Thanksgiving 2019 Movie Reviews by Nate and Alex Blake

Nate: 

Due to the number of new releases in theaters and streaming platforms this weekend, we’re taking a break from our typical format to do a roundup of everything we’ve seen since Thanksgiving Eve. Let’s get to it.

 

The Irishman

dims

Nate:

Martin Scorsese delivers a more somber and stripped down mob movie this time around. Gone is the rock music and the sweeping cinematography in films like Goodfellas and The Departed that made mob life seem kind of badass, at least until it all inevitably went bad. What The Irishman depicts is a dirty, sad and unpleasant existence. It’s a fascinating story and in terms of tone, a big departure for Scorsese. Unfortunately, the pacing just didn’t work for me. I didn’t mind the three and a half hour run time; I’ve seen two hour films that felt longer, but Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker often bring us into scenes long before they begin to serve their purpose and let others drag on too long. I noticed this the most during the mid-section of the film. It’s a surprisingly uneven final product from a duo known for tightly paced masterpieces. 

Fortunately the cast does not disappoint. I’m not quite on board with how many acting awards this film will likely be nominated for in the coming months. Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro have played variations of these characters before and left bigger impressions, though it certainly is nice to see them share the screen again. Al Pacino is on a different level here though. I may not be on board with the immediate hailing of the film itself as a classic, but Pacino’s turn as Jimmy Hoffa will rightfully be talked about for decades.

I recommend seeing The Irishman and I also suggest carving out time to watch it in one sitting (with one or two pauses to use the bathroom). The story and the cast are too intriguing to miss, but I can’t say that intrigue will bring me back for a re-watch anytime soon.

Alex:

Martin Scorsese’s body of work is one I am not very well versed in. I can say the same about mob movies in general. I have seen a few staples of the genre, but I would not necessarily consider myself a fan. I really enjoyed the viewing experience of The Irishman though. At this point, I am sure you are aware of the run time. And honestly, that is probably my biggest criticism. There was no reason for this film to be three and a half hours long. There were definitely some places where making the story more concise would have helped. With that being said, other than the pumpkin pie break that was taken at the half way point, I was drawn into the narrative all the way through.

Because we have been hearing about this film for what feels like years at this point, I am sure you are also aware of the visual effects choices that were made. Robert De Nero and Joe Pesci were the main two actors that were de-aged using digital technology. I was really worried when I read about this use of technology. But, given the way the narrative is structured, the choice makes sense. And, in addition, it was believable.

I really enjoyed aspects of this film. Mostly the screenplay, the score, and the directorial choices. I am not convinced though that it deserved all of the hype it endured in the lead up to its release or the unending love the academy will show it this year.

 

Honey Boy

shia_labeouf_on_set_honey_boy

Nate:

Shia LaBeouf wrote and stars along with Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe in this story about an aspiring young actor (Hedges/Jupe) coping with the destructive behavior of his father  (LaBeouf). The screenplay was written by LaBeouf while he was in rehab. Consequently, this is a dark, heartbreaking and mesmerizing drama. The relatively small cast is wonderful and LaBeouf’s script is brutally honest. Films about abusive parents can too often feel inauthentic or over-the-top. This one doesn’t. The dynamic between father and son is rarely not disturbing, and the film is from start to finish much darker and less focused on time spent on set than the trailers suggest.

My only complaints with this one, as with another film in this post, are from a purely technical side. Director Alma Har’el and Cinematographer Natasha Braier shoot this story with a dark color palate that emphasizes pinks, purples, oranges and dark blues. The film is gently washed in a haze of the aforementioned colors, but sometimes the images are so dark that it’s nearly impossible to make out the impressions on the characters’ faces. I don’t want to harp on this issue too much, as it’s possible the theater had the projector set in a way that caused the images to be too dark. Either way, it’s something I found distracting.

Alex:

Content warning for this film: childhood trauma, domestic violence, child abuse, and addiction

This is Shia LaBeouf’s come back year. I don’t think any of us really understood the things he has been through before the release of this film. It is a raw look inside the trauma he sustained in his childhood at the hands of his father. As you are watching this film, you can just sense how cathartic this must have been for him to make. The screenplay that LaBeouf was able to create really takes you into the mind of this child. It is so well done that by the end of the film your heart is aching for a child that has already grown up.

Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, and LaBeouf helm this cast in such a commanding way. Each provide the audience with a performance that leaves you wanting more. The narrative does not hold back in terms of what this child endured. It is quite hard to watch at times. The relationships developed between the characters are not what I would call traditional and you can definitely see the negative impacts of that throughout the course of the story.

I was also impressed with the surreal aspects and how the filmmakers played with time. The story is told through a series of flashbacks. The way the director and editors chose to depict these flashbacks is seamless and unnerving. All in all, this film is definitely worth the time. But it definitely is not for the faint of heart.

 

Knives Out

download

Nate:

The best movie I saw this holiday weekend, and one of the best of the year, is Rian Johnson’s clever, funny and twist-fueled murder mystery. It feels like I’ve been seeing trailers for this thing for years, and with each longer preview that was released, I kept wishing the studio would stop showing me any more of the film until I could see it in it’s entirety. I’m happy to say the trailers give away nothing, other than the cast is amazing.

Rian Johnson has rarely disappointed me, and while I took issue with certain aspects of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I couldn’t stand the backlash from many Star Wars fans who made outrageous statements blaming Johnson for ruining Luke Skywalker or erasing their childhood and other such rubbish. Still, it’s also fair to say Johnson’s previous film wasn’t his best work. Knives Out is career best material from the writer-producer-director and proof that auteurs do their best work when they aren’t doing the for-hire bidding of a studio dictating the future of a franchise.

The action centers around an investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy family’s patriarch (Christopher Plummer). Led by Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the investigation takes some surprising turns and exposes some major family dysfunction. I’m not saying anything else about the plot. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard while being on the edge of my seat. The entire cast is excellent, but Craig and Cuban actress Ana De Armas elevate an already brilliant script to turn this into an instant classic. Thanks to the humor and the entire ensemble’s chemistry and timing, Knives Out will be highly re-watchable even when we know what twists are coming. It was a pleasure to see an original, non-franchise film fill almost every seat.

Alex:

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I have an absolute love for any story that involves murder and mayhem. The more murder the better. This interest of mine really keeps Nate on his best behavior. My point with all of this is that I know a good who done it story when I see it. And let me just say Rian Johnson hits this one out of the park.

There is so much I want to say and can’t because the less you know going into this story the better. The trailers lead you to believe that this film is one thing and it so is not. The story is complex and told in such a way that draws you in until the absolute end. I am really looking forward to watching this one again because I am sure there are a ton of things I missed because I was so engrossed in trying to figure out where this film was going.

These characters were also perfectly cast. This was one of those rare films where you could tell everyone was just having a great time. It really showed in their performances. You will need to accept Daniel Craig’s insane accent because it only gets worse the more you listen to it.

 

Queen & Slim

3992ef8c-adb0-44f3-aaa9-8d20e33ec6e0-VPC_TRAILER_ON_QUEEN_AND_SLIM_DESK_THUMB_V2

Nate:

Melina Matsoukas makes her directorial debut in this modern-day reworking of Bonnie & Clyde. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as an African American couple on a date that already wasn’t going very well when they are pulled over by an overzealous and racist cop. Violence ensues and the couple are forced on a cross country chase.

This is an impressive debut for Matsoukas and a wonderful screenplay from Lena Waithe. There have been numerous reworkings of the Bonnie & Clyde story since Arthur Penn’s 1967 masterpiece, but none have come close to capturing the film’s spirit. This one does, particularly because it knows the earlier film succeeded because of how closely its protagonists arc was associated with the cultural battles of the 1960s. Here, our protagonists are even more sympathetic. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide it would be cool and sexy to rob some of those evil banks. Queen and Slim never set out to hurt anyone, but because of institutional racism and cops that aren’t held accountable, they are forced to become outlaws .

I appreciated how surprisingly quiet and reflective the film is. The trailers had me expecting more action, but I wasn’t disappointed to find that Waithe’s script focuses much more on the relationship between Ernest “Slim” Hines and Angela “Queen” Johnson. Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are mesmerizing as this couple, who at times clearly dislike each other but slowly grow into being the most important people in each others’ lives.

If I have any complaints, they are on a technical level. There are a few unpolished moments, such as when a camera apparently mounted on a car door shakes as the door is closed.

Finally, I won’t spoil it, but Matsoukas finds a cool way to pay homage to the 1967 Bonnie & Clyde by updating that film’s still picture motif. Queen & Slim is an all around solid experience and I hope a lot of people go out and see it soon. Alex and I had the theater to ourselves for this one which, I won’t lie, was kind of romantic, but a film like this deserves a packed house.

Alex:

I need to preface this review with the fact that I did really enjoy this film. After I say what I have to say, you might not think that is true. But I really can appreciate what Lena Waithe was trying to accomplish with her script. I just think in execution, it fell a bit short in some regards. I have been a big fan of Waithe’s since I experienced her work on Master of None. She is one of those writers that has a knack for introducing the audience to a culture and allowing them to become completely immersed.

With that being said, I needed this film to choose a lane. I either needed it to be more character driven or more plot driven. Given what this film is about, you would think it would be very quick paced with lots of action. But that really is not the case. Instead, you slowly see the relationship between the two characters develop but you don’t always feel the tension of the situation they are in. This happens mostly in the second act. The first and third acts are able to achieve that sense of tension better. It was still enjoyable to watch unfold mostly because of the performances given by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith.

In terms of the technical aspects, it was well done but apparent that it was a first-time director behind the camera. There were some technical mistakes that were distracting. There were other things though, such as the use of diegetic sound, that were really creative. I know I said a lot to dissuade you from seeing this film, but you should give it a chance. The score and screenplay were great and it really is an intriguing story.

 

The Report 

MV5BMWJlM2M0ODgtYmNhMS00ZGVkLThmNmItZTM1NmI5NDM5MmFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXRzdGFzaWVr._V1_CR59,0,1435,807_AL_UY268_CR19,0,477,268_AL_

Nate:

The Report stars Adam Driver as Daniel Jones and Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein. In 2007, Jones is assigned to investigate the CIA’s use of torture during the War on Terror that followed the 9/11 attacks. What Jones uncovers is a policy of cruelty, corruption and  incompetence, that not only stains the C.I.A., but the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Anyone expecting a dry, dialogue driven investigative thriller will be taken aback by the scenes of torture depicted in the first half of the film. Director Scott Z. Burns is not content to simply have characters uncover documents detailing the types of torture used by the C.I.A., he shows it and does so far more realistically than other directors have chosen to. The film makes critical references to Zero Dark Thirty and the TV series 24, both of which helped feed the narrative that torture works. As Jones discovers, the torture utilized by the C.I.A. after 9/11 was ineffective, but also went beyond the threat of harm. The injuries suffered by detainees, some of whom may not have even been combatants, is graphically detailed and horrifying.

I liked that the film wasn’t afraid to go after people on both sides of the political aisle. The performances are universally great and include memorable turns by Jon Hamn, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael C. Hall and Maura Tierney. Bening is perfectly cast as Dianne Feinstein and it’s a testament to how strong of a year it has been for acting that she probably won’t even receive an Oscar nomination for a performance that in most other years would easily make her nomination a lock.

The film itself suffers from an unfocused and meandering second act. There is a turning point halfway through the film where the investigation itself is mostly over and it becomes more about Jordan having to protect himself and the report from a multitude of institutions. The plotting becomes scattershot for a bit and as a result I found the second half of the film less interesting than the first. Still. this is a captivating, if at times hard to watch, story about the importance of holding government accountable. It’s streaming on Amazon now and very worth a watch.

Alex:

I have been really excited for this film since it was first announced. It has an all-star cast, employs an engaging narrative, and is really well shot. It isn’t flawless though. While the story is really compelling, the pacing does hold it back at times. It is quite slow moving. though that often works because it allows the viewer to really experience the emotions and high stakes of the situation. It really feels like you are reliving part of history.

It’s not a movie for squeamish viewers. It does show in graphic detail some really brutal interrogations. Unfortunately, these scenes depict what our government actually did to people and I am glad that the people involved in this project were brave enough to include the gory scenes that are present. This is not just a surface level film. You get to be very up close and personal with the decision makers involved in this historical debacle as well as with the violence they decided to employ.

I was really impressed with Adam Driver and Anette Bening’s performances. Adam Driver does a very good job at showing how this man became very tied up and emotionally invested in the work he was doing. I was also very happy to see that Dianne Feinstein was not necessarily portrayed as a hero. She has her moments, but we are also able to see the political calculus she uses to justify some of her decisions. The cast is rounded out by great performances from Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm, and Linda Powell.

 Nate:

That wraps up our Thanksgiving 2019 movie marathon and reviews. It’s been a busy three days, and tomorrow we’re just going to chill and enjoy some leftovers. Of course, December has a very packed release schedule, so our break will be very short lived. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s