Tag: 4 out of 4

In The Heights

We were supposed to get In The Heights last June, but, you know what happened. Sad things happened. We all know that. But the only good news about it is that they ended up releasing Hamilton 15 months early or so, straight to Disney Plus, to make up for the fact that In The Heights would be pushed back. It is not a compromise I knew I would have to accept, but one I did gladly accept overall.

In The Heights the musical hit Broadway in 2008, and earned quite a few Tony nominations, putting Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist and main actor, on the map. That lead to other things as we all know.

I had only knew one song from this musical really well, called It Won’t Be Long Now, because it showed up on my Musical Pandora and no other songs from the whole show. I did give the sound track a good listen before hand the day before this screening, to get familiar with the tunes and lyrics, since I know they can sometimes be hard to hear on the screen. It made me cry once or twice on its own, so I knew there was no hope for my tears to see the whole thing in front of my eyes.

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These people are all happy, but I know I’ll end up sappy. 

We are going to check out Washington Heights, a small area in New York City, or Neuva York if you want to call it that, I won’t stop you. This is where will meet Usnavy (Anthony Ramos), owner of a bodega in this area, where almost all of the citizens stop by for his coffee that they have grown attached to. He runs it with his younger cousin Sunny (Gregory Diaz IV) who is still in high school, but politically motivated. Usnavy came from the Dominican Republic before he was 10 with his parents, but the best days of his life were back then, living on the beaches, while his dad ran a bar. Every day was paradise. And he has the chance to go back finally, buy his father’s shop (now in need of repair) and location, and start the final chapters of his life, at home.

It is also about a few other characters. Like Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who works at the local salon (run by Daphne Rubin-Vega), but has dreams of getting out of this area as well. Not as far as another country, but deeper into the city, to work as a fashion designer. We have Nina (Leslie Grace), the “one who got out”, a girl who was so smart and full of learning wonder that she went to Stanford! But this is the summer after getting back and she has to tell her dad (Jimmy Smits) some not great news. And there is also Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her dad, is into Nina a whole lot, and wants to become a big money maker in the future.

And of course there is the Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), who never had her own kids but is like an Abuela to a lot of our characters, who wants to help everyone in the block and be a great person overall. So sweet.

In The Heights is about the dreams and aspirations of a few characters who live there, hoping to eventually find a home. And it takes place in the summer, before the hottest day and a blackout that will change all of their lives forever.

Also starring Ariana Greenblatt, Stephanie Beatriz, Chris Jackson, Dascha Polanco, Marc Anthony, Noah Catala, Olivia Perez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragua Guy.

lin manuel miranda
A man who can wear shorts to work is a man I inspire to be. 

Jon M. Chu, director of In The Heights the movie, was the perfect choice for this musical, and frankly, all musicals going forward. His name really came into my eyes when he did Crazy Rich Asians, which was gorgeously shot, and every frame seemed to pop out of the screen. From the trailers of In The Heights, you can tell a similar story. Hell, he did mostly music videos before this, some Step Up films, and even Jem and the Holograms. Say one thing about all of these, you can say they at least look nice. Fuck. He is even doing Wicked once it eventually comes out. Can not fucking wait.

This movie is a goddamn spectacle. It is the first film I saw in theaters, since things started to shut down. I went 421 days without seeing a movie in theaters, and watched 440 films in that time, on my screens at home for the most part. And at the start of the film, in the “welcome to our theater” videos, I found myself already tearing up.

Because cry I did this film, early and often. Usually for just such heartbreaking soul crushing numbers, so well sung and choreographed. I wanted to help everyone. I cried from sadness and from happiness. It will give you that full range of emotions. I did not have any rage crying though. That would be hard to pull off.

Ramos, a few years out after starring in Hamilton, has to play the role Miranda made and feels like a great passing of the torch. He oozes charisma in this role, and having this musical be told through stories from him to children brings a lot of bonus personality to it. I wanted everything to work out for his character just mere minutes into the film.

There were awkward moments of the musical too. Don’t worry. I don’t think the film did a great job of fully giving a good reason for the arguments that occurred during the song Blackout. Except for some reason our lead character maybe has higher levels of anxiety and fear, with a little bit of alcoholism, that don’t go fully explained or fleshed out, to make it make much sense. But in musicals, life can move fast through a song, so that also plays an element in it.

I honestly didn’t know how I would feel about In The Heights, knowing the music stylings and lyrics were not my usual fair. Maybe I liked it more because of Hamilton’s existence and getting used to the rhyming and rapping in musical fair, and the speed of the lyrics coming at me. Maybe I liked it on its own merits.

Oh, and for Hamilton fans, outside of actor cameos (of which we have just the three?), there is one other sneaky Hamilton reference that should be easy to see. Well, hear. And one other note. The Broadway songs have a reference to Donald Trump, which makes sense in there lyrically, but they definitely replaced that line in this film version. A good change overall.

4 out of 4.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is one of those films that you are hopefully going to hear about from word of mouth. I know I didn’t notice it pop up on Netflix. I know if I did, I would have just ignored it most likely for a bit, and watched it by myself a week or two later. The cover for it on Netflix doesn’t look appealing to me at all. It doesn’t do the actual animation style any justice, and just looks like a cheaply made piece of crap. And let’s be honest, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is not a title that screams out “watch me.”

I don’t know the Mitchells. Why should I care about the Mitchells?

I guess every famous cartoon family has its start, and if their goal is a franchise, they can constantly have them battling other entities. I guess.

I am getting off track. I didn’t want to watch this movie. I was told I should watch this movie. I am glad I watched this movie. You should also watch this movie. And now, here is a review.

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This is apparently an action film with guns, dinosaur bombs, and a dog faced pirate. 

The Mitchells are apparently going to have to save the world. And they are not a perfect warrior clan. They all have faults, barely have any cohesion, and sort of hate each other depending on the circumstances. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) feels like an outsider from her family. She has always been into films and creating her own strange movies, that her parents just don’t understand. Her dad (Danny McBride) is Mr. Nature, doesn’t do anything with tech, can fix a lot of problems, and loves to build. Her mom (Maya Rudolph) is pretty mom stereotype, caring and all of that jazz, believes in everyone. Her younger brother (Michael Rianda) is just super into dinosaurs, starring in his sister’s movies, and is afraid of being alone. Also they got a dog that is barely a dog. 

Katie got accepted into her dream school in California, for Movie makers and is exited about leaving her home and finally being with people in her life who get and understand her. The “weirdos” and such. Unfortunately, she gets into a big argument with her dad the day before they leave. And his solution? To cancel her plane ticket away from this dump, so they can road trip to College, making her miss out on orientation, but letting them bond one more time.

And unfortunately, during that time, a big robot rebellion begins! Fuuuuuuu. And purely by accident, they find themselves to be the only group of humans not captured. I guess they gotta figure out how to save our entire species. 

Also featuring the voices of Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, and Blake Griffin

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You know, I am not even sure that is a dog…

If I had done my own research I would have found out that I definitely wanted to see this movie. Besides the stacked voice cast (including McBride doing a great impression of Seth Rogen has a father role, based on my confusion on checking IMDB, I would have been able to see that the executive producers of this are Lord/Miller, and I have never not loved something they produced or helped create. 

As for the actual film? Damn, what a roller coaster. But it is a roller coaster that just keeps going in loops and is mostly full of really exciting ups. This is a bad metaphor. It has some strong messaging about reliance of technology. Pretty obvious stuff overall, but it doesn’t harp on the message and say that technology is evil. It is necessary for our hero after all to follow her dreams, and allows her to do something she wants in life, so it is awesome still. It is more the corporations who suck, and we can all agree on that.

This film was surprisingly funny. I really didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did, especially out loud. My kids could enjoy it too, for similar reasons. It had jokes for all, and some good throwback jokes to technology issues in life. It is also full of colors and perfect for the ADHD riddled world we live in, but never really annoyingly so.

I was surprised about halfway through the movie (with a plot point that felt like it would be close to the end) to find it had so much more movie left to go. But it didn’t really feel boring, if not a little too long near the end in the final scenes. A small amount of editing/cutting near the end would have been fine. But again, I still love the movie overall.

Give it a watch. I believe it went to theaters for a bit, so it should be eligible for awards next year. Raya and the Last Dragon was good, and now this. Shit, is animation back this year? Will Luca actually be good?! 

4 out of 4.

Se

Shiva Baby

There is a chance that this movie might have snuck on by me, and that would have been a travesty. It came out last weekend, both in theaters and on VOD. Shiva Baby is based on a short film of the same name with the same lead from a couple of years prior. People liked the concept, and hey, it was expanded, with some bigger names added to the cast overall. It went from 8 minutes to 77 minutes. Definitely a full length movie now, but shorter than most movies that are released, meaning it will still feel short in some aspects.

So how did I hear about Shiva Baby?

Just word of mouth. Another friend said they heard it was “More Stressful than Uncut Gems.”

Whoa. Calm on down now. Uncut Gems was by far one of the most stressful movie experiences I have ever had in my life. It involved guns and death, gambling and high stakes, women and jewelry, athletes and bookies.

Just by comparing the two, you have my attention.

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The face you make when you don’t inherit your parent’s height.

Danielle (Rachel Sennott) was just trying to get her sex on, when she gets a voice mail from her mom reminding her of a funeral that day. Fuck. Okay. She missed that, but she is expected to show up for the Shiva, and be there for hours, talking with all of her relatives, and old friends. But everyone there is so nosy. They pry. They want to know if she has a job lined up. How is college. What her major is. Who is she dating if anyone. And she has to answer these questions, with her parents (Polly Draper, Fred Melamed) there who know some of the truths too, so she can’t just lie.

But you know who also shows up? The guy (Danny Deferrari), she was sleeping with, who gives her money for things. Her “job” that she says she has for her parents and friends to get off her back. Turns out she was lying to him. He was lying to her too. Turns out he has a wife (Dianna Agron), and a kid.

And to top all of this off, her best friend Maya (Molly Gordon) is here, and she is seemingly being a complete bitch to her in all of her moments of woe.

Cramped spaces. Relatives. Family friends. Food. Old people. Babies. Who wants to be trapped in this situation when your entire reality is crumbling?

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It is hard to see someone looking more miserable than our lead here.

To start with the comparison, no, it is not more stressful than Uncut Gems. That was an unreasonable bar to start at for any movie, so I quickly adjusted my expectation on stress levels early on and it was a wise decision.

Because Shiva Baby was still quite stressful. The run time being under 80 minutes was perfect for the situation we were in at the Shiva. The level of claustrophobia felt very real and very high. The viewer will feel stuck in that house with all these people that you also, do not want to talk to. Not just because of Covid, or your own levels of social anxiety, because you know you also won’t have any answers to their damn questions. Each one making our lead character, and us, feeling uncomfortable. Their disappointment in their tone and eyes.

And that is only one aspect. All of the drama about the job, college, the relationship, just really adds up. The main reason this all works so well has to be the score used throughout the film, full of quick violin bursts, almost feeling like a horror film at times from the sound alone. The acting across the leads as well is great. Timing and realistic conversation is what makes this thing work, and they put their skills together to make it work great.

Emma Seligman, the director, showcased a strong film for her first feature length project. I don’t know how much of the movie drew on her own experiences growing up, but you can tell this story was handled by someone who wanted to make sure that various messages were given care. That grief is strange. That sex work is not only okay, but not a big deal. That sexuality in general can be a spectrum and that relationships aren’t always straightforward and need time to work out for some.

Shiva Baby is an overall great film to add to the “Stressful Jewish Cinema” collection. Not above Uncut Gems. But slightly beside it. Let’s get some more in this genre, please?

4 out of 4.

The Father

In 2019, Netflix dropped a delightful yet strange movie called The Two Popes. One of the popes, the old pope, was played by Anthony Hopkins.

And now, Anthony Hopkins is starring in a different film, called The Father. Huh, I guess he played a father, technically, in multiple movies. That isn’t that impressive, lots of people play fathers. But are they all the papacy?

I really did go into this movie thinking this movie would be about Catholicism in some amount. Turns out it isn’t and it is just about a dad. What’s up with that?

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Yeah it is about a dad. You can see him lounging in a dad chair.

The Father is about a father (Anthony Hopkins) who is getting up there in age. Hey, the actor Hopkins is older and a father as well. Nice type casting.

He lives in his flat, maybe alone, maybe with his daughter (Olivia Colman) hard to remember sometimes. He is pretty sure she watches over him and helps things out, but she is trying to get a new person to help out. An in house caretaker (Imogen Poots). You see his daughter has found someone and they might be moving to France. And yeah, they don’t even speak English in France, why would she do that?

At least an in home caretaker would allow him to stay in his flat, very important to him. But he hates all the past caretakers, he lashes out, he screams, he is not a good guy in his old age. Maybe this one will work. Maybe.

Also starring Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, and Ayesha Dharker.

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Oh shit, he is in the Red Pope Robes. What does that mean for the church?

I’ve seen movies about dementia and/or Alzheimer’s before. I am not sure what specifically this one is about. I don’t know anyone thankfully close to me who has gone through this and had to see the deterioration over time, so I only have movies to help me in this regard.

And honestly, The Father has to be one of the better movie depictions of what might be going on in someone’s head during dementia bouts over time. We are trapped in this father’s head along with him. And we are there to try and figure out what is the truth, what is old news, what is being forgotten, and just who everyone actually is.

Despite me wanting to hate him, Hopkins was amazing in this role. Just absolutely amazing. I want to hate him because I see this as the only threat to Chadwick Boseman winning an Oscar. If Hopkins ends up getting best actor, I guess I won’t be too mad, because this is the sort of role that should definitely warrant it. But he already has an acting award, share that stuff.

Colman also gives a pretty good performance, but her role is far more limited compared to Hopkins of course. Colman continues to give good performances in everything she does lately. She is hitting a career high at an interesting time in her life and I am all for it as well.

The Father is a dizzying maze of how your mind eventually may betray you, along with the rest of your body. And life sure does suck at some points.

4 out of 4.

Raya and the Last Dragon

I’ve noticed that since 2016, (so five years ago), I have rated Disney Animation Studios higher than Pixar Studios movies. It is an average of 2.8 versus 1.8 out of 4. That is a whole number grade! Here is my table for comparison.

disneypixar

Now sure, Pixar has churned out more, but it has the only zero, and has a lot of 1s. The only reason Disney is so low due to disappointing sequels. Pixar also has disappointing sequels, but also disappointing for me original movies.

That is all. We will see how the charts look after Luca comes out this year.

But for now, as you can see, I loved Raya and the Last Dragon, a new Disney princess (maybe?) movie, that also features zero songs, which is not just rare, but a first.

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You see that dragon? It won’t sing at all. Shocking. 
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is your typical daughter of a chief. Her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), is training her as a warrior to protect a magical orb. What does this orb do? Well, lets go back into the history.

Five hundred years ago, there were these evil spirits named Druun that multiplied quickly and turned people into stone. There was also a lot of dragons. This was not fun. So all of the dragons banded together, made this cool orb thing, and it banished all of the Druun! And somehow, turned all the dragons into stone in the process. Very sad times.

Anyways, the orb still does its thing, but the other tribes think that the orb gives the Heart tribe extra power and success for their lands and people. They want the orb for themselves. Chief Benja wants to reunite all the tribes to one glorious nation, and not continue with this otherism.

Well, sure enough, something bad happens, the orb breaks! Each tribe grabs a piece, but now the Druun are now back and that makes things worse. Raya is going to have to fix the orb, and get her people back to normal, and maybe even find a dragon along the way. You know, the last one (Awkwafina).

Also featuring the voices of Benedict Wong, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Izaac Wang, Lucille Soong, and of course, Alan Tudyk, as an animal that only makes sounds.

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If you train for hours to fight, then you are going to want to fight.
Raya and the Last Dragon has music, but is not a musical. Did that take away from it? Well, fine, probably not. But I would have loved some songs regardless. But I can’t take away points because I would rather a movie be a musical. I would rather all movies to be a musical.

Raya still kicked ass. She is definitely the strongest fighter of any “Disney princess” before her. Not sure if she is a princess yet officially, but she was the daughter of a chief, so, you know. There isn’t a lot of competition amongst the princesses who can fight or do magic,  but Raya is like a goddamn ninja (yes, different cultural term than this film, but I don’t know a better word). She is quick, and arguably deadly, but doesn’t always use her fighting skills to get out of jams. But that is almost always her plan A.

And having her so driven and technically violent is great, because throughout the film it is technically seen as a flaw, especially from the dragon’s point of view. Why not try friendship, and trust, and things that involve stabbing someone? (No, we don’t see a lot of dead people in this movie who get stabbed, mostly statues. We can’t have a Disney film with a high body count for real).

I love Raya, she is strong and flawed. I am fine with the dragon. She is consistent and not just a humorous sidekick. What I didn’t expect is all of the other side characters that along the journey would also show up and be important to the rest of the story. Great side characters, all full of personality and interesting. They made me cry at the end. I did cry I believe twice, or just one long slow cry, depending on how you break them apart. I will go with two cries.

The movie becomes a bit typical, when it comes to “go to next region that is very different, and then find the next piece.” But each one does have new characters and the orb fragment is protected in different ways. And the ending, while a little predictable, I think is done in a nicely unpredictable way, at least when it comes to the order of events.

Bring on all of the Raya Halloween costumes.

4 out of 4.

Boogie

Is is both very easy to make a sports movie, but very hard to make an excellent sports movie.

There are so many ways you can go with them, but many paths have already been traveled. How do you also make them feel unique and worth it versus an older film that probably goes over the exact same themes and emotions?

You could do a sports movie about a real athlete or a real team. But is it about their road to a championship, or the players themselves? And what is just another real story of a team winning something. Real teams win every year, every sport, at every level. There has to be a winner, so there are always choices. And it is easy to be inspirational in these films, real story or fake story, so what can they do to offer something actually new? Bigger struggles to overcome? Bigger comebacks? More shenanigans? 

Well for the movie Boogie, it is going for a high school basketball story. Not one about overcoming all the odds to win the state championship, or even a district championship. But just a single player trying to earn a scholarship. Where his own cultural upbringings and his own assimilation into the America he knows can come at odds with what he wants and what his parents want. Oh okay, that is something new for sure. 

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The shot on the other side of the fence is not new, however. 

If you are losing a basketball game to a proud Asian American who happens to also be super into Rap culture, then don’t try to blame it on other external factors. Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, you need to blame it on the Boogie (Taylor Takahashi).

Boogie is working on getting a college scholarship. He is great at the sport, but he is a bit selfish and full of himself. His father (Perry Yung) cooked up a scheme to transfer him to a slightly worse school for basketball. Because that school goes against some really good schools, and if Boogie can carry his worse team to beat actual good teams and elite players getting scholarships, he might get one too.

Technically his mom (Pamelyn Chee) is indifferent from the methods, she just needs to make sure that he gets a scholarship, and not a bullshit walk on offer. Or maybe gets a job making money in basketball. Either way, whatever needs to happen needs to happen. 

Boogie is trying to balance what both of his parents want for him. They both are negative people in different ways, yet he was also raised to be honorable and listen to them. He also wants to explore his love life, make some choices for himself, and prove that he is something great. 

A clash between cultural norms, in a new cultural setting, and just trying to make sure Boogie himself is able to represent himself.

Also starring Mike Moh, Taylour Paige, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Pop Smoke in his only acting gig, coming out after his shooting death in 2020. 

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I prefer the Blame it on the Boogie from Pitch Perfect, to be honest.

The director and writer of Boogie, Eddie Huang, is pretty famous for writing a book and turning it into a successful sitcom. Fresh off the Boat is a sitcom based on his own experiences of moving to the south, while dealing with cultural problems in a new setting that also seem to go against the cultures and upbringings of his family, set in the late 1990’s.

And hey look, this movie, NOT based on his life specifically, has the same themes. Isn’t that interesting? No? Well, I found it interesting.

And I found this film extremely interesting and compelling. Despite personally having really nothing similar to the lead in terms of background or story, it was easy to latch on and root for him. It was also easy to be angry at him when he did asinine things. I wanted him to succeed and I wanted him to grow. This sports movie is about a person learning to be better and making his own destiny, and yes, we got some sports along the way as well. If you don’t like basketball, you will be annoyed because we do get fair amounts of basketball, and of course a conclusion that is set around basketball.

I feel like I learned a lot. Representation matters, not just for people finally being able to identify with people on screen that look like them, but for everyone else to dive into new experiences and settings. Sure, Boogie isn’t a real story, but aspects of it are real based on Huang’s own life and the stories of people he know. The fact that there isn’t this specific basketball player means nothing when the stories are grounded so much in reality.

Hell, I even cried once. It was a small cry and an unexpected one, but it was there.

Boogie is the real deal and a good change of pace from traditional sports films.

4 out of 4.

Malcolm & Marie

Apparently Malcom & Marie is the first “Hollywood” film to be made in Pandemic. Huh. I thought that was Locked Down. But that was filmed in October and this one was filmed in June and July in secret, so I guess I will believe it.

It is a lot easier to make a film like Malcolm & Marie, because it is about two people and stars exactly that. They are in a house together, and I am sure there some other staff, but it is very small film in regards to locations and needs. It is a bottle episode of a movie.

And I will be honest, I was a bit suspect going into it, as I generally am for movies that feel the need to be in black and white, and delayed watching it for a little bit. And, for the short answer, I am glad I got over that initial hump finally.

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The crew were told to stand back, so all the shots are this far away.
Marie (Zendaya) and Malcolm (John David Washington) just got back from a movie premier of Malcolm’s latest film and then they talk a lot and go to bed. The end.

That is the short version.

Malcolm is indeed a movie director and they did just get back from a premier. Marie, his current partner, is an actress, and was not part of the movie he directed. It seems a lot of people really enjoyed the movie. Malcolm is worried about the critics. What they will say about his film. Will they say is a story about race, when he was just trying to say a regular story?

But Marie is upset. It might be just one thing or it might be something that is signs of a much bigger problem in their relationship. And one thing is for certain. They are going to talk this thing out and hear each other, regardless of the events going on around the world.

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And we might get a little bit of sexy time too along the way.
Like I implied in my intro, I am very excited that I got over that worry I had with this film, because it is definitely one that after the slowish intro really drew me in to the story.

This is one of those where it is not just the problems they had to discuss, or the reviews that were had for the film, but how they went about their arguments with each other. At times their words and sayings were far too harsh than they needed, and I can’t wait for them to break up because of that selfish shit. It seems like it is likely a toxic relationship, and I don’t honestly think they will work through their issues that they have hope for by the end of the movie.

The acting for Zendaya and Washington is incredible, as it has to be given they are the only elements. We get monologues, we get arguments, we get real emotions from them.

The black and white doesn’t end up being distracting at all. It makes it seem like a basic, simple film, which it certainly is in terms of size, location, and scope. It definitely does add to the atmosphere and the angst between the two lovers.

Malcolm & Marie is the type of film that you would have to assume is just a one act play first with two characters, so it is a big surprise that it is just a film. Usually I can catch those. Very sneaky movie. Very sneaky.

4 out of 4.

Judas and the Black Messiah

With this review, I think I am mostly set for the Oscars. Those nominations don’t get even announced until mid March this year, with a ceremony in April. But because of their dumb rules we got the confusion of what is 2020 and what is 2021 in movies. I know there are still things that I haven’t seen that will probably get nominations, but, Judas and the Black Messiah is the last one I was looking forward to for the last couple of months.

Known star talent, plus, a real story, and a fantastic name for a film, means a lot of hype for me.

So although this might get nominations for Oscars, and I ended up loving it, so you might not hear me talk about it again until the next best of the year list. Or hell, forgotten about and never heard from again by the end of the year. Who knows!

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I will remember this one all year for its acting, and its hats.
Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) is the charismatic leader of the Illinois Black Panther party in the 1960’s. Charismatic, because he is damn good at speaking, in a decade with quite a few good black activist speakers. But he was in Chicago, a large city, and focused on his community, and uplifting the community. And people had problems with that.

Quite famously, the FBI had a problem with him. Just like they had a problem with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. They needed eyes and ears on these activists, worried about uprising, or worse, a demand for equal rights and treatment. The horror.

So they did what any manipulative and sneaky government group would do. They put a mole on the inside. Enter Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), who is not some trained FBI agent. He was caught doing crime! He isn’t tainted by the FBI cops. And that means if they blackmail him, he can go into the Black Panther group and let them know what is going on. Yeah!

Good job FBI. Going to war with Americans, one group at a time. Anyways, Fred Hampton was a pretty righteous dude. And the FBI wronged him, and this is his story and the aftermath of it.

Also starring Jesse Plemons, Dominque Fishback, Algee Smith, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, and Martin Sheen.

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Although cropped out, you can probably imagine what is happening with his hand. 
Alright! Kaluuya! Phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Damn man. I have never seen him go this much into a role before, with obviously a limited pool for me to pick from so far. I just found out as I wrote this that he is going for a supporting actor role and not lead, and, uh, okay, fine. Although him and Stanfield are basically equally present in this film, fine. I hope Kaluuya wins that.

(Technically, if that happens, and Chadwick Boseman wins for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, then that would be the first time that both male acting categories went to black men and that has a good chance of happening this year. If not Kaluuya, then probably Odom Jr. for One Night in Miami).

The story is told in an easy to follow and strong way. A lot of the side actors give their moments to shine, it is not juts the Kaluuya/Stanfield show. The FBI is not seen as a misunderstood entity that was doing its best, they are shown to be the bad guys in this situation which better reflects reality. The FBI always knows exactly what they are doing.

Judas and the Black Messiah is one of those very important films that tell an important part of American history that is pretty fucked up. And it sucks, that it is fucked up. But we have to know about the fucked up things America did if we hope to ever embrace it. This movie gives us the details of the events that were talked about midway through The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was happening at the same time. It is a good companion piece to this movie.

4 out of 4.

Our Friend

We all have a friend, you know, that friend , who knows you inside and outside. Your bestie. Your ride or die. Your compadre. I mean, hopefully we all have one of those. Unless you are lonely and have no friends, then shit, maybe stop reading. Go get a friend (when appropriate in the pandemic).

Our Friend is sort of about that friend. It is definitely the friend you can count on, the friend who goes out of their way to help you, even if you didn’t expect anyone to love you that much. They show up when they need to, and they do what needs to be done.

Also, this one is a true story too. Based on an article made by one of the people in this story. A story that was about life, marriage, but really, the friendship that strengthened everyone involved.

notthedaddy
Quick! Someone call the cops! These are not his kids!

Cancer sucks. You know it, I know it, the media knows it. It sucks.

This is definitely a movie about cancer. Namely Nicole Teague (Dakota Johnson) getting cancer, one that is likely to kill her (it will, this is not really a spoiler). It is going to deteriorate her health, it will change her life going forward with the days she has left, and it will affect her family. Her already somewhat distant husband, Matt (Casey Affleck), who wants to be a journalist who reports on things that actually matter to people, hasn’t been the best husband or father, but he is going to have to be now.

And still, it is overwhelming. The bills. The stress. The kids. The jobs. The hope that it might eventually lead to a remission. They need help. And they have a mutual friend, Dane (Jason Segel) who is extremely loyal and dependable, and willing to put his whole life on hold, for not just months, but maybe even years, just to help out his best friends. Nanny, driving, chores, cooking, you name it.

And this is their story.

Also starring Denée Benton, Isabella Kai, and Violet McGraw.

bed
Quick! Someone call the cops! We all know people aren’t allowed to read in their beds!

Yes. Yes I did cry. Thanks for asking. Like, at least three times. Maybe four. Not just the end (but near the end as well), but sprinkled throughout. It really diversified the sad times. It didn’t just start happy and build up to the biggest sads. Because the film takes place across various points in time, out of order, before and after diagnosis (which the film makes clear). We can see happy and sad, happy and sad, happy and sad and even angry. One notable argument really got me, which made the whole thing even sadder and explained a whole lot.

Acting though is the name of this game, not just my tears being jerked. And fuck yeah we get some acting here.

Now, I want to mostly talk about Johnson and Segel here, because they are the best parts, but real quick on Affleck. He is fine here too, he reminds me of his role on Manchester By the Sea, so not a whole lot of range along the way, but good. Yet, he had those sexual assault claims that kind of did nothing to him, so fuck giving him praise for this.

Johnson? Well, she found her “post franchise amazing acting movie” to get her back on her feet. And let’s note that she has done great acting since 50 Shades, but nothing really big or that great enough to sort of overshadow 50 Shades. This one totally would and should. She is phenomenal.

Segel is playing his best acting role to date. He has been toying for at least a decade of these more serious, yet still goofy, roles for him that match him so well. I loved him in Jeff Lives At Home, but this one is better. This one is most definitely better. Hell, he is the title of the movie, he is the friend. He carries his own sadness and guilts, while just trying to help the only people he has considered his friends, even if they have had a rocky past, and it just shows.

Our Friend is the film version of an article of a true story. It is a familiar story of loss and fear of the unknown. And yet it is still a powerful one despite that.

4 out of 4.

Best Films of 2020

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Here are not only the films that made 4 out of 4 on my website from 2020 movies, but also ones that I struggled to see if I could include on the list. Surprisingly, three of these are documentaries (with two documentaries also making the top 15).

The Prom, Feels Good Man, Words on Bathroom Walls, The Fight, and Boys State.

15) The Wolf of Snow Hallow
Why is it on the list? The second film from Jim Cummings, it reflects and carries on many of the themes from his first film, Thunder Road. It is doing it in a different genre this time, but it feels like the same character, experiencing some amount of growth, with still a big set of issues. If you want to experience a long panic attack along with the main character, this film really makes you feel antsy.

Favorite moment? The townspeople interrogations and the many breakdowns.

Any Best Awards? Best film starring the guy who wrote and directed it also of 2020. [Surprisingly not the best “werewolf” movie of 2020?]

15

14)
Over the Moon
Why is it on the list? Despite being a film I thought I would just brush off, it took me away with its passion and heart that it presented in the beginning of the movie. The loss and the longing felt by the lead was so strong, I was captivated the rest of the film. It goes into basic animation territory in the middle, and I don’t love the graphics on the moon too much, but it also nails the emotional payoff of the ending, and the reason for the entire journey.

Favorite moment? The Rocket to the Moon scene and montage.

Any Best Awards? Best film-I-thought-would-be-terrible-but-I-actually-loved-and-cried-during-multiple-times and best film featuring a song about ping pong of 2020.

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13) Collective
Why is it on the list? I love documentaries. I am less likely to say I love foreign movies, but I do like watching foreign movies in theaters. I didn’t get to see this one in theaters. But it still captivated me from beginning to end. A sports magazine did some reports on a tragic event, and this hero journalist for them kept up with it, finding layers of governmental corruption? Holy shit. Is this made up? This is their watergate scandal. Good job Romania. Well, bad job for the corruption, good job for the journalism.

Favorite moment? Every new reveal and escalation as things grew more corrupt.

Any Best Awards? Best foreign film and best foreign documentary film of 2020.

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12) Palm Springs
Why is it on the list? Palm Springs, to me, was a breath of fresh air. It took a couple of months during quarantine for movies to still start to come out slowly on streaming services, and I know that Palm Springs came out in a pretty busy weekend. I expected nothing and would have never known of its existence without others letting me know, and what it did to the genre was very unique and worth the set up to discover. Our leads were wonderful together, and it also hyped up science, so what is not to love?

Favorite moment? The initial reveal with what the hell was going on, the physics montage, and the J.K. Simmons home visit.

Any Best Awards? Best science fiction film of 2020.

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11) Promising Young Woman
Why is it on the list? This is an interesting movie for me, because honestly, I went back and fourth which how much I liked it. Part of me was upset about a few aspects, part of me loved everything. And that is really why it dropped out of the top 10. I love the performance from Carey Mulligan, I love how the story goes against expectations of the plot line and really keeps the viewers guessing. The ending is completely unbelievable as well.

Favorite moment? The daughter abduction.

Any Best Awards? Best film surprise third act of 2020.

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10) Sound of Metal
Why is it on the list? If I didn’t first hear about this film from other critics, I would have assumed not much going into this film, and probably skilled it. I loved Riz Ahmed as the lead, and his journey from sound to lack of sound. The meanings of the title, how they incorporated hearing loss, and the use of sign language make this a film

Favorite moment? The audio tricks and the real deaf actors.

Any Best Awards? Best film featuring sign language and best film featuring metal in 2020.

10

9) Minari
Why is it on the list? Minari comes in quiet, and stays relatively quietly throughout the picture, but feels like an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. It is familiar, but it has a unique air to its story. It is well acted, without having to be showy about how well acted it is. It tells a story about hope, success, failures, and relationships and growing up in a specific place, in a specific time. Most of us can probably say we don’t have the same experiences as the main character in this film, and it gives a unique look into a unique story of history.

Favorite moment? The fire and the crop successes/failures.

Any Best Awards? Best film that uses subtitles occasionally, and best film set in Arkansas of 2020.

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8) Spontaneous
Why is it on the list? Spontaneous is certainly not a movie I expected to be on my top list when I started it, nor did I know about it going into it. I saw a single post about its existence, months after its release date and just decided to give it a whirl. And what a whirl it was. I’ve only seen Katherine Langford in other projects, never as the lead, and she absolutely blows this movie up with her performance. And it was nice to see Charlie Plummer as well, in his second movie based on a YA romance novel released this year. Damn, he made me cry in both films as well.

Favorite moment? The entire romance and the dwindling class size.

Any Best Awards? Best YA novel adaptation and best romance of 2020.

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7) One Night in Miami
Why is it on the list? Although about a fictions conversation, the men in equation where all real and presumably pretty accurate towards their thoughts and feelings on various topics discussed in the film. I wouldn’t have ever dreamed about bringing together these four names for a night of conversation and camaraderie, but that is one of the many reasons I am not a playwright or screenwriter. The discussions they had in the film resonate with today, and it becomes a wonderful learning and emotional experience.

Favorite moment? When the power went out at the show.

Any Best Awards? Best first time director and best discourse of 2020.

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6) The Trial of the Chicago 7
Why is it on the list? At this point, it’d probably be really hard for me to not absolutely love an Aaron Sorkin movie. He is directing more so that does add some potential problems, like Molly’s Game wasn’t his best work. But this is some of his best work for sure, carried by the strength of the actors and the dialogue. Like Molly’s Game, some of the problems lie with the director choices, and he should hopefully get better.

Related, and cheating this onto the list, this film pairs really well with Mangrove, also available on streaming, and something you should see as well.

Favorite moment? The mistrial scene and the grammar epiphany scene.

Any Best Awards? Best ensemble cast and best Aaron Sorkin of 2020.

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5) Wolfwalkers
Why is it on the list? First of all, have you seen their previous work? The Breadwinner and Song of the Sea? Both amazing, with wonderful animation. This one takes the cake and is their best work. From the cinematography to the story it is so full of wonder and magic. The main characters are both strong and unique in their own rights, but lets go back to the ANIMATION oh my goodness, gorgeous. Like stained glass windows some times. Fuck, Wolfwalkers blows out all of the animated competition this year, by far.

Favorite moment? The split scene cinematography and the art style in general.

Any Best Awards? Best animated film, best foreign film (Irish), and best fantasy film of 2020.

5

4) Totally Under Control
Why is it on the list? This one is pretty easy to talk about and explain. Hey look, a documentary about the 2020 pandemic, and the lack of leadership from the American government. It has first hand accounts from people involved in teams that were supposed to work and repeatedly got hindered for reasons. This only deals with a few months of the response too, and can’t wait (unfortunately) for the sequels that give us the informed part two and or three of these chucklefucks in charge who have no regard for human life.

Favorite moment? The dirt on the white house planning team volunteers who were told to stop the virus.

Any Best Awards? Best political documentary (there were quite a few this year…) and best documentary of 2020.

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3) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Why is it on the list? Strong strong strong. This film is led by Viola Davis who transformed herself to play the lead, and Chadwick Boseman, who shined brightly as the smooth talking upstart looking to advance his own career. Based on an August Wilson play, quite obviously, the many cast members work together to tell a quick story but one with passion and justice in mind. I don’t know who will be nominated for best actor, but if Boseman is, I have a good chance of supporting it, despite his unfortunate early passing.

Favorite moment? The stutter success and fail and the conclusion.

Any Best Awards? Best play to film, best non-live musical performance, and best dialogue of 2020!

3

2) Hamilton
Why is it on the list? This is definitely a film I didn’t expect to be on this list early in 2020, because damn it, this was supposed to come out in 2021. But thanks to other delays, they decided to release this one really early, and, It. Is. Perfection. I saw this the most out of movies released last year, and I’d watch it again in almost any moment (assuming I had the time for it). Something that can always pick me up, and the result of years of hard work, it deserves everything and more.

Favorite moment? One Last Time, The Ending, and Farmer Refuted (so much better visually).

Any Best Awards? Best soundtrack, best musical, best taping of a live show (sorry David Byrne), and best Lafayette of 2020.

2

1) Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Why is it on the list? For sure, this one was a hard choice, and yet, an easy choice. I saw this movie in February of 2020 and it absolutely blew me away. It was my number one pick halfway through the year, and it maintained that status despite a good onslaught (eventually) of other films. It did that by telling a realistic and heartfelt story, a powerful story about a struggle many women have or attempt to go through.

The crying questionnaire scene hit me SO HARD and the whole thing wrapped together and made so much more sense. And it did it without having to directly tell you what happened prior to the film, but the pieces are there.

And sure, if anything, this serves as a good antithesis to my 2019 worst film of the year.

Favorite moment? The questionnaire scene where the title comes from.

Any Best Awards? Best drama of 2020, best realistic fiction of 2020, best woman power film of 2020, and best film of 2020.

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Thanks for reading! If you disagree with part of this list, let me know. If there is something I missed, let me know (but I probably saw it and reviewed it on this very site!

And as always, I accept hate mail via the post office, email, or tweets.