when it comes to the closing chapter of a series of films. 2007’s Spider-Man 3 fumbled it, and the gone earlier than expected 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 crashed in flames. There just hasn’t been that one to stick the landing. The common theme with both of those films was going bigger and adding as many villains as possible. It was a balancing act that just didn’t work for either of those enteries. Well Spider-Man: No Way Home goes bigger, it is stuffed to the brim with characters, and it worked. Spider-Man: No Way Home is the best live-action Spider-Man to date.

Its expert mixture of characters, action, and emotional moments elevates this film far beyond just Spider-Man movies. It is really up there at the top of all the MCU movies so far released. Make no mistake the action and large amount of characters push this movie to move at a quick pace but it never feels like it needs more time to breathe. Everything fits very nicely, but all of this would be for nothing if the story didn’t have a strong punch for Peter. This movie does that, again and again. There were several moments in this movie that put a tear in my eye, and there were many laughs to be had. There were moments of audience wonder and group reaction that really I have only seen in a handful of other movies period.

Suffice to say, this third entry hits every note, splashes you with nostalgia in all the right ways, and moves you emotionally like so few of the Marvel films do. It’s the best acting I have seen from MCU Tom Holland and the Spider-Man movie that for the first time in the MCU really tackles the Spider-Man question what comes with great power? Responsibility. Spider-Man: No Way Home is excellent and is one of the most fun movies of the year.