Saturday, February 8, 2020

Best Film of the Year for 2019.

Unlike the Oscars, you don't have to wade through 3 hours of bad comedy and boring songs to get the Basement Blog Film of the Year for 2019. I know you all have been waiting breathlessly. 😊 Drum roll please:

The Basement Blog Film of the Year for 2019 is JoJo Rabbit. The movie was an sxcellent essay on antisemitism, bigotry, hatred and the human condition.

Science Fiction Film of the Year for 2019

I looked back on the year of 2019 and it was crappy year for science fiction movies. But there was one movie that deserved the prestigious 😊Basement Blog Science Fiction Film of the Year. It won because it took risks. The movie is Avengers: Endgame. The risks it took was that the movie took a sharp left hand turn to comedy ala Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. (1986) That took the film out of your run of the mill superhero flick.

1917 review

1917 is a simple film about two British soldiers during World War I and yet it's revolutionary. In contemporary filmmaking, the directors and editors use a technique called fast cutting. It consists of cutting shots of a scene to 3 seconds or less. And if you read my blog, you know that I really hate it.

Fast cutting reduces film to appeal to an attention deficit audience. It's for one that grew up with commercials and music video. Many times it turns movies into a confusing mess as action is hard to follow. Too often it's used to convey action rather than a director taking the time to choreograph the shots. These are the reasons I hate it so much. In 1917 is a totally different take on filmmaking and film editing. Director and writer Sam Mendes uses long shots, tracking shots and smart editing to create a movie that follows one British soldier on his journey to save his brother.

1917 takes place during World War I France. British Corporals Thomas Blake (Dean- Charles Chapman) and William Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to cross enemy territory to deliver a message to a battalion to halt an advance as they are walking into a trap. It's personal for Blake who has a brother in the battalion. The journey is a hellscape of death, destruction and an occasional respite of humanity.

Dean Charles Chapman and Goeorge MacKay may be unknowns but they turn in sincere, and realistic portrayals. The other more famous  actors, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Colin Firth are good but their parts are so small that they feel like cameos. That's okay since the film is about the journey of the two corporals.

Mendes' film is an anti-war war movie like Saving Private Ryan. (1998) The difference is 1917 is more of a one man's view of war. You won't see big armies fighting each other in big action set pieces. It's a personal  journey across dead bodies, animals, destruction and death to not kill but to save lives. And of killing, 1917 makes it intimate. The combat is at times  hand to hand.

I thought the way the camera followed Schofield gave us an almost a first person look at war. You got a "you are there" feel without the gimmick of first person camera shots. The result is tense and riveting. You are not going to be bored by this film.

1917 is a radically filmed movie with a goal to make it look like one shot. The effect is compelling. I hope that future filmmakers will consider less fast cutting and use technology to create movies with longer scenes that will create less confusion. The grade is A.

Friday, February 7, 2020

JoJo Rabbit review

If you look at the trailers for JoJo Rabbit and know the director-writer Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) you would think that it was a comedy. Well it's kind of. It's a dramedy. I mean the boy protagonist's imaginary friend is Hitler. And Hitler is not portrayed as a mustache twirling villain but a goofy racist.

JoJo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten year old boy living in Nazi Germany and a member of the Hitler Youth. His mother (Scarlett Johansson) resides with him and is his primary caretaker. Her husband and JoJo's father is missing on the Italian Front. Life for JoJo is a struggle with the rationing and his clumsy physicality. JoJo is far from the Aryan model and eventually he is tasked to work for the local Hitler Youth
commander Captain Klenzendorfm (Sam Rockwell) doing odd jobs. One day he discovers a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) living and hiding in the house. JoJo learns that his mother is hiding her. The conflict is whether to turn her in. Oh, yeah I forgot JoJo has an imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. (Taika Waititi) And well Hitler tries to indoctrinate JoJo about Jews and Elsa.

The cast is wonderful. Roman Griffin Davis shows us that children can act. At times he is a dyed in the wool Nazi yet he keeps somewhat of an open mind after meeting Elsa. Thomasin Mckenzie's Elsa is lonely, hurt and scared. Scarlett Johansson is the loving and moral mother that is the model of best of humanity. Sam Rockwell is his usual great stuff. He's a German officer who's sidelined because of having only one eye that works. He's bitter as he's not the perfect Aryan anymore. Taika Waititi's Hitler is goofy and as expected is a plain old antisemite.

Waitti's always had great comic timing. Here he makes Hitler almost likable. But Waititi's screenplay based on Christine Leunens's novel Caging Skies has some serious fish to fry. It's an essay on bigotry, antisemitism, loneliness and love. JoJo's difficult relationship with Elsa is also a study of the human condition. Waititi has crated a funny, warm and human film. I laughed and I cried.

JoJo Rabbitt is one of the best movies of 2019. It's a beautiful study of the weaknesses and strengths of humans. The grade is A.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review

If you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably seen that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been getting mixed reviews. As I write this it is scoring 53% at Rotten Tomatoes. Is it as bad as some critics say or is the Force with this film? If I may paraphrase Maz (Lupita Nyong'o) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a "good question" for today.

The Rise of Skywalker opens with your classic Star Wars crawl. And right away, we learn Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still alive and broadcasting something on a podcast. Okay, the podcast thing is not in the movie. Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) to gather intelligence about him and the threat he poses. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is training with Leia in the ways of the Force. And Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is having trouble with his marriage... um, that's Marriage Story. Ren is also looking for the Emperor but for different reasons. Perhaps to join forces?

The performances are pretty good. Great to see Ian McDiarmid back as Palpatine. He doesn't seem to have aged but of course he has played an old wrinkly old man since Return of the Jedi. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega both know their characters well and adeptly play off each other. The late Carrie Fisher's role was supposedly cut out of other films and pasted here. I frankly didn't notice. Yeah, I'm no fanboy but her performance was seamless. Adam Driver is a tortured and conflicted Kylo Ren. And Daisey Ridley is magnetic. There are some great reveals and she is wonderful.

Okay, you might think The Rise of Skywalker is pretty good. Not so fast young Padawan. The screenplay by director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio based on their and Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow's story has some problems. The first being the above crawl. Maybe I missed it but I don't recall a hint of the Emperor in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. While some critics liked learning of Poe's backstory and the introduction of Zorii played by a helmeted Keri Russell, I thought it distracted from where the story needed to get going. There's another character introduced who seems to be the focus of Lando (Billy Dee Williams). She's Jannah (Naomi Ackie). Again, this is a character who interacts with Finn but it takes away from the momentum of the story. And there is another cute robot introduced named Cone. But what is this for? Other delays include too much time spent on a flooded world where Rey must obtain an artifact. No problem with where it's at but do we need so much film to show her finally get to it? Now all these lesser characters could be a setup for another movie or Disney Plus TV show. Still, this is a film not a mini-series. The movie is also a little too reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. One more thing, this movie is not science fiction. Characters are in outer space without spacesuits. Think space fantasy.

Where the screenplay works is the humor and its depiction of the goals of the characters. You'll have to see the movie to get the jokes in context. But I had to laugh at the jab this movie takes at The Last Jedi and a certain lightsaber. The motivations and reveals of the characters all worked logically. And there's warmth here too. Finn, Poe and Rey make a fine trio of friends.

Director J.J. Abrams thankfully keeps his penchant for lens flares at bay. And he doesn't let the fast cutting interfere with the action. Those scenes make sense and are exciting and easy to follow. he does falter on some of the scenes that take place on a dark planet interior. Look we get it. This planet is spooky, dusty and dark. But it's very hard to determine what the action is when it's so dark and he uses fast cutting. The movie does have some stunning special effects. 

Another reason to see this film is to hear legendary John Williams score and how it works wonderfully with the action. Let's face it. Williams is in the twilight of his career. His score for this film is regal, heroic and triumphant.

I was captivated by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It held my interest. Is no where as bad as the The Phantom Menace nor is it as great as The Empire Strikes Back. Still worth seeing if you are a Star Wars fan. The grade is B.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Midway review

Director Roland Emmerich has made a bunch of films. So he knows the importance of keeping focus on a dramatic narrative. In 1994, he wrote and directed Stargate (1994) , a science fiction movie that was about meeting the fictional aliens that colonized the earth in ancient Egypt. Now Emmerich didn't go into the enslavement of the ancient Egyptians. That would have taken away from the narrative, the purpose of the Stargate and where it would lead us. Unfortunately, his instincts for narrative get lost in the historical drama Midway. In fact, the movie starts with a scroll that it is about events leading to the battle of Midway. Really?

Yep. This 2019 version of the Battle of Midway starts with events leading up to it. We meet Lt. Commander Layton (Patrick Wilson) whose in Japan years before World War 2, getting to know the Japanese. Then years later the film Midway moves to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is depicted in frightening fashion but hey I thought this movie was about the Battle of Midway. We meet some of the main characters, hot shot pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and the responsible air group commander aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Wade McCluskey (Luke Evans). Throw in Woody Harrelson as the legendary U.S. admiral Chester Nimitz. But before we actually see the planning of the Battle of Midway, the movie decides to take some time to show the raid on Tokyo by Army Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart)

It's good to see Ed Skrein playing a good guy. And everybody in the cast is good. But they're only as good as the screenplay and writer Wes Tooke loads it up with plenty of corn. And he makes a big mistake when he tackled the historic Battle of Midway. He's telling two other battles before Midway. Pearl Harbor. The Doolittle Raid. And I'm very suspicious of American movies made with Chinese money. (Shanghai Ruyi) In the movie, Doolittle crashes in China. He's helped by local Chinese resistance fighters. And they are strafed by Japanese fighters. Doolittle asks who the Japanese are attacking. And the Chinese say it's the civilians. Okay, it's true that the Japanese killed Chinese civilians. But I can't help but wonder if this scene was in here to please the Chinese producers.

Director Emmerich knows action, special effects and big explosions. And Midway does those things well. But he also has made films that stayed on narrative course. By the time we get to the Battle of Midway, he's wasted too much time. I'm not giving anything away when I say the Americans won but how? Three Japanese carriers are sunk but we really don't see how. It's so badly depicted that you're confused as to which ship was sunk. It's basically delivered in a line of dialogue. We really don't get a feel for the battle. You're scratching your head at what happened. The battle was close because it was two fleets looking for each other. So much so, that the dramatic impact of the sinking of the last Japanese carrier lacks the emotional weight it should have been given. The Americans suffered great losses. The 1976 film of this battle, Midway did a better job of setting up the conflict because it didn't waste time with extensive depictions of the battle of Pearl Harbor or the Doolittle Raid.

Some day there's going to be a better dramatic retelling of the Battle of Midway. Maybe it will be done in a television mini-series. This 2019 version is worth seeing on cable. But if you want a better feel for the real battle, read a good book on it. The grade for Midway is B Minus.

Terminator: Dark Fate review

About a third of the way during the movie, Terminator: Dark Fate, (T:DF) I got an idea to contact Twentieth Century Fox regarding the Alien franchise. You see in T:DF, the film ignores Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator: Genisys (2015) without any explanation. Oh yeah, you can forget about Terminator: Salvation (2009) too. So can we ignore the events in Alien 3 (1992) which terminates the cute Newt and feminist hero Ripley from Aliens (1986)? Please James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox? You know you can do it guys.

Speaking of James Cameron, the director of the first two Terminator films, he's partly responsible for the story of T:DF. And there's a bunch of writers on this movie which might lead me to think they were writing a comedy but alas, that's not the case. And if I went over all of them, you would get bored and skip this review. Anyway, this movie takes place after the first two movies in the present. An old Sarah Connor {Linda Hamilton) is running around North America terminating Terminators who are warping from the future. Meanwhile, an advanced Terminator (Gabriel Luna) has interest in killing a young Mexican woman, Daniella (Natalia Reyes) while another person with enhanced abilities from the future named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) has an interest in protecting her. Oh yeah, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the movie as Carl, who's a Skynet robot from the future with the mission to get humans to eat more vegetables. Okay, I'm kidding about the robot part here to get us to eat more vegetables but Arnold does want us to do that.

The cast is all good. Great to see Linda Hamilton, as the older Sarah. Her voice is deep, raspy and reminds one of beaten leather. Sarah has been through a lot and Hamilton portrays it well. If you were alive when the first two movies came out, it's like seeing an old friend. Natalia Reyes plays the confused and then true believer of Terminators, Daniella, well. And Mackenzie Davis is up to the task as the duty driven Grace. Of course, Schwarzenegger was made to play a robot. It's like rolling off a log for him.

Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) is a fine director. He handles the action here well with little confusion. In this film he has one big problem when he was handed this screenplay from all those writers. They couldn't come up with something really original. It's the same plot from the first one. Terminators come from the future to the past to destroy the future. If you've seen the first two movies, you've seen it all before, At least Terminator: Salvation had a great premise but was mangled by that film's director McG and the writers. Maybe if they combined the two next time, it might be interesting. Why don't they have Sarah travel to the future?

As I write this review, Terminator: Dark Fate is already out of my multiplex. Shame. It's not that bad a movie. It's just not original. Rent this one and hope something interesting happens down the timeline. The grade is B.