Tag Archives: 2020 movies

Another Round (2020) Review

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Another Round

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Mads Mikkelsen as Martin
Thomas Bo Larsen as Tommy
Lars Ranthe as Peter
Magnus Millang as Nikolaj
Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Four high school teachers (Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang) consume alcohol on a daily basis to see how it affects their social and professional lives.

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I heard of Another Round as being a Danish movie about drinking starring Mads Mikkelsen. I’m interested in anything that Mads Mikkelsen was in, and I heard that the movie had been screened at film festivals, with the reception being pretty positive. I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but Another Round turned out to be quite a surprise, it’s great and definitely worth checking out.

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Another Round (also titled Druk in Denmark) is a dramedy that balances its comedy and drama effectively. The plot is about drinking, as you can probably tell from the title. Usually, movies that have drinking as the main focus show just the negative effects. With this movie however, it shows the positives and the negative sides, while having unique looks at serious subject matters including alcoholism, discontent lives, and marriages. It’s quite an easy to watch, the light-hearted tone through much of the film fits the movie quite well. It’s definitely entertaining and fun but also has a few emotional moments which stick with you. Along with the highs, Another Round also shows the crushingly lows of the effect of alcohol, and as they are continuing with these four teachers’ intoxication experience, we see the many downsides of how it can affect one’s life, as well as those around them. What at first starts as a experiment becomes something else entirely for the characters. It feels very honest and not in an overly sappy way, it feels genuine and nuanced. It highlights the seduction associated with drinking, and refreshingly doesn’t shy away from showing how great that feeling is. It’s a bit predictable but I was on board for the ride from beginning to end. Something else to note, the ending is one of the best endings I’ve seen from a movie this year, and is also one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen from 2020.

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The cast are all great in their performances, but it comes down to 4 main leads in Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang as friends and teachers who are carrying out their drunken and intoxication experiment. There is such great chemistry between these 4, you really believe that they are longtime friends in their scenes together. Mads Mikkelsen is essentially the main character out of the 4, I’ve always liked him, but in Another Round, he delivers some of his best work. He gives quite a vulnerable, nuanced and versatile performance, definitely among the stand out performances from 2020.

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This is the first movie I have seen from Thomas Vinterberg, I haven’t seen his prior movies but heard that he’s a great director with films like The Hunt and Far from the Maddening Crowd which I want to check out. Having seen Another Round, I do want to watch his other movies even more, because he’s definitely a great director based off his work here. I do like how they differentiate the sober and drunk scenes with the camerawork, with the sober scenes being shot more steady, and the drunk scenes being shot more handheld. The last sequence/ending of the movie stands out, largely because of how it was filmed and the use of music.

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Another Round is a humane, warm and cathartic dramedy showing the benefits and drawbacks of alcohol, as well as being a very reflective and entertaining movie about life, friendship and day drinking. With a well written script and solid good direction, it really succeeds in its goal. Top that off with 4 great performances, especially from Mads Mikkelsen, it is great. It’s one of the best movies of the year and is worth watching for sure.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Review

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Time:
161 Minutes (Theatrical)
186 Minutes (Extended)
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield II
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Stephen Fry as Master of Lake-town
Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Ken Stott as Balin
Director: Peter Jackson

Having survived the first part of their unsettling journey, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his companions (Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage) continue east. More dangers await them, including the skin-changer Beorn and the giant spiders of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood Elves, Bilbo and the dwarves journey to Lake-town and, finally, to the Lonely Mountain, where they face the greatest danger of all: the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

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As a big fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be good but a little disappointing when I first watched it. However, after repeat viewings, I’ve been liking it more over time. Still, I’ve always found the sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, to be an improvement over the first Hobbit movie in some ways.

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First of all, what is immediately noticed is that this movie is a lot faster paced than An Unexpected Journey, mainly because it didn’t need to set up anything with the story or characters, it just heads right into it. At the same time, it does build on the already established characters over time. The tone is a bit all over the place especially with the humour, but it is still a lot better than the first movie’s tone. The movie does feel overstuffed at times but as I said earlier, it moves at a respectable pace, and it still feels less crowded than the last movie. There are worldbuilding scenes with Gandalf after he separates from the Dwarves early on for certain reasons, and I did like that plotline as it was linking into the past Lord of the Rings movies. However the main focus lies with Bilbo and the dwarves as it continues to follow their adventure, and I liked watching that. If you’ve watched the first movie, you can probably tell at this point that they are doing their own thing instead of just being a straight adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Peter Jackson is having these three movies as a prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings trilogy by using The Hobbit as a vessel. He’s taken liberties in deciding what to show, and for the most part I’m on board with them. These Hobbit movies are long but generally I prefer that they are longer than shorter. With regard to the extended cuts in all three movies in the Hobbit Trilogy, there are some great new scenes that add a lot to the world and characters, and there are also some unnecessary additions that weren’t needed. The Desolation of Smaug is darker than An Unexpected Journey, but doesn’t have the narrative weight of the LOTR trilogy, which is why I think these movies really suffer as their core. There are times where it tries to be as strong as LOTR but it just can’t reach those levels. The third act is pretty strong, though I’m not sure about the ending. At first I thought it was good, looking at Battle of the Five Armies though, it’s quite a wonder why they decided to end the movie where they did. There’s a whole major plot point that takes 15 minutes to end, and instead on concluding it here, they put it at the beginning of the next film. While it works as a cliff-hanger, it is a bit of a double edged sword.

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The cast all around are really good. As expected, Martin Freeman is once again great as Bilbo Baggins and he continues to do some great things here, even if he’s in the backseat sometime. Ian McKellen is once again great as Gandalf. The dwarves and their respective actors are good even if they are still lacking and aren’t quite fully fleshed out characters, they have more characterisation compared to in the previous movie. Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, his appearance seems unneeded especially as he wasn’t in The Hobbit book, but I liked seeing him here. A new character introduced into the Lord of the Rings world in Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. While the addition could’ve backfired, she was actually a welcome addition. I wasn’t such a fan of the romantic triangle subplot with her and Kili (Aidain Turner), it wasn’t convincing and doesn’t quite work but you can look past it. Other actors including Luke Evans and Lee Pace do well in their parts, and even Stephen Fry makes a brief but memorable appearance. Benedict Cumberbatch performs the voice and motion capture work as Smaug and everything about Smaug was great. His introduction scene with him and Bilbo and their conversation together was one of the best scenes of the movie.

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Peter Jackson once again has a great handle on this movie. There are some really good action scenes with some great creativity. One of the highlights was one involving a river and barrels in the first half of the movie. The action is unapologetically over the top for sure, even more so than the LOTR action, but is nonetheless enjoyable. Compared with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit movies have a much greater emphasis on CG than practical effects. For the most part it doesn’t bother me like it does other people, it’s just a little jarring at times. There are stunning visuals and I like the settings, whether they are made with practical sets, actual landscapes, or if they are CG created. Some special effects are great, Smaug in the last act for example looks fantastic. Some of the other effects can look a little iffy sometimes however. Not bad perse but it’s just sort of the issues that you would see in most modern blockbusters.

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The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t quite reach the level of the Lord of the Rings movies and has its problems, but is definitely the best of The Hobbit movies, and is pretty good on its own. It was directed very well, there’s some good visuals and action, and the cast are great in their roles. If you liked An Unexpected Journey it’s worth a watch, and I’d say it’s worth a watch even if you didn’t because you might like it a lot more.

Pieces of a Woman (2020) Review

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Pieces of a Woman

Time: 128 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & nudity
Cast:
Vanessa Kirby as Martha Weiss
Shia LaBeouf as Sean Carson
Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Weiss
Molly Parker as Eva Woodward
Sarah Snook as Suzanne
Iliza Shlesinger as Anita Weiss
Benny Safdie as Chris
Jimmie Fails as Max
Director: Kornél Mundruczó

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), along with the publicly vilified midwife, whom she must face in court. A deeply personal, searing, and ultimately transcendent story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.

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I heard about Pieces of a Woman mainly with regards to awards hype, especially with the lead performance from Vanessa Kirby. I wasn’t really expecting much from the movie beyond that aside from some positive reactions, and that it was being released on Netflix. Pieces of a Woman is a solid enough movie. It definitely could’ve been a lot better, but there’s enough here to make it worth checking out.

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The first act is quite intense as it portraying a childbirth, and everything from the acting to the directing is outstanding in this. It’s by far the most talked about moment in the whole movie and is probably what the film would be largely known for. The movie peaks early with its 20 minute long take of childbirth, however this moment was essential to really put the audience through it and understand the depth of trauma and grief that goes on. So it was kind of inevitable that the rest of the movie wouldn’t reach those heights again, nonetheless I feel like it could’ve been a little better. The rest of the movie is about the after effects and the grief that follows that first act, it’s really a movie that you’re gonna want to watch only once, as it isn’t easy to watch. The movie has a lot of loud bombastic moments of shouting and crying, as well as monologues that not only makes the film feel overdramtised and awards baity, it feels rather hollow and doesn’t have much impact. Also, the film is very predictable, you have a good idea of where it is going, not that it’s the main issue. It’s just that the story and premise aren’t approached in a very interesting way. It could’ve explored much of the relationships between characters but it doesn’t really. The film is seemingly more of a character study centred on the lead character of Martha but it’s somewhat distant from her, so it’s in a bit of an odd spot for the narrative. I really wish the film focused more on the lead character’s individuality and really allowed her to fully explore its themes of loss and grief. For a story that is trying to be intimate, it didn’t feel intimate. Outside of Martha, there are some forgettable characterisations. I have heard some people take issue with some of the odd decisions made by the characters, but they didn’t read to me as tone-deaf or bizarre. They felt completely to real life, it’s just that the characters themselves aren’t particularly well developed or defined. Storywise it does become drawn out, and it doesn’t pick up steam until a little later in the second act. I will say that it did conclude well with the third act and the ending. I wish the middle chunk of the movie was on the same level as its beginning and ending.

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While the acting from everyone is good, this is really Vanessa Kirby’s film, and she’s outstanding in the lead role. I think that Kirby should’ve been given more moments to shine, but she nonetheless gives perhaps one of the most evocative and resonant performance of the past year. She seems to be the only character written with layers because her delivery conveys a lot of the emotions and suffering that she’s going through with a lot of nuance, where everyone else is a surface-level understanding of grief. That’s particularly impressive considering that the character is written in quite a distant way. The rest of the supporting cast are good, including Sarah Snook and Benny Safdie. Ellen Burstyn is great, she is in a somewhat one note role as Martha’s mother, but is able to deliver some powerful moments and fills the story out with her performance and definitely makes up for it.

PIECES OF A WOMAN: (L to R) Vanessa Kirby as Martha, Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth

The movie is directed by Kornél Mundruczó and I think he did a good job. It’s a tightly directed and shot film, with vital visual elements and compositions, I liked the look of the movie overall. In fact, some aspects of the direction and the editing seem to be more effective with visual moments than some of the actual writing. The long takes are particularly great, especially for the childbirth sequence in the first act. Now looking at that whole scene, it’s pretty clear that not all of it was in one shot as there are some things that happen that would be impossible to do in one complete take. With that said, most of it looks like it was in one shot, and that in itself is impressive.

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Pieces of a Woman is a good movie with great elements but also isn’t as good as it could’ve been. The attempt to look at grief is admirable, but doesn’t explore it well enough. The subject matter and the tone already make it somewhat hard to watch but it’s also hard to be invested when the approach to it isn’t particularly engaging, especially with the writing. With that said, it’s directed well, and some impressive scenes and great acting, especially a fantastic Vanessa Kirby, whose performance alone makes Pieces of a Woman worth watching.

Promising Young Woman (2020) Review

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Promising Young Woman

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Violence, deals with rape and suicide
Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas
Bo Burnham as Dr. Ryan Cooper
Alison Brie as Madison McPhee
Clancy Brown as Stanley Thomas
Jennifer Coolidge as Susan Thomas
Laverne Cox as Gail
Chris Lowell as Al Monroe
Connie Britton as Dean Elizabeth Walker
Director: Emerald Fennell

Nothing in Cassie’s (Carey Mulligan) life is what it appears to be — she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs from the past.

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Promising Young Woman was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. From the trailer it looked interesting and bold, and Carey Mulligan looked like she was going to be fantastic in the lead role. Despite it being released a bit later than was originally planned, I actually did manage to watch Promising Young Woman in cinemas and I’m glad I did. Promising Young Woman is stylistic, provocative, excellently made and acted, and it is one of the best movies of 2020.

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I won’t say too much about the plot itself, because the less you know going in, the better the experience will be for you. The script from Emerald Fennell was great, I was invested for the entire of its runtime of 113 minutes. One thing worth noting is that the trailer is quite different and not quite representative of the movie. It’s not nearly as violent as I expected it to be (it was given a R18 in New Zealand). However, it was also more disturbing than I expected it to be. It is a little hard to categorise this movie, but the most accurate description I could give is that it is a dark drama and comedy with some thriller elements. The tone does jump all over the place sometimes, but for whatever reason, Fennell pulls it off. It was entertaining and funny at many points, and there’s even a prominent romantic subplot. At the same time the story is still very dark, and a lot of disturbing things happen in it. With the subject matter alone, I can see it potentially being a bit triggering for some people, so keep that in mind before watching. For the most part you don’t really see anything graphic, but rape and sexual assault are nonetheless very prominent aspects of the movie. I’ve seen some people call the movie a bit shallow and honestly I can see why to a degree, even though it was handled much better than I was expecting.

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While Promising Young Woman is sort of a revenge movie, it’s a bit different from what you’d expect from it, taking some aspects in different directions. It might have you a bit confused in its first act as you try to figure out what’s happening, who the main character is, what is she doing, etc. I was on board with the movie throughout, but at a certain point it becomes much more mature and asks questions about the protagonist in a great way. With regard to the main character, the film does not demean her motivations, but it definitely asks if any of the things that she does is actually solving anything. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, but I still liked watching it. Then there’s the elephant in the room, the one aspect that could make or break the movie for many, the third act and particularly the ending. Without going into it too much, the ending goes in quite a different direction compared to the rest of the movie, and will be polarising for some people. Now I must admit that through certain circumstances, I already knew of the ending going into the movie, so it wasn’t as shocking for me like it was for others. Having said that, watching the movie from the perspective of someone who knew what was going to happen, to a degree I felt that it was the inevitable conclusion from looking at the overall story and the lead character. With that said, I can definitely see why some people take issue with it.

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The casting of everyone was pitch perfect. Carey Mulligan gives quite possibly the best performance of her career as lead character Cassie, she was the perfect person to play this role. She covers such a range of emotions over the course of the movie, and there’s even moments where it’s almost like she switches between 2 different personalities in a single scene. The trauma that is a living part of Cassie’s life (which I won’t reveal) doesn’t feel forced when the viewer watches Mulligan act. There’s a lot of nuance to it, and it isn’t just sadness vibes to reflect her trauma. Overall, Carey Mulligan gave such a thrilling, complex performance, she completely owned the role and understood the character so well. The supporting cast really brought so much to the table to make this film work as well. Bo Burnham is surprisingly great as Cassie’s boyfriend. Even if his character’s fairly predictable from a plot perspective, Bo makes the character his own and has excellent chemistry with Mulligan. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge were funny as Cassie’s parents, and their scenes helped fill out her character in a satisfying way. Other cast members like Alison Brie, Alfred Molina and more also do well in their few (but vital) scenes.

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It’s not just the script from Emerald Fennell that was great, it was her direction of the movie too. This is her debut feature film, and it’s definitely a bold and impressive debut at that. Promising Young Woman is meticulously directed on all fronts. First of all, visually it’s absolutely stunning. The visual element of this film is intoxicating, and Fennell seems to have an already established style that feels signature to her. The use of colour is particularly fantastic. Fennell didn’t overlook one production element down to the set design, to the costume design. The sound design was great and stood out too surprisingly, seeing this in a theatre emphasised this and allowed me to really experience it. The use of music and the music choices themselves are fantastic across the board. The amount of well timed needle drops and the sound mix came together to put you directly in Cassandra’s headspace. For example, there’s one moment where it features a violin rendition of Brittany Spears’s Toxic, and it added so much to the scene it was included in.

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Promising Young Woman is an unpredictable, well crafted, shocking, and timely movie. It’s excellently written and directed, and the casting is perfect, with Carey Mulligan giving her best performance yet. Now it’s for sure one of the most controversial and polarising movies of 2020, and it won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s one of the best movies from that year.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) Review

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Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Sidney Flanigan as Autumn
Talia Ryder as Skylar
Théodore Pellerin as Jasper
Ryan Eggold as Ted
Sharon Van Etten as Mother
Director: Eliza Hittman

Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), travel across state lines to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion.

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I only knew a little bit about Never Rarely Sometimes Always. I heard that the plot had something to do with a teenager who is travelling somewhere to get an abortion, and that a lot of people have been calling it one of the best movies of the year. Really didn’t know what to expect going into it but it’s quite great and one of the more surprising movies from 2020.

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First of all, you should know going into Never Rarely Sometimes Always that it has a slow pace. It did have my attention throughout its 100 minute runtime however. It’s also a movie that’s not that so focused on dialogue, there’s definitely dialogue but a lot less than you’d expect. The movie makes a lot of use out of silence and it ends up speaking volumes by saying little. It really does tell a story through subtext and silence, from the character’s actions, the performances and the direction. As a result of this subtle approach, it actually makes the movie feel all the more real. The director resists going all in on unwelcome melodrama or larger ‘dramatic’ and overtly emotional moments, and instead focused attention more on feeling and being natural. It’s quite empathetic and honest too, and ends up being very powerful. The highlight of the whole movie was a scene where the title Never Rarely Sometimes Always actually is brought up, I won’t reveal the context of the movie. In terms of flaws there weren’t many, but I did want more development and characterisation of the leads. With that said, it’s a subtle movie so more might be picked up on a second viewing, and it is the sort of movie where you deliberately aren’t given the full context of everything, or know for sure why certain characters do what they do.

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The acting is great from everyone but ultimately it comes down to its two leads with Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder who are both impressive in their roles as cousins, who are going on this trip to get Flanigan’s character an abortion. The first time performance from Flanigan was particularly fantastic, and it’s among the best from 2020. Both performances are subtle and powerful, the two of them really do feel like friends and cousins on their journey together. The direction deserves credit with regard to the performances too, especially with how natural and genuine they felt. The subtle approach to the story also goes towards the acting, with the performances saying a lot without needing to actually say much, or even anything.

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Eliza Hittman is the director of this movie, and having seen her work here, I do want to check out her other movies now. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a brilliant exercise in visual storytelling. The whole movie feels incredibly authentic from the sets to the sound and the lack of music for the most part. The simple yet effective cinematography and camerawork plays a big part too, especially with the choices of what to focus and linger on. An example is that prior scene I mentioned where the title comes into play in the movie. In that scene, most of the camera is just watching Sidney Flanigan’s face and expressions, and that was so effective and powerful. The decision not to cut away often just added so much to that scene.

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Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a raw, nuanced and powerful movie, it’s incredibly directed, and is fantastically acted by its leads. I do think that you sort of need to know what to expect going into it, and the slow pacing and the more quieter approach to the whole movie might turns some people off. However, I think that it’s definitely a movie you should see, and it’s among the best movies released in 2020.

Black Bear (2020) Review

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Black Bear

Time: 100 Minutes
Cast:
Aubrey Plaza as Allison
Sarah Gadon as Blair
Christopher Abbott as Gabe
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine

A filmmaker (Aubrey Plaza) at a creative impasse seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways.

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I didn’t know much about Black Bear going into it. All I knew that it was a sort of thriller with some unexpected twists, it starred Aubrey Plaza in the lead role, and it had been receiving some pretty positive responses. Black Bear wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, but I liked it quite a lot, it was great.

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I can’t talk too much about the plot, otherwise I’d give too much away, and I really do recommend going into Black Bear as blind as possible. What I can say is that I liked the first act with its initial premise about a filmmaker in a cabin along with a couple. I liked the atmosphere, I liked the interactions that the three characters had, and I was interested to see where it was all leading towards. There’s a certain point in the movie where it takes a distinct turn to say the least. Some other reviewers have been openly talking about that aspect, however for the sake of your viewing experience, I’m going to hold back on that. I’m also not going to go into much of the themes that the movie touches upon. What I can say was that it was quite surprising, and I wasn’t expecting it. Now, I do think the turn was good and I was on board with it. However, it was also a lot to take in, it does admittedly detach you from the narrative, and as a result it loses a bit of its momentum following from that point onward. Also, it does feel like it is missing something towards the end, like it needed another section to tie everything together. With that said I have a feeling it was leaving room for interpretation, because that seems to be what the ending was going for. I’m not exactly sure what the ending was implying but I’m interested in reading peoples’ interpretations. One thing about this movie is that it is very meta and the line between fiction and history is blurred, and when the film takes its turn, whether or not it works for you will make or break the movie. The dialogue is nothing short of chaotic and razor sharp, with some very memorable lines throughout. As said previously, there is an effective atmosphere and uncomfortable tension throughout the movie, you do feel uneasy and it has you riveted.

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The acting is great, but it’s really Aubrey Plaza who is the standout in the lead role. Her performance is nothing short of captivating and intense. She delivers the dialogue expertly and emotes greatly with whatever her character is doing or feeling. This might be the best acting work I’ve seen from her, and she was already fantastic in Ingrid Goes West. The supporting cast are good too, especially Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon who deliver some great work here that shouldn’t be overlooked. However, it really is Plaza’s movie through and through.

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Black Bear is directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, and his work here is great. It’s quite beautiful to look at, and the way everything is shot with the intense camerawork gave the film a dynamic and real feeling throughout. The use of handheld was particularly effective. The sound design is great and sharp. The bleakness of its cinematography and the haunting score both matched the tone of the movie, and really helped to create a foreboding sense of dread.

Aubrey Plaza in "Black Bear."

Aubrey Plaza in “Black Bear.”

Black Bear is an mindbending, unexpected and well directed drama thriller, with effective tension, and some great acting from everyone. To a degree I’d say that it’s not for everyone, but even if it doesn’t completely work for you, it’s definitely worth watching for Aubrey Plaza’s performance alone.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) Review

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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Time: 94 Minutes
Cast:
Viola Davis as Ma Rainey
Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green
Glynn Turman as Toledo
Colman Domingo as Cutler
Michael Potts as Slow Drag
Director: George C. Wolfe

Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player (Chadwick Boseman), and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues”. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play.

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I had heard about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for some time as it was gaining awards attention, especially with its two lead performers Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. Both are great actors, so I was looking forward to their performances alone. Aside from that I didn’t really know what to expect from the movie. While it does suffer the same problem as most movies adapted from plays, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is quite good on the whole.

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First of all, it should be known going into the movie that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based off a play from August Wilson. You can really feel that it’s based off a play pretty early on when watching it. Not only is it very dialogue based, with some big and extended monologues at times, the movie also spans over the course of one afternoon during a recording session, and is generally set in just one location. For the first 30 minutes of the film, you might find the pacing a bit slow, and it is indeed slow. After the first act or so though, you might get into it though, that’s what happened with me. At its core, the movie is a contained and subtle character study. I’m not familiar with the play so I can’t comment on how much is taken from play, but either way the film is well written, especially with the dialogue. There are long stretches of dialogue, and while thankfully I was interested in hearing them play out, there are parts where I’m not quite as interested and it dragged for me. Generally though, I found myself engaged throughout. Runtime is just over 90 minutes, which was probably the right length although if you’re not as invested it’s going to feel much longer for you. With that said, while the movie does have a lot of themes throughout including systemic discrimination and racial tensions, if the film was a bit longer it would’ve been able to flesh out its themes a bit more.

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For all the solid writing and decent direction, the performances were the highlight of the movie for me, and that’ll be the same for most people who watch it. The main stars are Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. Davis as you’d expect, really gives it her all, she’s a powerhouse and has such a huge onscreen and offscreen presence. As Ma Rainey, this is practically an acting showcase for her. Davis isn’t the only actor delivering an outstanding performance in this movie. Chadwick Boseman sadly passed away in 2020, and this will be his last performance of his career. Everyone who has seen the movie have declared this to be a career best from him, and its definitely warranted. And yes, make no mistake, the movie may be called Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but it’s more like Ma Rainey and Levee (the name of Boseman’s character). Boseman’s performance was raw, tough, free, dynamic and liberated, and he brings a lot of passion to the role. The character is larger than life for sure, but there’s a lot of emotional depth to him too. His character had a lot to him, and eventually more becomes revealed about him as the film progresses. Boseman particularly has some great monologues, some of the best monologues in the whole movie, and those moments really stood out. Despite those two main performances being in the forefront, the supporting cast shouldn’t be overlooked either, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts deliver some great work here. The whole cast really does play off each other very well, which is needed with it being a dialogue and character driven movie.

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George C. Wolfe directs this movie, and overall I thought his work here was good enough. If you couldn’t tell already from the writing and the dialogue that it’s based off a play, you can definitely tell that by the way it was filmed and directed. The sets are limited, but the production design, makeup and costumes are detailed and accurate to the time. One could say that the cinematography and camerawork is unremarkable, but it’s simple, vibrant and effective, and catches the right moments. It really does firmly place you at the setting of the movie. Also, while it could’ve been more stylish and stand out more, it is a step above most films based off plays. The music or lack thereof drives the plot forward, and so naturally the music is handled very well too.

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As I said before, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has the typical issues from other plays turned into movies, including pacing, some of the way the dialogue is handled, and some of the direction. On the whole though it is good. I think that it won’t work for everyone, even just for the structure. However I highly recommend that people watch it for the performances alone, especially with phenomenal work from Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.

Underwater (2020) Review

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Underwater

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, horror scenes & offensive language
Cast:
Kristen Stewart as Norah Price
Vincent Cassel as W. Lucien
Mamoudou Athie as Rodrigo Nagenda
T.J. Miller as Paul Abel
John Gallagher Jr. as Liam Smith
Jessica Henwick as Emily Haversham
Director: William Eubank

Disaster strikes more than six miles below the ocean surface when water crashes through the walls of a drilling station. Led by their captain, the survivors realize that their only hope is to walk across the sea floor to reach the main part of the facility. But they soon find themselves in a fight for their lives when they come under attack from mysterious and deadly creatures that no one has ever seen.

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I knew about Underwater for some time, it was a horror sci-fi thriller taking place in the ocean and starred Kristen Stewart in the lead role. I didn’t expect much from it really, especially for a January released thriller, but I had a feeling it would be entertaining at least. Thankfully it was quite a fun movie and I liked it for what it was, even with its faults.

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Right after an establishing shot inside and outside the station, and after the first scene of Kristen Stewart establishing her as the protagonist, the crash that sets the plot into motion happens. I do like how quickly it gets into the action, as well as the straightforwardness of the plot. The plot itself is rather predictable and doesn’t really do anything new, with plenty of tropes from other horror movies. In fact much of the story and setting for sure takes cues from Alien, just taking place underwater instead of outer space; Underwater is basically Alien in the ocean. With that said, I didn’t expect it to be something unique or subversive, so it wasn’t that huge of a negative for me. There are some parts of the plot I’m uncertain about, but I just went along with it. It is quite fast paced, and for the most part I think they fitted the movie well. There are brief attempts at humour especially with the dialogue, and I found that those moments only felt out of place and didn’t help to do anything but distract from the rest of the movie. Something I really didn’t like was all the exposition through voice over from Kristen Stewart in the first and last scenes of the movie, it just feels very unnecessary and lazy. It’s a minor issue since it’s only present in those scenes, but they stick out as being very unwelcome.

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The cast do a good job in their parts. Kristen Stewart is really good in the lead role, her performance actually does carry the movie well. The rest of the cast including Vincent Cassel and Jessica Henwick play their parts well. The characters are likable enough, if rather underdeveloped despite the attempts at development. Out of them, T.J. Miller feels the most out of place, he does have some dramatic parts, but out of the cast he delivers the most comedy, and as previously said the comedy doesn’t work.

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Underwater is directed pretty well by William Eubank. Again, you can clearly tell that the movie is inspired by Alien with regards to the direction, but its nonetheless good. I really like the look of the movie. It is well shot, the interiors look great, especially with the colour and lighting. Additionally, the setting at the facility was quite effective for this type of movie and its plot. The horror and scares were also handled quite well, with a tense atmosphere throughout, and it did a good job at making you really feeling confined. The quick cut editing sometimes worked well, at other times it made things a bit hard to follow. It does feel creepy throughout, especially the underwater scenes. I really liked how they portrayed the underwater from the visuals to the sounds. It’s a little while before we get to see the Lovecraftian-like creatures, but they are creepy and effective as horror monsters. As for issues with the direction, the outside CGI heavy shots really look fake and rough to say the least. A nit-pick but nonetheless something that stood out was the unnecessary text that appears on screen to show the location names.

Kristen Stewart stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Underwater”.

Underwater was quite good and entertaining for what it was, with some solid direction, and a good cast that performs well, especially a solid Kristen Stewart. The script has some faults for sure and it’s nothing special, but I reckon that if you like the look of the movie, it’s worth a watch for sure. It’s a fun 90 minute long horror thriller flick.

Mulan (2020) Review

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Mulan 2020

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Yifei Liu as Mulan
Donnie Yen as Commander Tung
Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan
Yoson An as Chen Honghui
Gong Li as Xianniang
Jet Li as The Emperor of China
Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou
Director: Niki Caro

To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.

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I was very sceptical about the live action remake Mulan to say the least. I only saw the original Mulan for the first time within the last two years, so it’s not like I had a long running love for it, even though I did like it. However, these live action Disney remakes have mostly just been fine but generic. When I saw the new Mulan I liked it even if I didn’t think it was anything better than okay. But it does get worse the more I think about it.

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One of my biggest complaints of Disney’s live action remakes is that they play things really safe, pretty much just replicating the animated movies in an uninspired way. Mulan did slightly interest me from the trailers as it actually looked like it had a vision beyond just copying the animated movie, it actually looked distinct. Overall, it’s roughly the same movie but there are some small yet significant changes. At first I thought about complementing the movie for at least trying to be something different. With that said, the movie itself didn’t turn out so well, and some of those differences are partly responsible for that. Despite some complaints from others about the filmmakers taking away the music, I don’t really have an issue with that. Most of my issues boil down to three main issues. The first issue I have is with regards some of the changes made. For every aspect they remove from the original animated movie, they don’t necessarily substitute it with something, and so it feels empty a lot of the time. Sometimes some things are also carried over from the animated movie and altered, and end up being rather pointless. An example is that the comedic relief from the original being a dragon played by Eddie Murphy isn’t in this movie. What bothers me isn’t that the character isn’t here in the live action movie, what annoys me is that he is seemingly substituted with a phoenix that only appears a few times of the movie, rather pointless really. I don’t mind the movie taking a serious perspective to make itself stand out from the original. However none of the moments made an impact, it just felt like it was going through the motions. As a result, it feels very bland from beginning to end.

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My second main issue is with regard to the character of Mulan and the overall message. In this new version of Mulan, the lead character is powerful because she has high amounts of chi (which I’ll get back to in a bit). She is pretty much a superhero, which takes away all tension from the action scenes, not to mention takes away relatability from her as a character. Speaking of relatability, it seems like the movie is actively avoiding emotion as well. An important scene where Mulan makes the decision to replace her dad in the coming war was quite powerful in the original. In the remake, the filmmakers just can’t wait to get into that armour and out of there, with not a shred of emotion given. The messaging is also different. Mulan 2020 unlike its predecessor doesn’t work as an empowerment story, aside from the aforementioned lack of relatability of Mulan, it just doesn’t jell with the fact that essentially the story is (and uncomfortably so) rooted in imperial nationalism and devotion to monarchy. Now that’s certainly different from the animated movie, but it’s significantly worse. Then there’s my third issue, although the film looks like it’s being accurate to Chinese culture, from actually hearing from some experts talk about it, it doesn’t quite get it right. It is clear that for all their best attempts, the movie was clearly made by a white crew because it lacks authenticity. I previously mentioned about Mulan apparently being so powered because of her chi, in that she has a lot of it. However, it’s worth knowing that chi is actually energy, not midichlorians or some other power level. So understand that when characters mention that Mulan has a high level of chi, it’s like they are saying that she has a high level of blood or something. Hearing some different perspectives on some of the representation of the culture, in my mind the movie just gets much worse. The rest of the script is pretty bland and by the numbers, doesn’t do enough to keep you invested, characters are forgettable, and you don’t really feel anything throughout.

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The acting is a bit mixed. Some actors like Donnie Yen and Jet Li work well and give reasonably commendable performances. Much of the rest of the cast however are just serviceable and nothing special. Even the lead actress who plays Mulan, Yifei Liu, is okay at best. To be fair most of the issue with her is the writing of the character as previously mentioned, she’s two dimensional and rather bland. The villains are completely forgettable and I don’t really have anything to say about them.

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The direction from Niko Caro is a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals are good (if sometimes in a bland way), and the colours can sometimes be nice. The action scenes is also very flawed, and it’s mainly to do with the very messy editing, there are a lot of cuts during the action. The CGI can be hit or miss, it ranges from being decent to really bad.

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I can’t tell if you’d like the 2020 version of Mulan. If you’re curious about the movie at the very least, then I’d say it’s worth checking out for yourself. If you love the original Mulan, you might take issues with some of the changes. I liked the movie alright when I saw it, but right now, I think it’s rather average at best.

The Midnight Sky (2020) Review

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The Midnight Sky

Time: 118 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Content may disturb
Cast:
George Clooney as Augustine
Felicity Jones as Sully
Caoilinn Springall as Iris
David Oyelowo as Commander Adewole
Tiffany Boone as Maya
Demián Bichir as Sanchez
Kyle Chandler as Mitchell
Director:
George Clooney

A lone scientist (George Clooney) in the Arctic races to contact a crew of astronauts returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.

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I heard about George Clooney directing and starring in a movie for Netflix, and that the movie would be in the sci-fi genre. I went in with a relatively open mind considering the mixed reviews, and checked it out for myself. I wouldn’t say The Midnight Sky is bad but I wouldn’t call it good either. It’s for sure got some good elements but on the whole is just okay.

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The Midnight Sky consists of two storylines playing at the same time. One is of George Clooney on a base in the arctic, the other is of a crew of astronauts in a ship in space. The Clooney storyline consists of him and a girl trying to make contact with the ship, enduring through harsh and cold conditions to do so. There are aspects of it that could’ve been handled better for sure, but I was relatively interested in it. I liked the simplicity, the dynamic that Clooney’s character has with the girl, and the steady and character driven approach. The whole movie probably would’ve been a lot more effective had it just been this. The other storyline is about a ship returning to earth and it just wasn’t interesting. It holds no emotional gravitas compared to the other, and so the emotional beats fall a bit flat. A big part of that is because we don’t really care about the characters all that much, the characterisation is very weak despite some attempts to define them. Unfortunately, I can’t even really call it a subplot because it has as much screentime as the Clooney storyline, there’s even a whole 20 minute period where Clooney doesn’t make an appearance, almost making you wonder whether he’s actually the main character in all of this. What’s not helping this storyline is that it feels very derivative of other sci-fi movies like Interstellar, Gravity and Ad Astra. Not that it’s inherently a bad thing, but it does highlight that The Midnight Sky just doesn’t succeed nearly as well as those other movies. It really says something that the only moment I really remember from this storyline was when the actors just start singing Sweet Caroline. The movie really is undercut not only by the second storyline, but the constant switching between the two. These two parts don’t really fit together well, and they end up making the tone uneven as they are essentially two separate sci-fi movies trying to co-exist and link together. The third act is where the two storylines come together and intersect, and it’s meant to be quite an emotional punch, but it really fumbles the bag with that and just has no impact at all. As you can probably tell already the biggest issue with the movie is the script, and there are plenty of other issues with it that I haven’t even gotten to yet. The dialogue a lot of the time is stiff and uninteresting, and you don’t really care about many of the plot twists. The use of flashbacks (mainly with George Clooney) weren’t handled the best and feel quite out of place. The longer runtime just makes the viewing experience that much more tedious, 2 hours may not sound long, but with the slow pacing combined with a less than riveting story makes it a bit of a slog. Another side note, the last scene with the credits was really awkward, it’s one of those credits where they play it right in the middle of the scene and so we are effectively watching them roll credits before the ending has actually ended.

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There is a good cast involved in the movie, but generally they aren’t utilised the best. George Clooney does well in essentially the lead role. His character doesn’t amount to much outside of a sombre and quiet person with a regretful past, but Clooney plays him well. The crew of the ship in space are played by Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demian Bichir, and Kyle Chandler. The actors played their parts relatively well but are definitely held back by their bland and underdeveloped characters, and so are quite forgetable.

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The visuals and direction from George Clooney are where The Midnight Sky works at its best. It’s quite a good looking movie, I like the visual effects, and the production quality is good for the most part. The setting that Clooney is at with the snowy wasteland looks great, and gives the film a uniquely chilly atmosphere. The scenes taking place in the ship in space look decent, but they look like every other sci-fi movie only a little worse. There’s also the score from Alexandre Desplat which is really good and does add something to the movie (even if it doesn’t really save it).

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The Midnight Sky is a very flawed movie that manages to have some bright spots. George Clooney acts well in the lead role, and the visuals and other technical elements are solid and impressive at times. However much of the writing is where it holds it back, from a significantly worse second storyline, to a plot that fails to be compelling, interesting or resonant. If it was like 30 minutes shorter, it would’ve been easier to recommend. I guess if you’re really curious about The Midnight Sky, check it out for yourself, but otherwise its probably not worth it.