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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Movie Review: Tenet

Tenet is the 11th film that Christopher Nolan has directed. It stars John David Washington as The Protagonist, an American operative given a mission to stop the end of the world. Scientists discover that some objects are moving backwards in time through a process called inversion and it is The Protagonist's job to determine what is causing inversion and needs to stop it. Basically, Tenet is Nolan's version of a Bond film. The Protagonist gets help from a sidekick named Neil (Robert Pattinson) and they jet set all over the world, from India to Estonia to hanging out off of the coast of Vietnam, to take down a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh)- who is using a McGuffin to destroy the world- with help of the oligarch's beautiful wife (Elizabeth Debicki). 

I could go into the plot further, but the story of what happens in this movie is so damn confusing, that it's basically better to visit the r/Tenet Reddit thread to figure out what happens. The first third of this film is all confusing exposition dumps of people sitting down and talking to each other and the rest of the film sees characters going forward and backwards through time yet partaking in the same events. The whole film is needlessly elaborate and makes for a frustrating moviegoing experience.

I normally love Christopher Nolan films and don't generally mind his long-winded attempts to explain the rules of the film. The first third of Inception is also basically full of exposition dumps, but Nolan found a way to entertain the audience while clearly explaining the rules. He fucking flips an entire city on itself! I also don't mind if the film is confusing and messes with the concept of time, when again, Nolan clearly communicates that in the movie. Tenet follows a lot of the same rules of Memento. But whereas Memento firmly establishes how to watch the film and what it is (the present day scenes are going in reverse chronological order intercut with the main character talking on the phone about Sammy Jenkins), Tenet is a narrative mess. Everything does make sense and loop together as Reddit has confirmed, but the film itself doesn't convey that well. I don't mind a Nolan film that doesn't explain itself fully upon a first viewing and requires multiple rewatches, but it needs to be entertaining and make somewhat sense the first time around. Tenet does not. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Best Soundtrack of 2020

In 2014, I wrote a blog post arguing that The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack was so good that the Academy Awards should create a new awards category. Since then, I have been writing about the best soundtracks of the year, which you can find examples of here and here and here. Here are my nominees for the Best Soundtrack of 2020.

Dir. Cathy Yan, Music Supervisor: Season Kent
NOTABLE SONGS: "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown, "Experiment on Me" by Halsey

Captain Marvel had one of the worst soundtracks I've heard in recent memory. Since the film was female-forward and set in the 1990's, the soundtrack was full of 90's female artists like Garbage, Hole, TLC, and Salt-N-Pepa. The climax of the film was even awkwardly set to No Doubt's "Just A Girl".  The problem was that these songs were pigeon-holed into the film and didn't work with the flow of the movie. Cathy Yan smartly took a different approach. While the soundtrack is prominently female-centric thanks to tracks from Halsey, Saweetie, and Whipped Cream, the songs pair perfectly with the mood of the scene. The film also isn't afraid to use male artists when appropriate, something the Marvel film seemed allergic to. Birds of Prey is also a lot more fun than Captain Marvel and the songs selected for the soundtrack reflect that. One of the reasons Birds of Prey worked creatively was because of the tone of the film that Yan established, and that tone was accented by the soundtrack. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Unsung Movie Acting Performances of 2020

I want to take this post to spend some time appreciating a handful of movie performances that are sure to go overlooked come award season. I'm not talking just about the Academy Awards, I'm taking about all award shows: the Independent Spirit Awards, Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and everything in between. There's no shortage of places where an actor can be praised come award season, yet even still, many are overlooked for their great performance. That's where I come in. These are the performances that I loved that, like Rodney Dangerfield famously states, can't get no respect. 

Robert Pattinson
Best Supporting Actor
The Devil All The Time

Why The Performance is Great: While Antonio Campos' campy Southern Gothic epic The Devil All The Time may not be very good (though it continues to live in my head rent free), Robert Pattinson's performance will haunt my dreams. He plays Preston Teagardin, a morally corrupt reverend who uses The Lord to justify his wicked ways. There's a slickness like a used car salesman to his performance that allows him to steal the show and monologue in a way where you want to punch his character in the face while hanging on his every word. In a film loaded with some of Hollywood's best young stars, it's Pattinson's performance that stands out. His attempt at a Southern accent doesn't hurt either. While the rest of his non-American co-stars are trying to use a traditional movie Southern dialect, Pattinson created a voice all his own. While Campos himself might not have approved, the words that ooze out of Teagardin's mouth like an oil sludge only helps to elevate Pattinson as one of the best young actors currently working today. 

The Devil All The Time is currently available to stream on Netflix

Margo Martindale and June Squibb
Best Supporting Actress
Blow The Man Down

Why The Performances are Great: Blow The Man is a modern day neo-noir set in a remote New England coastal fishing town, directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. Cole and Krudy do an amazing job establishing the vibe and seedy underbelly tone of the town. You can smell the fishiness from your living room, both from the sea animals as well as the actions of the townsfolk. The film centers around two young sisters in the wake of their mother's death as one of them kills her would-be sexual abuser in self-defense. The death of the both the mother as well as the attacker sets off a chain reaction pitting the sisters against the town's Madame (Enid Devlin played by Martindale) against a cadre of Karen's led by Susie Gallagher (played by Squibb). If you've seen Margo Martindale's Emmy wining wicked turn as Mags Bennett in Season 2 of Justified, then you know just how well she can play evil, and if you've seen June Squibb in anything, you know that there's a reason she an Academy nominated actress. Martindale and Squibb play characters on the opposite side of the coin. Martindale's Enid is ruthless, but sweet when she needs to be while Squibb's Susie is sweet, but ruthless when she needs to be. The great character actresses play so well off of each other that it enhances the great foundation that Cole and Krudy built. 

Blow The Man Down is available to stream on Amazon Prime

Monday, December 21, 2020

10 Best Movies of 2020

2020 was obviously a weird year for movies. Thanks to the pandemic, movies theaters were shut down most of the year and a good chunk of releases major studios were planning on releasing throughout the year were pushed back to 2021 or beyond. However, what this year did was allow smaller movies and Netflix movies to shine. While we didn't have a Fast and Furious or a new Marvel movie or a James Bond flick to enjoy this year, we did have a lot of small and independent movies that were able to peak through the crowded field. The pandemic also highlighted the trend of top tier filmmakers using streaming services to get their films made. Netflix released new films from David Fincher, Spike Lee, Charlie Kaufman, Aaron Sorkin, and Ron Howard. Apple TV+ released a new film from Sophia Coppola, HBOMax released new films from Seth Rogen and Melissa McCarthy, and Hulu released a new Andy Samberg film. Even pre-pandemic, at-home movie watching was supplanting going to a movie theater, but the pandemic amplified the trajectory to the point where Warner Bros studios announced this year that all of their 2021 new releases will be released simultaneously on HBOMax and in theaters. But watching movies at-home and movies shown through streaming services is not inherently a bad thing as reflected by the quality of films I was able to select for my Top 10. I think this year's Oscar nominations will be just as strong as previous years and best of end-of-year lists will be just as good as previous years. The make-up of it all will just be different. So without further ado, here is my list of the 10 Best Movies of 2020.

10) Class Action Park
Written & Co-Directed By:
 Seth Porges
Co-Directed By: Chris Charles Scott III
Featuring: Chris Gethard, Alison Becker, & Gene Mulvihill

Why It's Great: Action Park was an amusement park/water park in north New Jersey run by an unscrupulous business man named Gene Mulvihill. It was in its heyday in the late 70's, early 80's and known for being the most dangerous amusement park in the country. The stories about the lawlessness and dangerousness of the park in this documentary is told through talking heads of many of the lifeguards and teenage supervisors that worked at the park as well as some of the park's patrons, mainly comedians Chris Gethard and Alison Becker. It's hard to believe rides this treacherous could have and did exist in an American amusement park, and fairly recently, and a lot of the joy of the film comes from the stories of explaining these rides and attractions - Gethard's talking heads in particular make this movie for me. Yet underneath the backdrop of "kids being kids" and "back in my day" is the story of American greed. Action Park creator and CEO Gene Mulvihill made his money off of selling penny stocks a la Jordan Belfort (as portrayed by Leo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street) and Mulvihill was just as ruthless and greedy as Belfort was portrayed. The lightness and nostalgia of looking back at what the park was for so many young kids is contrasted with the darkness that was Gene Mulvihill. Class Action Park is just like one of its attractions- it's a fun roller coaster ride, but it will leave you with a scar to remember. 

Class Action Park is available to stream on HBOMax

9) Another Round

Co-Written & Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg
Co-Written By: Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Mads Mikkelson, Magnus Millang, & Thomas Bo Larsen

Why It's Great: Druk (literally translated to English means "binge drinking" but Another Round works so much better) is a Danish film about four friends and teachers who are having a midlife crisis, so they start day-drinking. The film stars all-time movie Bad Guy hall of famer Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale, Dr. Strange) who is allowed to play a normal human being. As such, it's one of Mikkelson's best performances. His character Martin begins the film as a sad sack. He's messing up teaching so badly that his students stage an intervention. His wife works nights and he barely sees her. He asks her if he's gotten "boring" and she's more than happy to assure him of what he already knows. So he and his friends start day-drinking as an "experiment" to see if their lives will improve. Another Round is a character driven vehicle to allow its 4 main protagonists, though mainly Martin, to explore the nature of how alcohol affects their lives and what they must do to be happier. The film is surprisingly propulsive and always keeps you entertained, even though you know when things start to go sideways, and has one of the most memorable endings to a film in 2020

Another Round is available to rent wherever you rent movies

Monday, December 14, 2020

Movie Review: Mank

Mank is the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz (aka Mank, played by Gary Oldman) as he reflects upon the incidents of his life inside the Hollywood studio system and his interactions with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) to write what became the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. Analogous to Citizen Kane, there is a present storyline of his time cooped up in a bed writing the film intercut with flashbacks of his time in the 1930's working at MGM with real life studio big wigs Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kinglsey). As the main plot points of Citizen Kane are its titular character attempting to run for Governor of California and being thwarted at the last moment when his opponent runs a smear campaign that Charles Foster Kane was having an affair with a "singer" and then Kane leaving his wife to marry said "singer", Mank tells the story of Louis B Mayer, as a proxy for Hearst, attempting to ensure Republican incumbent Frank Merriam defeats Democrat and "socialist" writer Upton Sinclair as Governor of California. Mank also shows the titular character's platonic relationship between Hearst's tryst, actress Marion Davies (played spectacularly by Amanda Seyfried) who is the inspiration for the "singer". 

Like all David Fincher films, the technical aspects of Mank are top notch. The creamy black-and-white cinematography to reflect Old Hollywood, the score that feels time period appropriate by frequent Fincher collaborators Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, and the pitch perfect costume design and production design. The weakness in the film is its script, written by David Fincher's now decreased father Jack Fincher, in particular the story. The first time I saw the film, it felt empty. I felt so disconnected that it made me mad (and the hype of seeing a brand new David Fincher film didn't help either). But that being said, Mank lived rent free inside my head for so long that I give the film a second watch. I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around, and the second viewing helped because I was able to get invested in the story earlier because I knew where it was going. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

10 Best Television Shows of 2020

The increase of original television programming has led to this current era of Peak TV, and thanks to the late 2019 launches of Disney+ and Apple TV+, there was no shortage of apps to download if you wanted to watch a TV show this year. In the past, we bemoaned the amount of distribution services, but thanks to the pandemic in 2020, our curse turned into a blessing. Considering the only thing we were allowed to do all day every day was stay inside, the glut of original television shows meant we had something to do to help pass the time. Heck, we made Tiger King a thing this year because of it. As such, I allowed myself to have a wide variety of streaming services at my disposal. I'm paying for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, I dabbled throughout the year with Showtime and Starz, and I have access to HBOMax and most cable shows thanks to immediately family members. Yet still, I'm not made of money so I don't have everything, most notably Apple TV+. While that mainly means no Ted Lasso on this list, I'd still like to think, as just a regular dude with a full-time job and raising a toddler, I had the ability to watch most of the shows that aired this year. So without further ado, below is my list of the 10 Best Television Shows of 2020. 

10) Dave (FXX)
Season 1
Created By: Dave Burd & Jeff Schaffer
Starring: Lil' Dicky, Taylor Misiak, & GaTa

Why It's Great: Before the pandemic really wrecked havoc over 2020, white rapper Lil' Dicky (born Dave Burd) gave me Dave and allowed me to go down a rabbit hole rocking out to $ave Dat MoneyLemme Freak, and Professional Rapper.  You wouldn't normally think a show about a White Rapper trying to emerge in The Game that tackles issues of race, mental illness, and sexual inadequacy would be funny, but thanks to Burd's humor that's already baked into his rap songs, Jeff Schaffer who co-created The League, and director Greg Mottola (Superbad), your left with a showcase from someone who can act, make you laugh, and can really spit. Dave certainly falls in line with FXX's brand of humor and style of comedy that often addresses "serious" issues, but this type of show really works for me. 

9) The Last Dance
One-Time Docu-Series
Directed By: Jason Hehir
Starring: Michael Jordan

Why It's Great: The Last Dance is a 10-episode docu-series about the basketball career of Michael Jordan, using the 1998 season of the Chicago Bulls trying win their 6th NBA Championship as a through line. Outside giving us some great memes, the documentary provided great insight to what made Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan is so beloved and universal, that the show allowed us to have a Monoculture moment, if only for a little bit.