THE SISTERS BROTHERS

the sisters brothers

by Alan Yudman

What would you do for your brother? Would you give up your dreams to protect him and keep him safe? That is the question at the heart of THE SISTERS BROTHERS, the new western from director Jacques Audiard.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly are Charlie and Eli Sisters. They are notorious assassins, chasing a man through southern Oregon and northern California in the 1850’s. The work for a mysterious man known only as the Commodore. When someone steals from him, he sends the Sisters Brothers are sent to recover whatever it is and kill the thief. They are very good at their job, if a bit extreme. This time they are after a chemist colorfully named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who has a formula for extracting gold from rivers. A tracker is also after him (Jake Gyllenhaal), acting as a ghoulish advance man for the Sisters Brothers murderous task.

The brothers are both brutal, but in different ways. Charlie is a blunt instrument, killing without much remorse or consideration for conscience or his soul. Eli is more thoughtful. He has thought about getting out and how that happens. He is a sensitive soul who seems to only be in it to protect his brother from the revenge that is surely in their future. Phoenix is great. His slightly crazy eyes play perfectly into Charlie’s personality. As good as he is, Reilly is better. He is tortured and exasperated by some of what Charlie has done. He pines for a woman and is not happy that Charlie makes fun of him for it. As angry as he gets at Charlie, Eli would never abandon him, even though he threatens to. And when Charlie is horribly injured, Eli takes charge of the partnership to care for his brother and end their commitment to the Commodore.

The supporting performances from Ahmed and Gyllenhaal are also strong. Every character is more layered than he appears. Ahmed talks about a socialist utopia, while Gyllenhaal writes like a man who has too much education for his job and who is escaping his own demons.

While the film takes place in the American west Spain and Romania stand in for Oregon and California. I really didn’t notice much of a difference. The score by Alexandre Desplat is brooding and ominous, perfectly fitting the tone of the film.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS is a thoughtful meditation on brotherhood, brutality and the society of the 1850’s American Frontier. It’s what a good western can be in the right hands.

EIGHT GRADE

eighth grade

by Alan Yudman

Bo Burnham became famous making YouTube videos, so it makes sense that is the plot device around which his first movie, EIGHTH GRADE, is centered.

Kayla is in eighth grade. She is at the end of eighth grade and getting ready for the completely new experience of high school. She is not quite average. She is just kind of moving through school. Not many friends. Not popular, but not unpopular. She is one of those kids who is kind of wallpaper or furniture, People move around her but don’t really notice her. The one thing she does to set her apart is that she makes advice videos on YouTube (now you see the Burnham connection). Much like her, no one notices them. They have almost no viewers.

And that is kind of what the movie is about. Kayla wants to be more, but isn’t. She is not especially happy and wants to be cool, but it just isn’t in her cards. She gets invited to one party, only because the girl’s Mom wants to hook up with Kayla’s good looking single dad. It’s a pool party and Kayla shows up and walks through the crowd being ignored. It’s kind of a brilliantly shot scene. Burnham follows her from the back and all you can see is her slumped shoulders moving through the party. She wants to be noticed, but her body language says otherwise.

The genius of the film is in how average Kayla is. She thinks she isn’t, but she is just an average, anxious teenager. Brunham and Elise Fisher (Kayla) are in some kind of perfect symbiosis. The videos are ostensibly for others, but really act as Kayla working out her problems out loud.

Burnham’s script captures the oeuvre of being a teenager more perfectly than any movie I can think of outside of a John Hughes movie. EIGHTH GRADE special movie by a very talented storyteller. Should be one of the best movies of the year, ya know, it ya want… or not. Whatever.

A SIMPLE FAVOR

a simple favor

by Alan Yudman

Can you do me A SIMPLE FAVOR? Go see this movie. It is the best combination of comedy and noir, mystery-thriller. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. It is in reality a mystery-thriller that has some funny parts.

Anna Kendrick is a Mommy-Vlogger who meets Blake Lively, the mom of one of her son’s classmates. Kendrick’s Stephanie Smothers is kind of the Mom every other parent hates. She bakes stuff, volunteers for everything and is excruciatingly bubbly. She meets Blake Lively’s Emily when their sons demand a playdate. Emily is an uber-successful public relations executive for a New York designer. That’s who they both appears to be on the surface.. but the theme of this movie is that everyone has secrets in their past. And they all come bubbling to the surface as Emily disappears and Stephanie becomes an amateur sleuth, obsessed with finding her “best friend”.

The best part of this movie is Lively. She is a modern day Barbara Stanwyck or Lauren Bacall. Yeah, I know that’s quite the high bar. But trust me, she lives up to the comparison. She is amazing. Lively is glamorous, sharp-witted, sexy and mysterious. Without her outstanding performance, I’m not sure this movie would have worked as well.

Kendrick is the best version of herself. The slightly manic pixie, but toned down, more serious and slyly smart. The comedy mostly comes from her character and her timing is flawless. She is an outstanding comic actor. But that shouldn’t short sell her overall ability.

A SIMPLE FAVOR is directed by Paul Feig and written by Jessica Sharzer. The script is good. The directing is wonderful. Feig, who is known for comedies like SPY and BRIDESMAIDS shows he has more tools in his toolbox, arrows in his quiver… however you want to describe it. He gets all the right shots to enhance tension and set the noir tone. There are several scenes that Hitchcock would be proud of. Maybe they were cribbed from the master, but if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best. The Mommy Vlogger thing isn’t just Stephanie’s job, it becomes an integral part of the story and it’s resolution. It’s an example that really nothing is dismissed as trivial by Feig. And watch for one scene near the end involving a Prius. I laughed out loud and quite inappropriately.

I don’t want to pass by the music. It is mostly French pop and it works perfectly in setting the tone for the film. It was a great choice Feig and Music Supervisor Erica Weis.

I’ve read some reviews that say the movie falls apart at the end. I don’t think it falls apart at all. It becomes a twisty, Hitchcockian thriller where everyone is more than you thought they were. You may not like the resolution or how they get there, but that doesn’t mean if “falls apart”. It’s just a different choice. In this case, I think the choices were perfect. A SIMPLE PLAN is a fabulous movie.

BLACKKKLANSMAN

blackkklansman

by Alan Yudman

I have read plenty of reviews that BLACKKKLANSMAN is the triumphant return of Spike Lee. Where did he go? Nowhere. He was here all the time producing, directing, going to Knicks games. You know.. being Spike Lee.

Maybe those critics say that because this is a shocking return to movies like DO THE RIGHT THING.. funny, dramatic and insightful films that wear their point right there on their sleeves. If that’s what these critics are saying, then ok, I get it.

BLACKKKLANSMAN is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American on the Colorado Springs, Colorado police force. He winds up infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white, Jewish detective named Flip Zimmerman.

This is the early 1970’s.. so Ron has to deal with all kinds of racism… external and within the police force (Fredrick Weller turns in an underrated performance as the most racist cop you may ever see). In his first assignment, Ron has to infiltrate a speech by Kwame Ture (expertly played by Corey Hawkins). In a movie filled with powerful scenes, this is one of the most beautifully shot. Ture is speaking about revolution and the beauty of Black people. Lee chooses not focus much on Ture, instead on the audience in a series of close-ups that simply support Ture’s thesis. It is quite moving and one of the best things I’ve seen on film this year.

The performances in general are fantastic. John David Washington (you may know his dad Denzel) is solid as Ron Stallworth. Adam Driver plays Flip.. has Driver ever turned a performance could be considered average? I can’t think of one. He is one of the most consistently outstanding actors working right now.

The movie is bookended by two scenes. One is Alec Baldwin as a racist Klan leader trying to record a filmed message for his followers. He stumbles and misspeaks throughout the whole thing. Not sure of the intent. Maybe to portray these guys as buffoons.

The end is a montage of video and photos from the deadly 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. I get what Lee is trying to do. Just because Ron is successful in busting the Klan in Colorado, doesn’t mean it is the end of racism. In fact naked racism is seemingly more virulent than ever. It is a shocking, gut punch ending and completely effective.

It Spike Lee in fact did go anywhere (spoiler alert.. he didn’t) then I for one am glad this Spike Lee is back.

(Oh spoiler alert.. I lived in Colorado Springs for a year. The scenes in the city are not Colorado Springs. Not close. But that’s just my little pet peeve.)

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

by Alan Yudman

GET OUT was last year’s ground breaking movie that was of a genre but really a biting social commentary. It was so good it won Jordan Peele a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

This year that torch has been passed to SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. Where get out was chiefly about race and racism, S.T.B.Y. touches on a smorgasbord of injustice. Boots Riley hits racism, sexism, classism… really all the “isms”. It addresses being “othered” unlike any movie you’ve ever seen.

Every performance is standout. Lakeith Stanfield (ATLANTA and GET OUT) is wonderful as underachieving Cassius Green. But he seems to be underachieving because of outside forces. His girlfriend is an artist expertly played by Tessa Thompson. You have to watch her scenes just for the social protest earrings she wears all the time. Every scene is a different commentary through her accessories. Those are the stellar, breakthrough performances.

Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Steven Yeun and Terry Crews are all wonderful.

The movie address the rights of workers, the inherent racism of a workplace, discrimination against lower classes and the evil of mega corporations. So, a full plate. But it is never oppressive with its message. You get it.. it gets that you get it and moves on.

Boots Riley has had a full career as the leader of the Oakland Hip Hop collective The Coup. This is his first movie that was years in the making. It was well worth the wait. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is fun, funny and through provoking. And sometimes it is just flat out bonkers. It’s a movie that sticks with you and that you want to see again in case you missed something the first time. If it doesn’t receive the same recognition as GET OUT, Hollywood’s nods to inclusion are complete bullshit.

THE INCREDIBLES 2

by Alan Yudman

The Parrs are back. And the world is better for it.

THE INCREDIBLES 2 picks up where the first movie left off. Superheroes are still illegal and the Parr family is still using their powers despite the risk. Now there is a billionaire mogul who wants to change the law and wants to use Elastigirl as the face of his public relations campaign.

There’s a new villain, but that person isn’t revealed until about two-thirds of the way through the movie in a well hidden twist.

The real star of the movie is Baby Jack Jack. At the end of the first movie we learn that he may have powers. Those powers are allowed to breathe here. And in one of the movies best scene, Jack Jack has it out with a pesky raccoon.

There is also a very modern family dynamic. Helen has to go off to support the family, making Bob the stay at home Dad. He struggles with questions about his manhood, his ability to support his family and how little he actually knows about being a parent.

The script and direction are superb. What else would you expect from Brad Bird? The animation is familiar because it is so similar to the first film, but the technology allows for more detail which enhances the experience.

The voice acting is also stellar from Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Bob Odenkirk, Katherine Keener, Sarah Vowell and Samuel L. Jackson.

Here’s hoping it’s not another 14 years before we see the Parrs in a movie again.

CATCHING UP

 

by Alan Yudman

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Meh. This movie felt too long and too much. They seemed to try to pack in about three movies into one and still it wasn’t enough.. we have to wait for a part two next year. That is unless you were wiped out by Thanos’ finger snap.
These mega blockbuster hero movies are wearing thin on me. The stories are kinda boring. Characters don’t get a chance to fully develop. Really in this movie Thanos is the one character who has an interesting arc. The heroes do hero stuff and not much else.
I prefer the movies that focus on one hero. We learn more about the character and there’s less bombast.
Yes, I’ll see Part 2 just to see how they un-kill everyone.

OCEANS 8

This was a funny movie with a satisfying story and a twist I didn’t see coming. The ensemble is greater than any one character. The weakest link seemed to be Sandra Bullock. She played it very straight. Maybe she was going for George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, but her character lacked some of his charm.
Standouts were Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and James Corden.
Ann Hathaway shined. She played the stereotype of herself and stole the movie.
All in all, a successful sequel.

SOLO

Man the fanboys (and fangirls) didn’t like this movie. A lot. I don’t know what their problem is. And I don’t have a degree in psychology that would enable me to figure it out.
This movie is fine. It was fun. It was entertaining. The challenge here was telling an origin story where we already know the characters, maybe too well. So it could have turned into and eye roll, but it didn’t at all.
Alden Ehrenreich was good. Woody Harrelson was sold as usual.
Emilia Clarke is very good in Game of Thrones. But I keep seeing her in the same type of role. I need to find more movies she’s done because I’m tired of seeing her play this type of character.

DEADPOOL 2

This is what I was talking about in my AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR review. The DEADPOOL movies focus on one guy and the world surrounding him rather than 30 characters in a big universe.
The original DEADPOOL was such a refreshing divergence from the usual hero movie, it would have been easy to rest on laurels and be lazy in DEADPOOL 2. Ryan Reynolds was apparently not going to let that happen. This is just as funny, just a meta, just as surprisingly great as the first movie.
Adding a great actor like James Brolin was the right call. He’s better here than as Thanos. And it has a message about the danger and consequences of revenge.
Should they make a third? They probably will given the financial success, but I’m satisfied if it ends here.

RED SPARROW

A decent cold war spy thriller. Lots of twists and turns and it’s not hard to follow like, oh, a John le Carré novel. Jennifer Lawrence is fine as the ballerina turned Soviet asset. There’s nothing especially great here, but it’s solid. The better Cold War thriller from the past year or so is ATOMIC BLONDE. Much more stylish.
Jeremy Irons is solidly wonderful but I kept hearing Simon Gruber (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE).
Seemed like a caricature of cold war Russians until you remember.. oh yeah.. 2016 Election meddling.

ISLE OF DOGS

Another great film from Wes Anderson. The animation is a step forward from THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. The way the dogs’ fur moves in the wind.. the expressions and detail. It’s really spectacular in a very non-Pixar way.
This is a love letter to dogs. The only bad dogs are not really dogs, they’re robots. It’s fun with point about otherness and a commentary on internment.
There are a couple of problems involving race. The main dog Chief, goes from bad to good when he gets a bath and goes from a black dog to a white dog. I don’t think Anderson was intending it as racist, it was more of a way to identify who Chief really was. But I could see where people might have an issue. Some also have a problem with the way the Japanese characters are portrayed. I will leave that for someone else to comment on.
ISLE OF DOGS is a fun and funny ride and is very Wes Anderson. That’s usually a very good thing.

READY PLAYER ONE

Steven Spielberg returns to making a film about aspiration. That couldn’t be more welcome from where I sit. E.T., the Indiana Jones movies, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND were some of the best movies ever made. READY PLAYER ONE shoots for that type of feeling. It doesn’t always hit the mark but it does enough to make you be thankful for Spielberg.
There’s lots of fun ’80’s nostalgia for those of us who are.. um… old.
Seeing Lena Waithe in anything is a treat. The rest of the cast is ok, but Mark Rylance casts a gigantic shadow over everything because he is that much superior to the rest of the actors.
All in all it’s worth your time.

WRINKLE IN TIME

I’ve heard folks who read the book say it is a story that is impossible to turn into a movie. That’s not hard to believe. This was very disappointing given that it was directed by Ava DuVernay. Storm Reid was wonderful as Meg. But the rest of the talented cast was only ok.
Oprah as a god was a little too on point. It just felt meandering and endless which is odd considering it is under two hours. One positive is the visuals. It looks spectacular. But that feels like more of a technical achievement than a creative one.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

This is a wonderfully charming movie. Nick Offerman as a single, widowed Dad raising a teenage daughter was perfect casting. The fantasy of him trying to hold onto his daughter by trying to start a band with her didn’t feel outrageous or weird in the least. That’s a tribute to the direction of Brett Haley and script by Haley and Marc Basch. Kiersey Clemons as his daughter is a bright shining star in the making. HEARTS BEAT LOUD is fun, touching and entertaining. It’s the small movie that is better because it is small. Definitely worth a rental.

JULIET, NAKED

This is another charming, funny movie that is centered around music. Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY, HIGH FIDELITY) wrote the novel and Jesse Peretz directed from a script he co-wrote with his sister Evgenia, Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins. Rose Byrne is always delightful in these types of roles. Ethan Hawke as the washed up singer Tucker Crowe is perfectly cast. The best part here for me was Chris O’Dowd as Byrne’s boyfriend who is an obsessive Crowe fan. The music is great, the visuals set on the English coast are gorgeous. The story about second chances is familiar, but the take on it is fresh. This is another small movie with fine performances that is good, but just misses the mark by a hair. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, but felt it could have been a smidge better.

MISS ME?

It’s been a while.

Months actually.

It’s not that I haven’t been seeing movies. It’s just that I haven’t felt like writing about them. It’s not that I haven’t seen some amazing films. I have. I don’t necessarily want to blame it on Trump, but it does feel like the state of our country has sapped nearly every creative impulse from my body.

This has always been a hobby for me. I love movies and I know just enough to share my two cents about them. Maybe I’ve motivated someone to experience a film they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

I had at times thought about shutting this site down. Move on. Do something else. But, that felt like quitting and I don’t like that feeling.

So, I’m back baby!

I’m not going to post long reviews of all the movies I’ve seen between I FELL PRETTY (as if that didn’t kill my enjoyment of movies entirely) and now.

What you’ll see in the next few days is one post with very brief reviews of what I’ve seen. Some movies deserve a bigger review and you’ll get those too.

This blog isn’t about getting clicks or shares or whatever. It’s about sharing my experience and opinions. Maybe I will get you to see a movie you weren’t planning to see. Maybe you’d like to discuss it with me. Maybe I’m shouting into the void. Doesn’t really matter.

I hope to be here more regularly. And I hope you enjoy what I share.

Alan

I FEEL PRETTY

by Alan Yudman

After seeing I FEEL PRETTY all I could think was, “I Feel Shitty”. Yeah, it’s trite and lame but I couldn’t think of another more appropriate reaction.

Amy Schumer works on the website of an enormous cosmetics company. She sees herself as average looking, and wishes she was beautiful. She uses products, watches YouTube videos and reads magazines all to try to be more attractive. She has two average looking friends (Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips) who commiserate in their averageness.

The MacGuffin here is that Schumer hits her head when she falls off a bike at spin class and whens he wakes up she believes she is beautiful. She’s the only one who sees it. But immediately acts like the beauty she sees in the mirror.

The problem is I saw where this was going almost immediately. That is only a good thing when the movie is executed perfectly, or in such a unique fashion that you look past that flaw. That is not the case here. I knew exactly what was going to happen and what the consequences would be. That made the time pass slowly and excruciatingly.

The message is a good one. Inner beauty is more important than physical beauty. Real friends value you for who you are not what you are. But it is a message mired in a mediocre script and blase direction.

It’s too bad. There are some funny lines and funny scenes. But they never hang together in a story. There are also great performances from Schumer, Michelle Williams as the beautiful CEO of the cosmetics company and Rory Scoville as Schumer’s love interest. The fabulous Aidy Bryant is wasted here. She is not given enough to do. See THE BIG SICK for what she can bring to a small role. Here she is merely the “ugly friend” (and ugly is a stretch).

I FEEL PRETTY could have been so much better. Instead it is pedestrian and poorly executed. I feel pretty certain this is not worth seeing again.

BLOCKERS

by Alan Yudman

If you have daughters, BLOCKERS may not be a movie you want to see. Here’s the premise: Three high school senior girls who have been friends throughout their school years make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. So, yeah. If you have one or more daughters this will stress you out.

But for everyone else, or parents with a sense of humor about it, this is one funny way to spend an evening. I’ve only discussed half the premise. The rest is this: the parents of those three girls find out about #SEXPACT2018 and make it their mission to stop them art all costs. Those three parents are Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena. They are a hilarious threesome. Mann is a single mom whose beautiful, popular daughter is the first to commit to the plan. Barinholtz is a divorced and absent dad whose daughter is reluctant mainly because she knows she is a lesbian. Cena is an overprotective stay-at-home dad who doesn’t even acknowledge what is right in front of him.

Mann is always the perfect comic actor. In this case she thinks she and her daughter are best buds and can’t imagine she wouldn’t have discussed this with her. Barinholtz is the stereotype of the absent Dad— permissive and trying to do what he can to win his daughter’s love. Cena is really finding a niche in comedy. His roles always play off his physique. In this case you’d expect him to be the tough, no-nonsense dad. Instead he is the most sensitive of the three.. crying at every key moment in his daughter’s life. It’s a running joke and works every time.

This isn’t the best comedy ever. It has its flaws. Barinholtz’s motivations aren’t clearly drawn. Cena’s status as a stay-at-home dad is presumed and not defined well. The girls motivations are pretty thin and the individual resolutions to their nights seem a bit unearned. But there are a ton of great scenes and great jokes that make you accept those flaws as minor.

The three girls are all solid. Kathryn Newton is having a year. After supporting roles in two Oscar nominated films (LADY BIRD and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI) her star is definitely on the rise. She does nothing to change that in her role as Mann’s daughter Julie. Gideon Adlon (yes, daughter of Pamela Adlon) is Barinholtz’s gender unsure daughter. But the one who steals the show for me is Geraldine Viswanathan. She plays Cena’s “jock” daughter Kayla. She has to display the most range of the three friends. and Visnawathan nails it all. She is definitely the breakout star in this group.

Kudos to Director Kay Cannon and the writers for a portrayal of a young lesbian character. I’m sure there will be critics of how it is sort of brushed off and not really “dealt” with. Here’s a thought. Maybe that’s progress. Maybe treating it as just another story and not attaching huge political or emotional consequences to it means that we are more accepting. Hey, any sign of hope in the era of Trump is worth noting.

Cannon has plenty of comedy writing credits from 30 ROCK to the PITCH PERFECT films. She does a great job directing the action.. keeping it light most of the time and serious when necessary. Looking forward to her next film.

BLOCKERS isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’re looking for a laugh or a dozen in less than two hours, then this is the movie for you.