The Upside (2019) Review

Deep down, I guess, I’ve always been a sucker for unexpected friendships. While they can comes off as cliche, but when done properly, can be a source of great joy.

Based on the 2011 French film The Intouchables, it tells the true story of Del (Kevin Hart), an ex-con struggling to get his life in order so he can be with his son. He goes to an interview to be the caretaker for a quadriplegic billionaire Phillip (Bryan Cranston). While the two take time to adjust to each other, a friendship blooms that leads them to learn about each other and themselves.

There’s nothing particularly extravagant about The Upside; it’s a film that’s exactly what it needs to be: a sweet caring story about two men. Yes, there is a clash of cultures that doesn’t go too deep, but at least acknowledges that it’s there.

At its core the movie hinges on the chemistry between the leads, and it works wonderfully. Kevin Hart in particular takes on a more subdued role as Del, which impressively shows that he does have dramatic chops, which complements the chemistry he has with Bryan Cranston. The humor for both actors comes naturally, the serious moments don’t get so heavy handed. It’s just well balanced overall.

As simple as The Upside is, it has a lot of warmth and heart. The movie itself comes off as something of a “hang out” flick, a movie were you feel like you’re hanging out with them. It’s like a warm bowl of chicken soup that hits the right spot.


Green Book (2018) Review

Period films that tend to deal with social issues can be a tricky beast to tame; they run the risk of getting too preachy, or they gloss over some of it’s issues as to not run the risk of being too uncomfortable for a standard audience.

While Green Book does commit some of those sins, at its heart the two main performances are so well done, that one can forgive some of the precieved shortcomings.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is an Italian bouncer in the early 1960s trying to make a living. His reputation leads him to take a job being a driver for an accomplished African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a tour all through deep south of the United States. Through their travels they bond over their differences and similarities, learning about life from each other, forming a deep friendship.

Right out of the gate, Mortensen and Ali’s performances are what make the film. Reflecting back on the movie, I get impressed by how wonderful their chemistry is; the awkwardness they exhibit at the start of the picture comes off as natural for the time period. But ultimately, the way their friendship builds, is so full of joy and good humor that I was swept up in it’s simple but effective storytelling.

The criticisms I mainly have with Green Book concerns its central theme of racism in the 1960s. I loved the conversations with Tony and Dr. Shirley, about how others see them. For instance, Tony brings up that certain Italian stereotypes don’t bother him, but apply those to a black man then its racist; these conversations are far too brief and it seems like the filmmakers were too scared to go that route. And also there’s something revealed about one of the characters that given the time period in which it’s set, gets ignored to an extent, and you’re fucking crazy if that’s what happened in real life.

I guess deep down I wanted Green Book to go a little deeper into its themes, but I was enchanted by the two leads, the respect and humor make it for a great piece of entertainment, with a message that is too pure to ignore.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Review

I’ve been a Queen fan ever since I saw Wayne’s World back in 1991. To me, there has never been a band more innovative, fearless and just plain awesome in the history of rock. So to make a film about the band is a tall order, and while Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t reach the heights of the band, it is still a solid piece of entertainment.

The film follows the formation of the legendary rock group Queen: Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) as they handle the challenges of fame and creative integrity.

The challenges that come with reviewing a biopic, especially from a fan, is removing your sense of fandom and focusing on the film itself; like is it entertaining, how true is it to the actual events, etc. As for just the film itself, it is quality entertainment through and through.

The performances across the board are just excellent. Malek has the near impossible task of capturing the essence of a man that truly marched to the beat of his own drum. Even though in the first act there seemed to be some difficulty in getting into Freddie’s skin, by the second act Malek truly made me believe that he was Freddie Mercury.

A lot of focus of the film is his relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and rightfully so. As sweet and beautiful as it is, I wish there was more of it in the film, a problem that comes with knowing the real events behind their relationship.

Somethings in the movie do feel short changed, like the dynamics of the band for one. Roger and Freddie in the film seem to have a more volatile relationship compared to other members of the band and I wish we could have seen how that developed. The scenes where they are all working together as a band, writing some of the best songs in history, are some of my favorites in the whole movie as few as they are. A classic case of I just wanted more; to see more, to know more.

Even with the abundance of inaccuracies, and omissions (Freddie wasn’t diagnosed with AIDS until 1987, and there’s no mention of David Bowie and his giving Under Pressure to the band) the music of Queen is so infectious, the acting so genuine that I can overlook that stuff. I hope that fresh faces come into the movie becoming fans. As a film, just pure, joyous entertainment that left me with a smile on my face.

BlacKKKlansman (2018) Review

Director Spike Lee has always been a provocateur with his film output, Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X being his most notable examples. So a movie with the name BlacKKKlansman, you’re bound to piss some people off. But the sad thing is, as off putting as the title may be, this is one of the most important films of the year, if not the decade.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American to join the Colorado Springs Police Force. He joins a task force along with fellow officers Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi). While coming across an ad for Klan recruits in the paper, Stallworth decides to call them for shits and giggles, and actually gets a meeting. With Flip acting as his surrogate, they manage to infiltrate the Klan and get closer to “National Director” David Duke (Topher Grace).

With a premise like that it, it has to be a comedy, right? Well, it sure as shit has humor (more of the ironic variety), but it is a drama. Hell, this is a true story. The film manages to illicit laughs at the expense of the Klan members while also treating them as serious threats, because racists believe their own bullshit. It’s a mix of both humor and disgust, which Lee manages to blend both expertly.

Something that I was so thoroughly impressed with was the treatment of the police officers in the movie. While it does touch on the systematic racism within the department, but it does show us the bond and brotherhood that comes with the job. Stallworth, Zimmerman, and Creek are a team that have each others backs, with one tense sense where one character risks his life so his partner doesn’t get killed. Its impressive how the movie doesn’t paint any of these characters as “black and white” but that it all exists in shades of grey.

BlacKKKlansman is just a film that needs to be seen at least once; with the current social and political climate, Spike Lee has made a movie that is a painful reminder that hate will always be there to be fought, and that almost 50 years after the events of the movie, have we really changed as a society?

The Disaster Artist (2017) Review

     In 2003, a movie was made that was so bad that it became the next Rocky Horror Picture Show in its cult like status as one of the greatest bad movies ever made. 

     That movie was The Room written, produced, and directed by Tommy Wiseau, and it is just a masterpiece of shitty filmmaking. And now we have James Franco directing (and starring as Wiseau himself) a movie based on the novel of the same name by Greg Sistero (played by Dave Franco) about how this ode to inept filmmaking got made. 

     Greg is just a struggling actor trying to make it in show business when he meets Tommy in an acting class. They form a bond, and when things don’t go their way they decide to make The Room as a way to make a name for themselves. As they assemble their crew, their friendship will be put to the test as their passion for filmmaking could cost them everything. 

     It’s difficult to describe what’s at work here. If anything this is the modern day equivalent of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and it takes a similar approach; it doesn’t make fun of these odd characters who at their core, just want to make a movie. It just so happens that that movie is hilariously bad. But that’s what makes The Disaster Artist work completely. The friendship that develops between Tommy and Greg is what makes it so endearing that it makes you root for them. 

     Without going into spoilers, but this film has one of the greatest ensemble casts I’ve seen in awhile with Seth Rogan playing director of photography Sandy Sinclair, and Josh Hutcherson playing Philip who plays Denny. There’s so many more but I can’t dream of ruining who else appears just for the laugh out loud factor of it all. And every single actor nails their roles. 

     To be honest, I had doubts that the movie could be pulled off because of Tommy Wiseau himself. Everybody who’s seen The Room knows that Tommy is a unique personality to put it mildly. When James Franco was announced to be playing the part, I was apprehensive that he could capture the weird nature of Wiseau. 

     Franco nailed it. 

     This is by far Franco’s absolute best performance he has ever given. The guy has always been a good actor, but this is something else entirely. As someone who has shamelessly watched The Room I know the speech patterns and syntax that Wiseau speaks in, and Franco hits every single fucking note. There were times I forgot it was Franco that I was seeing on screen. Easily, this is the best performance I have seen from a male in years. James Franco ain’t a movie star anymore; he is one of the most fearless actors (and directors for that matter) working today. 

     I thought a lot that if were possible to enjoy The Disaster Artist without having seen The Room and I believe you can. It helps if you have, don’t get me wrong, but at its core the movie is about two friends who embark on showing Hollywood what they got to offer. The fact that it was one of the worst movies you’ll ever see is irrelevant, they had a dream, a goal, and they achieved it. This is one of the best movies of the year, far and above. It’s such an inspiring tale, that deserves to be seen and praised with such high marks.