On the Basis of Sex (2018)

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Here is another of those limited 2018 release movies that I don’t get a chance to see until 2019.  This one is a biopic on the life, in particular a section of the life, of current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

I must say that, while I enjoyed this movie, it was not as enjoyable for me as RBG, the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg from last year.  Fact is though that I learned more about RBG last year and it contributed to my watching of this movie.

Film kicks off with Ruth at Harvard, one of the few women in her class, and dealing with the expectations of being a woman in society at the time.  The film rapidly progressed through this period to a landmark case of sexual discrimination that Ginsberg took on where a male was being discriminated against as a caretaker by tax code.  Ginsberg used this case to help propel her fights to battle against discrimination against women.

Felicity Jones was great as Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Armie Hammer was the perfect support for her as Ruth’s husband Martin.  One of those facts that RBG the documentary told me was that Martin was always a supporter of and an advocate for his wife and Armie Hammer showed that beautifully.

The film itself does feel fairly formulaic and typical for a biopic, but the strength of the story and the main performances really bring more to the film.

I thought the relationship shown us between Ruth and her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) were some of the strongest scenes in the movie.  There was one scene in particular in the rain that I thought really brought some wonderful moments to the movie.

Unfortunately, some of the best parts of the third act court case were shown in the trailer instead of being saved for the film, which irritates me.

Kathy Bates was great here in a small role as famous lawyer Dorothy Kenyan.  Every scene Bates was in was worth the time.

On the whole, this was a fine movie, but it was not the grand slam that it could have been.  The typical beats of a biopic were hit and that minimized the emotional wallop at the end of the picture.  Last year’s documentary was much better and more impactful for me, but On the Basis of Sex was still a good watch.

3.5 stars

Glass

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There were a lot of critics who did not like or downright hated the third movie in the “Unbreakable” universe, Glass.  And I do not understand why because I thought this was awesome.

After Split revealed David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was in their shared universe, people became very excited about the final installment as did I.

Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is studying those people who have a delusion that they are super heroes and she has come to the psychological institution where Elijah Price (Sam Jackson) is being held in an attempt to “cure” him.  After a confrontation between David Dunn, “The Overseer” (Bruce Willis) and The Horde (James McAvoy), they end up in her care as well at the same psych ward.  It soon becomes apparent that Elijah, aka Mr. Glass, has other plans.

It is difficult to talk too much about what happens in Glass without spoiling it, so I am going to do my best.  Let’s start with the great performance given by James McAvoy once again.  His creation of the multiple personalities of this character is such strong work that he is dominant in most every scene he is in.

The film starts with a great action sequence between David Dunn and the Horde and had me completely engaged.  I enjoyed the Bruce Willis work here more than most Bruce Willis performances recently.  I think that goes with the idea that the character of David Dunn is very much laid back as Bruce Willis is.

The middle of the film does drag a bit, as all three of the main characters are at the mental institution, however, as the film heads to the third act, it takes off big time and I loved the ending.

I do not think the film goes where people expect it to go and that might be why some people have not liked it.  I actually thought that was part of the film’s real strength.  It took your typical comic book movie and subverted expectations and norms, even while calling your attention to the fact that it understands the comic book norms that it is subverting.

Some people claimed that Samuel L. Jackson is not in the movie enough and that since it is called Glass, that is a problem.  I never thought that for one minute.  I guess I felt the idea and presence of Mr. Glass throughout the film and I did not need to have Sam Jackson on screen constantly for that to happen.

It is now mid-January and I have disagreed with the critics on two wide release movies (the other being The Upside).  I wonder if this is a trend for 2019?  I loved Glass and thought it was a fantastic film that took Unbreakable and Split and wrapped up the story in an entertaining and intelligent way.

4 stars 

The Upside

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The Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer on this film is at 39%, which made me think that I was in store for a January movie.  However, I like both Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, and honestly the trailers looked decent so I was ready to give this a chance.

I really enjoyed this film.  I wondered why so many other reviews had this as rotten.  Listening to Jeremy Jahns on YouTube helped me to maybe find what the answer to that question was.  Apparently, The Upside is a remake of a beloved French movie called The Intouchables, which I have never seen.  This fact makes me wonder if these critics are judging the movie versus this other movie instead of judging it as a film on its own.

I can certainly understand that.  If there was a perfectly competent remake of a movie I loved like Raiders of the Lost ArkBack to the Future or Die Hard, but that perfectly competent remake did not capture the same magic of the original, I would most likely find that it colored my perceptions of it too.  Since that did not happen here, I can look at The Upside through clear lenses. (And to be fair, I did not go through all the reviews to determine if the “rotten” ones were for that reason.  I am simply speculating.)

Dell (Kevin Hart) is an ex-con who is trying to get through life, struggle to repair a relationship with his son and get a job.  Out of necessity, he replies to a job for a janitor, but winds up in the wrong place, interviewing with a wealthy quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) as a caregiver.  Depressed and lacking care for himself, Phillip hired the clearly unqualified Dell instead of a crew of qualified candidates.

Dell and Phillip have a genuine friendship and a connection develop during their working relationship that shows the strength of both actors.

Honestly, this is the best performance I have seen from Kevin Hart in a long time.  He was in control and contained instead of the “Kevin Hart”-type character that he always plays, loud, boisterous and chaotic.  I found it to be a very welcomed change, proving to me that he was an actor.  Understand, I have always liked Kevin Hart, but I think he is one of those comedic actors (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Adam Sandler etc) who find themselves typecast and playing the same form of character in every film.  This change is important for his career.

Bryan Cranston is his typically fine self, always giving a professional and well thought out performance.  His expressions were outstanding here, as he was unable to use his body in any other manner.

The film was funny and warm and the relationship between Hart and Cranston was clearly at the center of everything the film did.  Some of the scenes between them were outstanding and was the major reason to see the movie.

Nicole Kidman played Phillip’s assistant Yvonne and she was great as she always is.

I really enjoyed The Upside. I did not have a beloved favorite movie to compare it to so I did not have that blinding me to this movie’s charm as I fear many critics may have done.

3.8 stars

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

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Every year, there are several movies that are released in 2018, limited, that never come around to my neck of the woods until January.  So a couple of years ago, I decided that these would not be on my 2019 list of best movies because they were released in 2018.  The first one of those films is the second film from Barry Jenkins, whose first film, Moonlight, won an Academy Award.

This is a wonderful story as well, but I am not sure that it is as wonderful as Moonlight was.

This is the story of young love separated by the law.  Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) were childhood friends, close as could be, who developed into a romantic relationship as young adults.  However, despite his innocence, Fonny was arrested for rape and sent to jail, separating the pair.  Tish then discovered that she was pregnant.

The film looked at the love story between the two in flashbacks, focused on Tish and her family, and the battle to try and get Fonny a fair trial despite being railroaded by a seemingly racist cop (Ed Skrein).

Standing out was Regina King, whose performance has drawn people to hope for an Oscar nomination.  She was powerful in her screen time, but, with the amount of buzz I had heard about her, I expected more time on screen for her.  When she was there, King was tremendous.

Kiki Layne was beautiful and had a presence on-screen that demanded attention as well.  I think she is a future superstar as well.

There was some stretches of the film that dragged a bit for me, particularly in the middle and I feel as if some plot points were left to dangle, and the ending was not satisfactory, however, none of these criticisms hurt the film too badly.

That is because the most important part of the film was the relationship with Tish and Fonny, and that worked beautifully.  You rooted for them. You hoped they could make it.  You loved watching them together and how they were able to complete the other.

Plus, there is the social justice aspect as well, with the way Fonny was taken down despite having a solid alibi and being in a place that he could not have gotten to and still committed the rape.

Yet, the performance from the rape victim (Emily Rios) was breathtaking as well and gave Regina King the best material to play off of in the entire film.

If Beale Street Could Talk was adapted for the screen from a novel from James Baldwin of the same title.  It provided a richness unlike many other source materials.

The film is a beautifully made film and highlights some top notch performances.  Barry Jenkins cemented himself as one of the best new directors in movies today.

3.75 stars

Replicas

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This poster was way cooler than the movie.

Keanu Reeves stars in this new sci-fi film that had me laughing in all the wrong places and wishing someone would give poor Emjay Anthony a good script like Chef again.

This one was terrible.

Keanu played Will Foster, a scientist trying to transfer the mind of dead people into robots to help extend the lives of humans.  However, this had hit a roadblock and seemed to be at a major point.  So he went on vacation with his family.

Unfortunately for him, Will and his family was in a car crash (which was not caused by the semi nearly hitting them in the rain, but seconds later by a falling tree limb.  Certainly the worst pair of coincidences ever).  The car crash killed everybody but the driver and forced Will into carrying his family’s bodies out of the water that they crashed in.

So, in his grief, as any good scientist would do, he decided (as he held his wife’s soaked body in his arm)… I’ll clone them.

Yup.  Not kidding.

He enlisted his fellow scientist Ed (Thomas Middleditch)  from the company they worked at to help him out.  Together, they “borrow” millions of dollars worth of equipment from out of their employment in a truck to pull this off.  I kind of liked Ed as he was the voice of the audience while Will was the voice of the stupid.

It was such a silly set of circumstances involved and Will did not even bother to try to think things through.  Maybe that was the intention, but it did not work.  If he was on target enough to be able to come up with the plan, he should be smart enough to call the kids’ school and let them know they would be out of school for a while.

Worse yet (Oh SPOILERS right now, if you care)… but they only had three pods for use instead of the four they needed, so Will had to pick one of the kids to not clone.  So he picked the youngest and cutest girl who drew unicorns on his kitchen table.  He would be using his unsuccessful robot memory swap to put the real memories back into his family’s head.  Never mind that these would not be the actual people and are just replacements.  Of course, he had to then edit out the memories of the little girl, name was Zoe (Aria Lyric Leabu), from his family’s memory so they did not question that she was not there.  Perhaps NOBODY ELSE, BESIDES HER BROTHER, SISTER AND MOTHER, IN THE WORLD EVER MET THIS LITTLE GIRL OR KNEW THAT THERE AS SUPPOSED TO BE A THIRD CHILD!  I mean… did Sophie (Emily Alyn Lind) and Matt (Emjay Anthony) not have friends that might remember that they had a little sister?  Was there no one at Mona (Alice Eve) worked think to ask her how her THREE children were doing?  What exactly was the hope that Will had here?  This was just the stupidest part of a really stupid movie.

There was also a sudden villainous turn from a character who had not appeared on screen much and I even wondered if he had sent the semi out to try and kill the family.  He was such a ridiculous, Snidely Whiplash-esque character that he was totally wasted, there simply for a plot point to allow the family to go on the run, (and show the benefits of defibrillators).

The acting was terrible from everyone.  Keanu was channeling his inner Nic Cage in Wicker Man and the rest of the cast (with the exception of Thomas Middleditch) were as bad.  Poor Emjay (who was great in Chef and whom I wanted to play Sam Alexander in the MCU) was reduced to saying the one line “Dad!” throughout the entire movie.

The ending makes zero sense as well and nicely sets up a sequel that we will never see.  This is a perfect movie for the month of January, dumped where it can go away before the good movies come out.

1 star

 

 

 

 

 

Escape Room

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2019 starts off with a movie that seemed to be catching me off guard and then fell off a cliff.

Unfortunately, the new horror/thriller movie, Escape Room, is about 2/3rd of a good movie, and 1/3 that completely tarnishes the remainder of the movie.

Escape Room tells the story of six strangers who wind up invited to a mysterious escape room with the offer of $10,000 if you can escape that, although appeared to be fun at first, turned deadly and quite real quickly.

I could not get out of my head the fact that this could have been a Marvel movie as they have a character named Arcade who is an assassin who runs a place called Murderworld and Murderworld is basically the concept of this movie.

Others have made movie connection of Escape Room to films like Final Destination, Saw 5, and Cube, but my mind kept going back to Arcade through the entire movie.

At first, as the group of people first met, we had the typical strangers in a group vibe, but they each started showing off some background that appeared to be feeding into the themes and clues of each room.  This fascinated me and I liked how the group seemed to be getting closer together as they struggled to survive the first few rooms.

However, the film took a noticeable downward turn as the group began to be split apart and started going into business for themselves.

Then, the ending of the movie was just terrible and there are two scenes at the very end of the film that should have found their way to the cutting room floor because they were just so toxic to the rest of the film.  I even thought that the final scene might have shown us the white suit of Arcade, which might have helped it for me.  It did not.

I did like Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page from Netflix’s Daredevil).  Her character was very interesting and could have used even more screen time.  I thought the lead protagonist Zoey (Taylor Russell) was very attractive and likable.  She was easily the most likable of the characters.  Logan Miller who played Ben was intriguing as well.  He had a pretty decent arc as he started off as a jerk and became a better person as the time progressed.

Tyler Labine played Mike and he was his typically enjoyable off-beat character that Labine plays on a regular basis.

Some of the set pieces were visually engaging, especially the upside down room that you may have seen in the trailers.  I did enjoy how each room had some connection to the group until the film had to come right out and bash you over the head with the plot point.  This film was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, until it wasn’t anymore.

2.6 stars