Category Archives: Film Reviews
The essence of any film is a method of voice. “Booksmart” is a great anomaly but hopefully not. It is in some ways a modern day female “Superbad” but with more heart. While the exec producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, this film is guided with a steady hand and as much of a good feature debut as done by many by Olivia Wilde. The performances are pinpoint but the way the music works moves it well. This could have been a simple movie about rite of passage but it has more because the subtext but also what is on surface is done with aplomb direction. Wilde brings in some of her friends (and her husband’s friends) but doesn’t overwhelm with any star power. It is the two girls that are the leads that power this. Kaitlyn Dever as Amy is great because the performance crosses many lines and persuasions but is so universal. Beanie Feldstein plays Molly and she is a wonderful folly in many ways…but Dever is the compass of the film. Like “Superbad” there is the would-be gross out moments but not in the way Seth Rogen would do it. There is a different energy here, like “Clueless” meets something this reviewer cannot quite place. It is organic and yet there is heartbreak. There is laughs and yet a bit of truth. There is heart and yet there is awkwardness. The balance is steadily maintained.
The movie doesn’t not dumb itself down. Despite any criticisms, this is the great thing about Annapurna, Megan Ellison’s company. In a world where there is just reboots and comic book characters, this is an original and it shines like a light (even though there are certain influences from before). Even all the secondary characters from Jared, a would be rich kid to Ryan whom Amy assumes aspects about is finely drawn but not a caricature. The film is all about assumption and the damage it does but also its undeniable nature. One person with a thankless persuasion who steals almost all the scenes she is in is Billie Lourd as Gigi. You would never know that this is the girl that was in the “Star Wars” movies with her mom Carrie Fisher. You can see the brilliance that was her mom coming through here as far as physical comedy and just enough of a wink. Again all the characters stick in your mind. At graduation this is very apparent as it shows how well the film is built. It is a smaller film but that is the beauty of the mid to lower range films that get lost…that beauty of films more than an indie but less than a studio with pedigree and talent firing correctly with a director with a steady hand who knows actors in and out and can obviously communicate exactly what she wants. Bravo Olivia.
By Tim Wassberg
John Wick is a product of his environment yet his choices in terms of his future seem to take on a certain level of vigilante mysticism with a certain lack of logic. The difference between Wick and Neo in many instances is that Wick doesn’t know when he is out of gas…or when to doubt. There is no stopping. The fantastic aspect is that Keanu Reeves is up for anything. This is him through and through in these scenes. While there might be some face replacement, this is mostly all him. Very few people can do this and Keanu is getting older but this demands respect. At one point, even though the film is playing with this idea, his adversaries could have already killed him if they didn’t have as much respect for him as they do. Some of the action scenes including ones with knives and dogs are undeniably thrilling at times. And the film does understand that guns aren’t the “be-all-end-all” is normal circumstance. But at times, one is taken out of the movie because of a certain suspension of disbelief. For instance, there is a gunfight in a horse stable in Manhattan (which is unusual anyway) but when the guns seem to go off there is no response from the horses which causes a break in the world. Hence the viewer can start looking at all of the muzzle flashes being replacements. It takes out some of the visceral nature of the scenes.
It seems more and more with these movies that they are simply just trying to set up the next big set piece to see how far they can push it. But as a result, it feels a little more empty. The first John Wick had itself in play because it was using the Keanu idea and the aspect of the dog with this new world. Interestingly enough, after seeing “Destination Wedding” of all things, there is definitely a growth in the acting department with Keanu. But with this, it all becomes an exercise but weirdly enough it feels like an exceptionally produced TV show at times with the story structure simply allied in place to make it to the next week. Now that said, there is no way some of this action could be done on TV. New York keeps looking more neon coated and wet than ever before so it serves the noir texture. And when Keanu says “I need guns. Lots of guns”, there is no denying the pop culture impact of the original Matrix as in that one line. But the first “Matrix” knew its rules and never broke them (at least in the first film).
The movie jumps a little bit because of this but the aspect that makes the best impression is Halle Berry as a former foe/ally/manager of Wick. This is the coolest we have seen Berry in a while. It reminds one of her films like “Swordfish”. She is bad ass, she is doing the action and, in a scene in the study, she acts the hell out of it, almost overly so. That dynamic offers a bit more to the progression but like all things it is brief. Angelica Huston adds a bit of intrigue and beauty in a role suited to her that gives poise, grace and a bit of darkness. Mark Dacascos as Zero, a frenemy of sorts is also quite good but the tone of play in his performance is both interesting and yet out of character. “John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum” will no doubt thrill audiences and perhaps bait a third one but the elegance of the original is, in a certain way, lost. The problem, like “The Matrix” is that you don’t want the mythic to become rote. But it also doesn’t need to move to melodrama. And that is one thing John Wick will never bow to.
By Tim Wassberg
Heading into “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” without a necessary knowledge of the world at all doesn’t take away from its enjoyment as its metaphoric parallels definitely key into many universal themes. Going into the film with no true ideal beyond the fact that Ryan Reynolds was playing said Pikachu gave an interesting structure but not decidedly so. Justice Smith in the initial viewing does bear an undeniable resemblance to Will Smith who he is indeed not related to but this is only a compliment since the acting chops are there, though his technique needs to fall away since the inherent charisma shines through. It also makes the eventual resolution play quite well. While the reasoning of the Pokemon makes sense, it is only in later scenes including with a newspaper intern and her pokemon: a very nervous duck that it indeed registers almost as an Id of the person it connects with. This allows many of the scenes to work quite well. Reynolds did motion capture but was not on set per se but it is quite intensive how well it is created to make it feel that way. Pikachu is inherently Reynolds persona but it would have been nearly impossible to make it work in the room simply because of the size of the character.
Backing away from the technical though, a lot of the scenes feel organic while others are implemented for maximum FX effect. The ending is decidedly overwrought but the break in and escape from a facility from its trajectory to overall impact actually gives a true conception of the world, heart and all. It is in that moment that the Pokemon universe, even to the untrained, feels symbiotic. Reynolds slightly off-cut humor, which still stays inside PG bounds, works well though it would be interesting to perceive how much was improvised or actually recorded before the film shot. Justice’s reactions are fairly believable but it is interesting to debate what came first: Reynold’s performance or his. Reynolds also offers a bit of drama at one point which sometimes he downplays because there is a small divide between snarky and melodrama. Nevertheless the inherent themes of the film ring true even if the ending battle (despite having a hark back to the original 1989 “Batman” film) feels slightly empty. That said, “Detective Pikachu” plays the gamut of a complete story within the Pokemon gumshoe genre while still appealing to a multi-national and generational audience.
By Tim Wassberg