TV Review: Maniac (2018- )

Original Run: September 21st, 2018 – current
Created by: Patrick Somerville
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Patrick Somerville, various
Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen
Music by: Dan Romer
Cast: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, Julia Garner, Hank Azaria, Selenis Leyva

Parliament of Owls, Rubicon TV, Anonymous Content, Paramount Television, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 26-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I had no idea what this show was and I hadn’t heard anything about it before it dropped. That being said, I was glad that I went into this blindly. All I knew is that it was sci-fi, had Emma Stone, Jonah Hill and was directed by a guy who did True Detective, a show I still haven’t seen but have heard nothing but great things about.

Also, this is a miniseries. So I’m not sure if it’s a one-off or if it will return for new seasons with a whole new cast similar to Fukunaga’s True Detective or a lot of other recent television shows on various premium and cable networks.

The story is hard to summarize but in a nutshell this is about two people who undergo some controversial and dangerous drug trial. The pills and the almost otherworldly tech sends them into a strong dream state where they play out the lives of other people. The first story seems grounded in reality, even if it’s a bit nuts, and then each tale gets more and more fantastical. Ultimately, it all serves to help cure them of their personal and emotional demons. The two main characters, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, develop a strong connection as they become directly involved in each other’s road to emotional recovery.

The show started out really strong, it lost me a bit going into the second half but then it recovered nicely in the last two episodes where everything came together in a great way.

This was a really cool experiment and this was exceptionally well crafted but I don’t know if it’s something I would want to revisit in a second season. I guess that depends on the cast and what the premise would be.

I loved the hybrid of retro and futuristic styles. In a lot of ways, this resembles an ’80s cinematic representation of the future.

I guess the high point for me was Sally Field. I liked seeing her play two very contrasting roles and she nailed both exceptionally well but at the same time, it’s Sally f’n Field.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other recent Netflix shows: Black MirrorAltered Carbon and The OA.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.

Film Review: Zombieland (2009)

Release Date: September 25th, 2009 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray, Amber Heard

Relativity Media, Pariah, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Are you fucking with me?” – Tallahassee, “Uh, no. You should actually limber up as well. Especially if we’re going down that hill. It is very important.” – Columbus, “I don’t believe in it. You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?” – Tallahassee

I know that a lot of people absolutely love this film. I like it too but I wouldn’t say that I love it. In fact, I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters. I just never really felt like watching it again until now.

To start, the cast is great and I like the chemistry between all of them. But let’s be honest, Woody Harrelson is the scene stealer and the real star of the picture, even though this boasts the talents of three young stars who would all have great careers beyond this movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. But even when the legendary Bill Murray shows up for a cameo, Harrelson steals that scene as well.

But it is the characters that make this movie work so well. They all just gel and you genuinely care about them, even though you just get to scratch the surface with this quartet at only an 88 minute running time.

I guess the only really big negative about this film is the finale. The girls decide to go to an amusement park for fun, albeit when it’s dark out in a world that is plagued by zombies and no security guards. Somehow, the park has power, the girls turn all the lights and rides on and are suddenly shocked when they are immediately overwhelmed by zombies.

Before this idiotic outing, the film spent an hour showing that these girls were smart and cunning con artists. So their complete stupidity to set up the big final battle is just baffling as all hell. And while I can suspend disbelief, I can’t ignore blatant and colossal idiocy.

And how the hell did they control the rides while riding them? Carnival rides aren’t automated, they have operators that hit buttons on a control panel to start and stop the ride. In the real world, one would have to ride while the other one had to hit the buttons on the control panel. I mean, despite the cool fact that we got to see zombie mayhem in a theme park, the set up and reasoning behind the sequence is asinine and ludicrous.

But the movie is supposed to be fun and I get that but I can never accept the rampant stupidity of the characters in the last twenty minutes.

All that being said, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s unique. There are zombies and you have to survive. There really isn’t anything about this movie to make it special and there isn’t an original twist that allows it to be its own thing in a genre that ran its course a long, long time ago. I mean, you could say that comedy is the twist but this is far from being the first zombie comedy.

I guess the only thing that works is that I like the characters and the actors. Well, I’m not a big Eisenberg fan but he was fine in this role, as it’s sort of the type of character I imagine him being. Woody Harrelson is, by far, the real highlight and the Bill Murray cameo is a lot of fun.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Shaun of the DeadCoootiesScouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Release Date: August 31st, 2016 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media, Imposter Pictures, Gilbert Films, Marc Platt Productions, 128 Minutes

lalalandReview:

Everyone and their mom loves this film. Especially their mom. To be blunt, I thought it was shit. Not just shit, actually. I thought it was the sort of self-obsessed showbiz nostalgia masturbatory flick that the industry insiders and all the committees who vote on awards will go nuts for.

But to be honest, I hate musicals. So while I may have some bias there, I really tried to give this a shot. I mean, I’m usually pretty happy with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and I’m not so closed minded that I haven’t discovered musicals that are actually worth a damn.

La La Land is beyond dull. The characters are minimalist caricatures of cookie cutter lovers in a showbiz movie. There isn’t enough meat on the bones to really sink your teeth into. I didn’t care about these characters at all and frankly, they were both kind of self-absorbed and unlikable. Also, half of their problems could have been resolved easily if they owned cell phones. I mean, who the hell communicates or doesn’t communicate like its the 1930s. Actually, they own cell phones but they are just conveniently used to propel their showbiz careers and to not communicate with one another.

Apart from the dullness of the characters, the story is also pretty bland. Showbiz girl likes showbiz guy, careers take off, shit falls apart. But I guess this is all people want from these sorts of movies. But jokes on you, no happy ending! I guess that is what makes La La Land a shocking and surprising risk taking masterpiece within the genre.

The dialogue is also bad. For a good example of how poorly this movie is written, just go to the scene where Ryan Gosling attempts to explain jazz to Emma Stone.

There is some good though. I enjoyed the cinematography, as far as the use of colors and lighting. Some of the musical numbers looked good in a visual sense.

The songs weren’t great or memorable though. Emma Stone has a passable voice but it isn’t anything exceptional. Ryan Gosling is a bit better but he doesn’t get the spotlight in the same way that Stone does.

It is strange to me that this movie is winning all the big awards. But it really shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, critics and Hollywood big wigs love these showbiz pictures. They’re like a two hour advertisement about how cool and great they are. And if you don’t like it or don’t get it, well that’s just because you’re not in the industry.

Therefore, I can only assume that La La Land is going to dominate at the Academy Awards. These awards shows are nothing but bullshit industry politics, a lavish display of self-importance and insider circle jerks. La La Land is the perfect golden goose to circle jerk around.

Film Review: Birdman (2014)

Release Date: August 27th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo
Music by: Antonio Sánchez
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 119 Minutes

birdmanReview:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu seems to be making the sort of films that the big wigs in Hollywood seem to love. Michael Keaton seems to be having a real career resurgence over the last few years. So seeing the two collaborate is really interesting. Throw in an all-star cast on top of Keaton and you might find yourself with something truly special, at least on paper.

Birdman is a fairly refreshing film. It has some very unique elements to it but it doesn’t necessarily tread new or daring territory. It is a movie that I’m on the fence with.

Let me talk about the positives, many of which should be quite obvious, even without seeing the film.

To start, the acting is incredible. This is one of the best performances of Michael Keaton’s career. He truly shines and really lets loose. He also looks like he is intimately enjoying his craft.

Zach Galifianakis is a guy I’ve never been a fan of. However, he shows that he has what it takes to reach the next level and I enjoyed him in Birdman. Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of his career. Granted, he is always great in just about every role but this is up there with his part in Fight Club for me. Emma Stone, as good as she is, has never been better. Naomi Watts was also solid but didn’t have a lot of screen time, which is also how it went for Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. These three women were stellar but needed more time to shine. Riseborough especially won me over.

The direction was very good and Iñárritu got the most out of his cast. The cinematography was phenomenal; the color palate and the lighting were stunning. The score to the film was perfect, as the jazz drummer flawlessly built up the right kind of tension and mood from scene-to-scene.

Now as far as the plot goes, there wasn’t much there to captivate me. Sure, Keaton’s Riggan is a good character with a lot of complexity but I’ve seen this story before. It is about an old actor, past the prime of his career, trying to hold on to his fame and asking himself, constantly, what the meaning of everything is. It is a midlife crisis playing out on film from a self-absorbed, sometimes douchebaggy man, that seems more like a spoiled child that can’t handle it when reality starts to set in. Therefore, he creates a fantasy world in his head, which sometimes teases that it might be real but never is. In fact, the teases get kind of annoying, as the overall story is more interesting than these little psychotic flourishes throughout the picture.

People often times question the film’s ending, asking if he actually did have these special powers or if there was some hidden meaning. The final scene sees his daughter look to the sky and smile, supposedly confirming that her father can fly like Birdman, the famous superhero he played twenty years prior. Throughout the film, you see people react to Riggan’s use of his powers in his fantasies. Why would the ending be any different? I think it is to signify that Riggan is still slightly mad, as opposed to it proving that he isn’t actually crazy and that he truly has superpowers. In fact, I feel like that was absolutely obvious but people want to read too much into things and have debates for the sake of debating. I don’t see it as an ambiguous ending at all. But it’s good for the filmmakers, as people will discuss it for years to come.

I did enjoy the film, despite the things that just didn’t grab me. It is certainly a showcase of great acting, directing, the use of music in film and cinematography. It is the type of film that a film lover loves. However, from a writer’s standpoint, it just feels very thin and not as unique as it tries to be. So many other films have walked the line between the real and surreal and done it much more effectively. Look at Terry Gilliam’s work for example.

It is also hard to not see the similarity between Birdman, the fantasy character, and the bird wings sprouting from the back of Jonathan Pryce’s character, in the midst of his fantasies in Gilliam’s Brazil.

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Release Date: March 31st, 2014 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkler, James Vanderbilt
Based on: The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Hans Zimmer, The Magnificent Six
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Felicity Jones, B.J. Novak, Denis Leary, Chris Cooper

Marvel Entertainment, Arad Productions, Inc., Matt Tolmach Productions, Columbia Pictures, 142 Minutes

the_amazing_spiderman_2Review:

Man, where do I begin with this film? To start, it was pretty awful overall. Granted, I wasn’t a fan of the first one and I didn’t expect much from this outing but despite a few things I liked, the vast majority of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was complete shit.

Every male actor in this film was horrible. Andrew Garfield is not all that likeable and I can’t relate to him like I did to the previous Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire. Garfield just can’t sell the “nerdy photographer” shtick all that well and most of the time he is borderline emo (I am ignoring Maguire’s fall into emo madness in Spider-Man 3 because I pretend that that film doesn’t exist).

Speaking of emo, Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn was atrocious. He was an emo girl’s wet dream, whining and crawling on the ground and whining some more with his burnout lizard-looking face and Dashboard Confessional haircut. I never felt threatened by this dime store wuss and his attempts at being bad ass were laughable when they weren’t just irritating. His look as Green Goblin was just goofy and ridiculous. I felt like I was watching some waify angsty morally conflicted rich kid at Comic-Con trying to dress up as Sting in Dune but doing a bad job at it.

Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon a.k.a. Electro was probably the worst performance of his illustrious career since Booty Call. The character was also unlikable and so one-dimensional that almost every piece of dialogue that was written for him was completely predictable. He may have been the stupidest smart person in the history of cinema.

Then there was Paul Giamatti as the dude who becomes Rhino, talking in the worst Russian accent I have ever heard while just being completely idiotic. I typically love Giamatti, but in this film, I felt embarrassed for him.

Weirdly, all the females in the movie were pretty good. Emma Stone was great, adorable and mesmerizing, as always, Sally Field was fantastic and Felicity Jones was good with the limited role she had. But even the strong female presences couldn’t save this pile of insipid juvenile crap.

As far as the plot goes, there was so much nonsensical bullshit that it became a complete clusterfuck and the plot was just secondary and didn’t matter all that much. The whole film was a cookie cutter superhero love story with a predictable outcome mixed in with over-the-top CGI orgasmfests that offered nothing new or captivating.

And why was it so friggin’ long?

On a positive note, it wasn’t as dull and boring as the first film in the series.