Movie Reviews: Lady Bird was so _______



I appreciate indie film. For the most apart, it is only through this medium that you can watch art imitating life. There are no super powers. Space Aliens are not getting revenge on Earth. There are no stunts from tough guys that would kill an ordinary human being. Robots from another planet are not randomly picking Earth as a battleground.

I’ve been a fan of the indie scene sine the mid 1990s, when I was an early teen. I watched all sort of indie movies, clever and shitty. I’ve endured pretentiousness up the wazoo and witnessed work that predicted masterpieces to come. When I first saw Memento, I was like “Wow. Just wait until this Christopher Nolan guy gets a budget.”

When I watched Lady Bird, it couldn’t have been more boring to me. It began with a jump outside a moving vehicle, which made me go “okay, maybe we got a story here.” But what follows is basically ordinary coming of age life tale. The music was so off-2002 that it could have been a story for anyone from 1996 to 2004. The Catholic school setting didn’t matter whatsoever, because much of it was a basic rich vs poor plot, a story told for thousands of years, with much of the time spent on drama club.

We watch Lady Bird, a neurotic teen with wit far beyond her age, navigate the waters of her senior year in a town she doesn’t like while pursuing (shocking) boys.

I was incredibly bored throughout. I related to the poverty and needing a plan to get the hell out of town (who doesn’t) but everything else I’ve seen before over and over and over again. Boys and sex and college admissions. An ending ripped from Paper towns.

There seems to be an Oscar tradition of so many films getting nominated now that there is an indie quota of movies artists want to make more of and movies the general public will never see. Last year, Moonlight is a prime example. It might be a fine film, but it is probably one of the least relatable films I could choose to watch, so I don’t.

With Lady Bird, make your choice. It isn’t for everyone, and you’ve seen the movie before under different packaging.

Movie Rating: 5/10 Waitlisted Schools

Movie Reviews: Varsity Blues


“Let’s play the next 24 minutes for the next 24 minutes.”

As someone that grew up in the MTV generation, who graduated High School in 1999, Varsity Blues holds a special place in my heart. It was released in January 1999 after a little marketing campaign on the only channel I watched back then. I saw it in theaters, alone I think, because I was a loner and girls really didn’t talk to me.

And saw the whip cream bikini.

The bad teacher.

Tweeter the party animal.

The nerd reading Vonnegut who can throw a football 50 yards.

Had music of my High School days.

It made an indelible impression. Rewatching it recently, it holds up in some areas while lacks in other areas. The West Texas Football plot is cliche. The backup becomes starter, in sort of a Nick Foles role. The coach is an ambitious asshole. The girlfriends are hot. The biggest problems are really not that big. The ending is predictable, but really, after the partying is over, the target audience doesn’t care. Listening to the sweet beats of the Foo Fighters as they play in the second half is pure gold.

Out of the cast, Paul Walker had the biggest career, but it was cut short. He peaked in Fast in the Furious, in what I think was his best role.

James Van Der Beek, continued his role as Dawson. Which, ended weirdly. (Fucking Pacey). I think his best role was The Rules of Attraction, but still didn’t have the best scene even that film.

Amy Smart went a ton of places, but nothing really big. She is sort of on the C-list. This could have been her peak, unless you think Just Friends was her chance.

Ali Larter as whip cream bikini girl. I think I imagined myself marrying her from Jan 1999 to May 1999. Wow. This was her peak.

Jon Voight played the coach. Still with the longest career, he is sort of an older version of Amy Smart if she doesn’t change trajectory. His best role since then was his cameo in Tomb Raider, only because people are not sure if he is really acting or not in a weird method acting paradox.

Scott Caan found out what Van Der Beek is finding now; TV is where it is at for a steady paycheck. He still hasn’t peaked, and with a good role, could break out in the future.

Movie Rating: 7/10 Hook and Ladders

Movie Reviews: Only God Forgives

37426.jpgAfter seeing Drive, like many people, I was interested in what would come next from Nicolas Winding Refn. I was so excited, I did something I rarely do … I paid to watch the movie on demand. It cost around 20 bucks I think, and it was 20 bucks I would have rather had back. This is the price to pay when you want to see something still “new” in theaters from the director of Drive.

I even watched it twice, just in case I missed something or it was too confused at the arthouse story. I didn’t pay twice, mind you, since it was one of those things where you can watch as much as you wanted in 24 hours.

It was clearly an experiment gone wrong.

Ryan Gosling must have wanted to capitalize on the skills of the new hot director who made the classic, Drive, based on source material (a book, then Hugh Jackman script). Or, he clearly wanted to pay Refn back while loyalty in order to get funding for the film.

If you watch the documentary, My Life Directed, it is clear there were issues getting funding and distribution for this movie. Ryan and Nicolas had to make appearances at Drive events in order to add to the budget of Only God Forgives. What is also apparent is Nicolas Refn’s fear about how the story would be received.

It’s surely weird.

Kristin Scott Thomas is evil.

Ryan Gosling is really an antagonist in a foreign land.

We watch bad people squirm around trying to navigate in seedy ways.

The hero had unorthodox and uses methods most revered for villains.

The story is about characters which I like, and the cinematography is actually pretty good. The story isn’t compelling for my taste. I doubt anyone in Thailand relates to it. I term this is a story out of water. I can’t really classify it. I hated it and appreciated it at the same time. There is one great scene, involving a market ambush. There are a bunch of terrible, and cinematically pretentious scenes, involving everyone.

In My Life Directed, Refn says everyone wanted him to make another Drive.

Well, it’s been around 7 years since Drive. I think it’s time.

As for this movie, I’ll forgive you.

Movie Rating: 2/10 Machete chops

Movie Reviews: Dunkirk


Like many of my movie reviews, this is really a half movie review, and a half tangent rant on something related to the film. If you truly want to know about the synopsis of the film, there are many other blogs or media reviews to read.

It’s also a little personal.

This was the first Christopher Nolan film since Batman Begins that I did not see in theaters. I saw the the hype. I knew the history. Nolan is one of the best directors in the business today. But I couldn’t bear to watch it.

It has nothing to do with the film, but more to do with the content.

I’m a veteran. By choice, I simply, don’t watch realistic war films often. Before the service, I did. Saving Private Ryan was the best in my opinion. World War II was the war to end of all wars, and the greatest generation, steadfast brits, key allies and resistance groups, fought the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan, all while The Soviet Union fought and bore a huge cost on the brutal eastern front of the war. Who broke the Third Reich? (Hint: land wars in Asia are brutal) Since doing my share in OIF and OEF, I don’t really want to watch war films. I think since I watched The Hurt Locker, which itself was a preposterous action film, my interest waned the moment I saw Jeremy Renner lost and confused in the supermarket aisle.

That was me. Or is me. I don’t know. When the war idealism fades, and you enter your 30s, your taste in cinema evidently changes to. At least it did for me.

I have not seen American Sniper, despite liking and respecting Clint Eastwood films.

I have not seen The Lone Survivor, despite thinking Peter Berg is a good director.

I did watch Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up with Zero Dark Thirty, but that wasn’t really a war film. It was really a spy movie, which are still fun in my book.

Maybe I have Post Traumatic Movie Syndrome.

So, it took a lot for me to watch this movie, and its from a different era. To drill down to the cause, maybe it’s because war isn’t a glorified thing when you are part of it. Young and predominantly determined people fight wars old people lead. I wouldn’t go as far as to say poor people fight in modern day, since really, Armed Forces of the US are middle class after a few years, with education opportunities that can propel them to the higher rungs once you make it past 4 years (most don’t, especially in the Marines, statistically). We come in as idealists and usually leave a change person, for better or worse.

We learn  few universal military maxims. First and foremost, healthcare sucks: incompetent and motrin-pushing when you are in, and incompetent and ailment-denying when you are out. Politicians won’t truly ever care. If you are a vet, try writing a congressman and see if you ever get an answer. The VA is literally filled with healthcare bureaucrats who run it like a DMV. Instead of the entire VA and their $70 billion budget, they could gut it all and cover all retiree’s insurance with a top program, and make it law to deny coverage. Would benefits be abused by some? Maybe. It happens under the VA now (with disability shopping) and with Medicare (which the country covers for older retirees). But really, what is the over abuse when it comes to healthcare? Electing to have more knees surgeries …. fuck. You got to me one tough motherfucker to want a knee operation that you don’t need. They say 39,471 veterans are homeless any given night in america, which is a shame. Many of these people have serious problems. Some, are post traumatic stress syndrome related … something that was frowned upon as a sissy psychology-pushed diagnosis until the Iraq War. Help them before the sands of time turn them into a shell of their former selves.

Nevertheless, wars are fought and always will be fought. In this movie, we watch a retreat unfold. Nothing is truly explained. Nolan expects people to know their history other than the few lines of introduction the film opens with. I read somewhere that Nolan wanted the film to have no script, which I guess was unique, and perhaps ambitious if this was an intended documentary style recreation.

I didn’t love the film. I actually will go as far to say, I think the narrative is disjointed. Nolan seems to be watching too many Kubrick films. If Interstellar was like a Space Odyssey tribute, Dunkirk is an homage to Paths of Glory. Every frame is beautifully shot and could be hung in an art gallery. I just didn’t see a story. Nothing felt compelling to me. There isn’t a single narrative. You don’t really root for anyone. There is no villain. It doesn’t really demonize or talk bad about the enemy. The movie is 90% visuals and a Hans Zimmer score.

Not even his stable of trusted actors can save the story. Between Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy (who is one of the few saving graves of the film) there just isn’t much for them to do, along with the 400 other white male actors (this is a Christopher Nolan film, so go figure)

The film is simply a retreat, and afterward, I felt tired.

Maybe its genius because it doesn’t glamorize war. There is no real victory. There is no real point.

Movie Rating: 5/10 low tides

Movie Reviews: Valerian


One of my favorite movies when I was in High School was The Fifth Element. Luc Besson directed a far fetched movie of the future with a distinct sense of over-the-top style and visuals where a love story was front and center. Valerian was supposed to be the spiritual follow up. The visuals were certainly there. The love story was there. The costumes looked pretty similar.

But something was missing.

I don’t know. Valerian was based on source material, but the Sci-Fi mystical mystery simply lacked charisma, weight, and a counterbalance. Simply put, it doesn’t have a crusty Bruce Willis, known for his trope roles, playing things over-the-top. It didn’t have Chris Tucker playing the second greatest role of his career. It doesn’t have Mila Jovovich with her orange hair and non-sensical dialect and, lets face it, over-the-top hotness to propel the film. In High School, I wanted to marry the girl in orange hair. That is the type of personality I had. I was so introverted and too stuck in friend-zones that Mila was the most fascinating woman I’d ever seen. I was entranced. In fact, I saw The Fifth Element twice. For a broke kid, this rarely happened. On top of this, I think The Matrix, The Phantom Menace, and *Titanic were the only movies I saw twice in the theater.

*for various reasons 

Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan certainly do their best. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in the spiritual follow up to The Fifth Element? And to be frank, despite a nonsensical and uninspiring CGI opening, which made be bored and disconnected, Cara and Dane’s opening scene was actually pretty great. I dug the whole thing. The playful back and forth. The teasing and flirting while responding to the mission on hand while getting through backstory exposition as they interacted with the set and post-production CGI that needed to happen. This is complicated stuff, and the opening scene between them needed to establish the stakes. I dug it. I liked it.

But then we got back to the plot. The non-sense that nobody cared about. The gimmicks few understood or cared to understand. The mystery that nobody wanted to see. The species nobody wanted to save. The betrayal (and wasted Clive Owen role) that everyone saw coming but nobody cared because the costume was so laughably bad, it was hard to take seriously. At least Gary Oldman had a metal head, cool gun, weird creature beneath desk, and was over-the-top crazy. Clive Owen is just boring … like the entire movie.

Even really inventive speed chases with really cool visuals really don’t mean much. All I really wanted to see was Cara and Dane get together again. It’s not that I’m a damn sap for a love story (Note: Titanic was watched for various reasons, not related to the doomed romance between Leo and Kate, from two classes of society, two countries, and a doomed fate against a bittersweet James Horner soundtrack)

It really was the only interesting thing about the film. They were not as dull as other reviewers allude to. I would have rather watched them do a normal mission together. If an asteroid or say … iceberg hit their spaceship on the way, it would have made more sense than whatever the plot of Valerian was.

Movie Rating: 4/10 space station capsules

Special Guest: Sarah “Tin Foil” Zant (Went on 2.5 dates in 2004, so not quite a ex-girlfriend, but she still texts me twice a week, in fact, for 10 years I thought her last name was Zon, which really was the only reason I said yes to her as she rang me up at Blockbuster video because anyone with Zon as their surname was automatically destined to be a mastermind of some sort)

Did you know Cara and Dane are actually delivering an Oscar worthy performance? Few know the true backstory, but Cara actually began researching for this role when she played Margo in Paper Towns. Luc Besson had already secretly sent her a red envelope with an invitation to star in Valerian. You see, Margo is actually Sgt. Laureline. Hold on … take some deep breaths. If you watch carefully, there  is a clear reason why the movie begins during the same time as Paper Towns. She was specially selected and pulled forward in space time to save the future. Margo was always a flirty, mysterious wanderer and there is no better job for that in the galaxy than the special police division. This is why she had to ditch High School and leave town. It was time for her time teleportation. In Paper Towns, Nate Wolff plays Quentin Jacobsen, also a boy with zero personality and appears to lack acting skills. People immediately confuse Dane DeHaan’s performance as also lacking all characteristics of quality acting, except, when you carefully consider Dane is merely replicating what Margo would want subconciously, the boy across the street who she left hanging with shitty clues, you understand the mastery at work. This is a subtle and thoughtful performance. There is deep psychology against the impact of space-time we are working with. If you watch the moment, scene, and style in which the final proposal happens, and you actually put together the clues, you’ll get it and you might shit your pants. Only charlatans would think Valerian is a spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element when its actually a sequel to Paper Towns, but Luc Besson isn’t going to dumb it down for everyone. He wants his masterwork to be watched in the year 3001. 

The Zant Rating from The Zant Files: 100/100, simply a masterpiece

Movie Reviews: Roman J. Israel, Esq

What is an esquire?

Either google the term if you have zero patience, or watch how Denzel Washington delivers an answer as Roman J. Israel, Esq, a man with a crisis of conscience.

This is a common theme in many adult films. I personally like George Clooney in Michael Clayton as he explores a similar theme, also in the legal world. Maybe this is why we don’t predominantly like attorneys. They are expensive, shallow, and the nature of their work treat their clients as dollar signs. This theme runs deep through the film as Denzel’s character has to weigh a life of servitude for the greater good, or giving in to the monetary demons on his shoulders.

Choices are made, and you can probably guess the arc. If you watched Nightcrawler, an excellent film also by Dan Gilroy (who also saved Rogue One in reshoots), you’ll know there is a new master in Hollywood. Gilroy understands pacing, character arcs, and how to deliver an ending against a narrative.

People, understandably, hope for some Hollywood type ending. In legal dramas, this often culminates in some victorious legal decision. But the story is often more about the case or criminal. A film directed by Dan Gilroy is always about someone’s journey, the decision they have to make, and the consequences of their actions. Watch Nightcrawler, the end of Rogue One, and Roman J. Esquire and compare.

I read a few other reviews, mostly centering on Denzel getting nominated for an Oscar again, but they hoped for more. Others called the film weird.

I thought it was tremendous masterwork done by a storyteller. I look forward to the next decade of Dan Gilroy films. They have you thinking afterward, “what was that about?” In current cinema, there are only a few other directors I hold in this regard: Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Nicholas Winding Refn. I don’t exactly have to love all of their films, but I love the artistry they display in a commercialized business.

I think this is Denzel’s best work in many years. He’s plays basically the same character in most of his films, likely due to director/producer decisions, so that people know exactly what they are paying for. He is kind of crusty, kind of tough, and usually to the point. Roman J. Israel is crusty, however isn’t tough, is kind of chicken, stammers on tangents and lacks social manners.

And what else. Colin Farrell. That Colin Farrell. The one who was In Bruges, not the one in SWAT. The one pushing himself in The Lobster, not the one evading capture in Total Recall. The one who dabbles in indie films with exploratory storytelling. Not the one looking for the big payday. The character actor. A good character actor.

Dan Gilroy, please please please keep the films coming. I know $11 million isn’t exactly the box office producers want, but film as an art form needs more stories like this, and adults need to support it in the future, otherwise over-saturation of sequels/prequels/animation/reboots/comic stories will somehow get worse. Film itself is going through a similar crisis of conscience. There is a tradeoff in this industry, like many others (like Facebook filtering the fake paid posts, but not all, or Google disabling fake news accounts, but still allowing Tai Lopez to pump Bitcoin courses to dumb millennials), which I now ponder the morning after. Movie reviewers are not exactly a philosophical bunch, so I understand how most were quick to type up their reviews and few actually thought about the art. I can only imagine them attending a new art exhibit.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10 Armenian Rewards



Movie Reviews: Night Owls


When you are a night owl searching for a flick to watch in bed, what’s more fitting than a movie called Night Owls?

It is yet another story of boy meets girl.

Boy sleeps with girl.

Boy finds out she is crazy.

Whether or not art is imitating life, or life is imitating art is a tricky question in this case. One thing is known though, is this movie probably won’t be remembered as art. Madeline and Kevin are foes throughout. Adam Pally seems like he was told to do his best impression of Seth Rogan. Rosa Salazar seems like she was told to do her best impression of Aubrey Plaza.

The problem is, neither are funny.

Neither are believable playing it serious. For something as serious as the event that happens ten minutes in, I would expect to see more panic on both sides.

I’m not saying the acting is terrible. It’s okay. The best they can do is work with the material given to them. For most of the film, they are the only two characters struggling against each other on a single set.

In movies, opposites attract. Throughout the film, I didn’t really think Kevin or Madeline felt anything towards each other. Here, it seems they keep a disdain for each other up until the end. Madeline doesn’t show any real closure with her previous flame. Kevin doesn’t truly conquer his obstacle, not unless you count pouting off away from the conflict.

The movie sort of ends where it begins.

A more interesting movie would have been what happens next. At least then, we could have watched a change in the characters.

Movie Rating: 5/10 mace sprays in the face