Movie Review: Mank (2020)

A brand new movie from one of my favorite directors, available from the comfort of my own home? Sweeeeet.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Mank”.

Hollywood, 1940. We follow Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a drunken, opinionated writer as he goes through the tumultuous process of crafting the screenplay for a little movie called “Citizen Kane”. But it’s not just him sitting at some typewriter, rubbing his temples all movie. Because this movie jumps back and forth in time a little bit, showing us Mankiewicz’ struggles in the “present” (circa 1940), but also his antics and encounters with various Hollywood figures in the early 30s. I have mixed feelings about the narrative here. On one hand, it is a pretty interesting look into 1930s Hollywood and the politics within it. But on the other, I never felt emotionally invested in what was going on. I was interested by what was going on, and was certainly never bored… but never did I feel truly hooked. It just feels a bit hollow at times. Again, I wouldn’t call it bad, I did enjoy the narrative on some level, but never did I actually feel any emotional connection to what was happening in front of my eyes.

The characters in this vary in terms of interest. Luckily our main character is at least one interesting figure. He’s Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic, highly intelligent writer who both gets along and butts heads with many figures within the Hollywood system. He is most certainly an interesting figure that livens up proceedings a bit. And Gary Oldman does a great job in the role. In supporting roles we also see people like Amanda Seyfried, Tom Pelphrey, Lily Collins, Charles Dance, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Tom Burke, Jamie McShane, and more, all doing well in their respective roles.

The score for the movie was composed by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, and I think they did a good job of it. Their score has a way of really capturing the era the film’s set in, cleverly utilizing some jazzy percussion and a decent bit of unique woodwind usage. It’s hard to properly explain, but I do think their music fits the period perfectly, and it works quite well within the movie.

“Mank” was directed by David Fincher, and written by his late father Jack. And I think Fincher did a good job here. You can tell that he and his production crew really did their damndest to make this movie feel old school and, and I would say that they did that quite well… at the expense of one thing. At no point does this feel like a Fincher film. As a fan of the guy, I’ve learned to pick up on a lot of his tricks and stylistic choices… but they are nowhere to be seen here. It’s hard to explain, but what Finchy brings to his films in terms of style isn’t really here. And that’d be fine, if Fincher’s style wasn’t one of his most defining features. There’s no denying that it’s very well directed, even if it lacks what I love about this director. But to end this section on a high note: Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography is superb, making perfect use of light, shadows, and the monochrome. It’s a visual treat.

This movie just came out, but already it’s been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 88% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 79/100. And on imdb.com it (AT THE TIME OF WRITING) has a score of 7.6/10.

While there’s a lot to admire about it, I didn’t find “Mank” that emotionally investing. It has an okay story, pretty good characters, great performances, really good music, great (if slightly off) directing, and excellent cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Mank” is a 7.77/10. So while flawed, I’d still recommend watching it.

My review of “Mank” is now completed.

I actually haven’t seen “Citizen Kane” yet… maybe I should fix that some day.

Series Review: The Comey Rule (2020)

Politics, a clusterfuck of ideologies clashing. I will never find myself truly understanding it, but I’ll do my best. So anyhow, let’s talk about a political drama.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gents… “The Comey Rule”.

The story follows FBI director James Comey (Jeff Daniels) as he and his team investigate allegations of Russia attempting to meddle with U.S. politics leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election. So yeah, we’re dealing with sensitive shit here. And I honestly think the storytelling here isn’t great. And before you accuse me of some political bias, no, stop. The story here feels like it skims over a lot of details, like it only plays the “greatest hits” of those strange times. And even those moments feels rushed, so as to get onto the next one. There are admittedly moments I do like in the series, most relating to Comey’s reaction to certain events, and I was also never bored. But the storytelling feels incomplete and undercooked, making for an unmemorable and hollow experience, despite the potential for a great narrative.

The characters in this are whatever… yeah, that’s it. I don’t think they’re the most uninteresting necessarily, but like the story they feel slightly underdeveloped. Jeff Daniels plays Jeff Comey, a hard-working, kind, well spoken man who also happens to be the director of the FBI. He’s our main focal point throughout the very short series, and we do get to know him decently well, and he’s a pretty interesting character. And Daniels is great in the role. Brendan Gleeson shows up in this too playing Donald Trump (oh dear), and it’s uncomfortable how fucking good his performance is. We also get really solid acting from other people like Holly Hunter, Scott McNairy, Michael Kelly, Steven Pasquale, Shawn Doyle, Amy Seimetz, Oona Chaplin, Jonathan Banks, Brian d’Arcy James, Jennifer Ehle, and many more. So yeah, mediocre characters, great performances.

The score for the show was composed by Henry Jackman, and it was pretty good. It’s overall well composed and could fit in almost any drama… and that’s the issue here. It doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t say “THIS is the Comey Rule score!”. It just says “Drama!”. I love Henry Jackman, but just like any other person, you can’t always hit a homerun.

Based on “A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey, “The Comey Rule” was created, written, and directed by Billy Ray, and I have mixed feelings here. I am a fan of Billy Ray’s previous works, he’s made two movies I’d happily put in “best of the year” lists. I do however feel like this isn’t as strong as those. A lot of scenes are nicely helmed and have this beautiful cinematic quality. But then there are also times where Billy Ray wants to hammer home a point so hard that his imagery is a bit too abrasive. And let’s not talk about the inconsistent color grading. Sometimes it looks somewhat believable, if mildly exaggerated to create a beautiful cinematic image… but then there are times where it looks insanely artificial and bafflingly bad. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that some of it came from rushed production… but it’s hard to tell.

This show has gotten mixed reception. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 64% positive rating. On Metacritic it has a score of 58/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6.8/10.

“The Comey Rule” is a disappointing biopic that at times does entertain. It has a meh story, meh characters, great performances, pretty good music, and mixed directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “The Comey Rule” is a 5.9/10. So while very flawed, I can still kinda recommend watching it.

My review of “The Comey Rule” is now completed.

*sigh*. So much missed potential.

Movie Review: Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)

I took a break from Swedish films for a bit, but now I’m back, ready to continue this Summer of the Swedes thing I’m doing. So let’s go.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gents… “Borg vs. McEnroe”.

Famous tennis players Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) have a bit of an ongoing rivalry, both at the top of their game, both well known. And soon this rivalry might come to a head in the 1980 Wimbledon tournament. However, the movie is not just one long tennis match. It jumps back and forth in time a lot, showing us the upbringing of these men, as well as giving us a lot of their issues relating to their present situation. It’s very much a character study of these two complex and honestly fucked up individuals. And for the most part I found myself quite engaged by it, as the writing does give a lot of nuance to proceedings. It’s not a pure “hero/villain” or “adoration of giants” narrative, this shows that none of these guys are perfect. The story does step into a fair bit of the trappings that can be found within the biopic genre, and the pacing can be a little wonky in the first half, but overall I do still think the story works here thanks to some of the nuances within the writing.

The characters in this are layered, and overall just quite interesting. Sverrir Gudnason plays Björn Borg, a seasoned tennis player with multiple world titles under his belt. However, while this skill and fame is something people look up to, he is a much more tragic and meticulous individual, his mind isn’t all joy and tennis wins. I don’t know how else to explain it, the dude’s a fascinating person. And Gudnason is great in the role, giving a very reserved but still nuanced performance. Next is Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe, Borg’s rival. He too carries a lot of emotional baggage, which we do find out about through the movie. And he is quite a compelling character, with LaBeouf giving what might be a career best performance. We also get supporting work from people like Stellan Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny, Scott Arthur, Ian Blackman, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

Unlike most movies, which have one composer, this one has four. Vladislav Delay, Jon Ekstrand, Carl-John Sevedag, and Johan Struck all contributed in some way to the score here. And despite there being so many names attached to it, the music is surprisingly coherent, giving us an intriguing blend of traditional orchestral elements with some electronic mixing to give it an intriguing and emotionally resonant sound that works pretty well within the movie. There’s also a few licensed tunes used throughout, and they work alright too.

“Borg vs. McEnroe” was directed by Janus Metz, who I think did a really good job with it. He knows how to really get you in the minds of the characters, all without losing the wider scope of the scene around them, giving us a good look at the full situation. This is further helped out by Niels Thastum’s slick cinematography, along with the spectacular editing from Per Kirkegaard and Per Sandholt. In terms of the technical craft, this movie is terrific.

This movie has been pretty well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 84% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 63/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6.9/10.

While it does fall into some biopic trappings at times, “Borg vs. McEnroe” is still a damn fine character drama. It has a pretty good story, really good characters, great performances, good music, and fantastic directing/cinematography/editing. Time for my final score. *Smacks ball*. My final score for “Borg vs. McEnroe” is an 8,77/10. So it’s certainly worth buying.

My review of “Borg vs. McEnroe” is now completed.

SPORTSBALL, WOO!

Movie Review: Blaze (2018)

Biopics are fascinating. They give us a glimpse into a real life individual’s personal life, while also trying to provide a couple hours of entertainment. And striking the right balance between fact and compelling drama can be tough. But some people manage it.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Blaze”.

The story follows the life and times of Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey), a raggedy man with a talent for music. From his humble beginnings, and through the highs and lows, including his marriage to Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), we get a good glimpse into Foley’s life. And I think that the plot here is really good. There are elements that we recognize from other biopics, but the way they’re used throughout “Blaze” feels fresh, due to the gentle and nuanced writing. It creates a fascinating tale that can be as heartbreaking as it is warmly nostalgic. The deliberately slow pace might prove a bit frustrating for some, but I thought it worked very well for the story here.

The characters here are flawed, nuanced, charming, and overall feel very real. Ben Dickey plays the titular musician. A likable man with a lot of tragic flaws. Seeing his journey as a character here is really fascinating, and I really grew to care about him. And Dickey is great in the role. Alia Shawkat plays Sybil Rosen, a woman and aspiring actress/writer that Blaze has a committed relationship with. The journey she has here, which really are the ups and downs of being with Blaze, is really interesting, and makes her an interesting and sympathetic character. And Shawkat is really good in the role. We also get supporting work from people like Charlie Sexton, Josh Hamilton, Wyatt Russell, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

As this is a biopic about a musician, it should be expected that one would hear a lot of songs from said artist throughout. You’d be correct in that assumption, you do hear a lot of Foley’s music here… and I love it. Not only because the music is incredibly well written, but also because the way it’s implemented in the storytelling is absolutely wonderful. So yeah, the music here is great.

Based on “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley” (bit of a mouthful) by Sybil Rosen, this movie was written by Ethan Hawke & Sybil Rosen, with Hawke also handling directing. And the craft here is wonderful. It has a warmness to it, and a willingness to just sit down and really get to know these characters, not always feeling the need to get to the next “big event”. Like I said in the story bit, the pacing is deliberately slow, and the direction embraces that and turns it into some truly compelling stuff. And the cinematography by Steve Cosens helps kind of give it all a nostalgic storybook feeling that really adds to the experience.

This movie has been pretty well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 95% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 75/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6,7/10.

“Blaze” is a wonderful movie about a very interesting man. It has a really good plot, good characters, great performances, great music, and great writing/directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *AHEM*. My final score for “Blaze” is a 9,77/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Blaze” is now completed.

That was a nice experience.

Movie Review: Shattered Glass (2003)

Fake news. A topic often brought up in our current environment, especially by a certain cheeto-colored individual. Sometimes what is referred to as “fake news” is just a certain asshole not agreeing with the truth. Other times the call is warranted.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Shattered Glass”.

Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) is a young man who’s made quite a name for himself by writing very successful articles for various magazines, with his main base being the New Republic. But his life will soon get unraveled, when some other journalists start looking into one of Glass’ articles, finding clues to it potentially being fabricated. So now we have our fake news drama. And I was completely riveted by it. The plot here keeps a fairly brisk pace, but never do the degree where it skims over important details, which makes it both a dramatic, in-depth look at this situation and a generally enjoyable watch.

The characters in this are layered, interesting, and fairly realistic. First up we have Hayden Christensen as Stephen Glass, the man at the center of this story. He’s smart, charming, and excellent at bullshitting people in conversation. But when the pressure starts coming down on him, you start seeing the cracks in the glass. And Hayden Christensen is REALLY GOOD in the role. The reason why I emphasized that was because he’s caught so much shit for his acting in the “Star Wars” prequels, that I have to really be clear that he can be a really good actor. Next up we have Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane, one of Glass’ co-workers. He is one of those that kind of partakes in unraveling some of the clashing aspects of Glass’ articles, and he’s just really interesting. And Sarsgaard is great in the role. We also get supporting performances from people like Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria, Rosario Dawson, Cas Anvar, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The score was composed by Mychael Danna, and it was good. I wouldn’t call it that much of a standout, but it worked well enough within the movie, focusing more in smaller piano pieces than anything else, which I think just fits the various scenes well enough.

This movie was written and directed by Billy Ray, and I think he did a great job with it. What I like about his style here is that it often feels less like some small personal drama, as it often feels a bit more like a political thriller in execution. And that helps keep the movie feel a bit more exciting, it adds a bit of tension to it, which is nice as it makes it stand out a bit. But when it needs to slow down and focus more on the character drama, then Billy Ray’s direction delivers beautifully on that too.

This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 91% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 73/100. Roger Ebert gave it 3,5/4 stars. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,2/10.

“Shatterd Glass” is a fascinating and engaging look into a very interesting situation/person. It has a great plot, really good characters, great performances, good music, and great directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Shattered Glass” is a 9,78/10. Which means that it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Shattered Glass”.

Need a movie relevant to today’s society? Here you go.

Movie Review: Fruitvale Station (2013)

I don’t have anything witty to put here. This movie broke me. Ummm… “Black Panther” out this Wednesday (or Friday), I guess.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Fruitvale Station”.

New Year’s Eve 2008. We follow Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) as he goes about his daily business, running into friends, family, and strangers along the way. And really it’s just a sort of look into the life of this young man. And it’s an incredibly interesting and highly affecting story we’re dealing with here. Very early on I found myself sucked into the story, but not because some grandiose event, but rather because of the realistic human drama that this movie portrays. There’s a lot of care given to how this plot is handled. Instead of it feelings like a very typical drama it feels more real, like you’re a fly on the wall in this man’s life. And I found myself truly invested in this plot. It’s engaging, interesting, and at times devastating.

The characters here are all fleshed out, interesting, and fairly realistic. Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, the young man at the center of this story. He is a person who has done some criminal things in his past, but he’s trying to put that stuff behind him. He’s generally a good guy who has taken some bad turns in his life, and he’s overall a very compelling character. And Michael B. Jordan is fantastic in the role. Then we have Melonie Diaz as Sophina, Oscar’s girlfriend. You can tell that she’s a bit annoyed by some of the things from Oscar’s past, but she still loves him and wants what’s best for him. She’s overall an interesting character. And Diaz is great in the role. Then we have Octavia Spencer as Oscar’s mom Wanda. She gets some powerful scenes in this and is pretty serious and worried about her son, but she does love him and she wants him to be a good person. And Spencer is of course fantastic in the role. Then we get to see people like Ahna O’Reilly, Ariana Neal, Trestin George, Kevin Durand, and many more in various supporting roles, all giving really solid performances.

The score for the movie was composed by Ludwig Göransson and I think he did a really good job with it. What’s interesting is that it isn’t very intrusive, staying more in the background almost more as ambient noise rather than a blaring score. But it also doesn’t disappear, as it’s still heard and often helps add some extra emotion to various scenes. There’s also a couple of licensed tracks used throughout and they work pretty well in their scenes.

This movie was written and directed by Ryan Coogler (which is why I alluded to the “Black Panther” release at the start), and he did a really good job with it. Remember the part where I said this felt more like a fly on the wall type of story rather than your typical Hollywood story? Yeah, the directing and camera work kind of adds to that argument. The camera work here is handheld and a little shaky, making it feel a bit like a documentary at times. It also adds a sense of realism to it (hence, fly on the wall) that made me feel even more invested in it all. There’s also a part in the movie where it manages to build a lot of tension in a way that got me even more engaged. No shootout. No car chase. Just pure dramatic tension created by the direction. It’s great.

This movie has been very well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 94% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 85/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,5/10.

“Fruitvale Station” is a stunning portrait of a very important day in this young man’s life. It has a great plot, really good characters, fantastic performances, great music, and great directing. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Fruitvale Station” is a 9,86/10. Which means it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Fruitvale Station” is now completed.

That’s one hell of a directorial debut.

Movie Review: Born to Be Blue (2016)

Jazz. Some like it, some don’t. Me? I like some jazz. so let’s talk about some jazzy stuff.

Disclaimer: I know this thing is based on a true story, but I will not base my review on how perfectly accurate to the real situation it may or may not be, but I will instead judge it as a movie… which it is. Disclaimer over.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Born to Be Blue”.

The story here is about jazz musician Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke) as he has fallen from grace due to his drug addiction. And we follow his journey as he tries to find love, redemption, and maybe one day make a comeback. So now we have our musician story. And while the basic setup shows some familiar ideas, ultimately it has a slightly different vibe than most biopics. Most biopics do everything to make the characters and his/her story seem big and romanticized in some way, but this doesn’t do that. It feels smaller and more personal, flaws of the people intact. It’s kind of refreshing to see a biopic plot that isn’t so hagiographic.

What I like about the characters here is that they feel real. They have flaws and layers to them, making them a bit more interesting. Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker, the troubled musician. He’s a former addict who wants to find love and redemption. He has a lot of determination which is something I respect about him, but they also show that he is far from flawless, making him a bit more believable as a character. And Hawke is fantastic in the role. His performance is less about the big, explosive moments (though he gets one or two in the movie), but more about the subtle nuances in his faical expressions and gestures. Carmen Ejogo plays Jane, an actress that Chet meets and forms a bit of a relationship with. She wants to see Chet do well and get better, but she also wants to do her own things, making her slightly conflicted. And Ejogo is great in the role. Then we have Callum Keith Rennie as Dick, a friend/producer of Chet’s. He wants to see Chet do well, but he can also see that Chet is a troubled man. And he’s decently interesting. And Rennie is really good in the role. Those were the ones worth going more in-depth with, but let it be known that every actor does a good job in this movie.

The score for the movie was composed by David Braid (with some help from Todor Kobakov & Steve London) and I think he did a great job. What we have here is a score that is rooted in jazz (which is fitting since this is about jazz). And I found that the score here often helps to elevate the emotion or overall drama of a scene. So yeah, it’s very well composed and fit the movie perfectly. The few licensed tracks used throughout are also well implemented.

This movie was written and directed by Robert Budreau and I think he did a great job. His directing is pretty chill, complementing the smooth jazz of the movie quite well. And his directing combined with Steve Cosens’ cinematography creates this great mood for the movie that I really liked experiencing. It also looks great, it’s a visually striking movie.

This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 88% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 64/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 6,9/10.

“Born to Be Blue” is a damn good biopic. It has a great plot, really good characters, great performances, fantastic music, and great directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Toots the trumpet*. My final score for “Born to Be Blue” is a 9,83/10. Which means that it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Born to Be Blue” is now completed.

Holy chet, that was good.