Sunday, January 17, 2021

What's Next On My List? Knives Out

This is the 10th year of my blog, and as always, I have at least 40 movie reviews planned, as well as my personal entries and a good chunk of games and TV shows. Some of these are going to be classics that I just took off my bucket list, others are going to be contemporary ones streaming on major services online. So let us just get onto the next item on my list of chores:

Knives Out (2019)

A detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired for an assumed suicide, and slowly he unveils that everyone in the family of the deceased had motive to kill him, and perhaps it is not a suicide at all. 

Before I head into the review, let me just say that Rian Johnson is an exceptional director. I loved his Star Wars movie and I am super excited about all of the projects he will head in the future because I was not disappointed yet. At this point you have heard hours of praise for this movie, and I am sure you have seen it yourself. But I decided to talk about it again because I just want to put out there that there are very few movies that have such a star studded cast and are actually good films. This is part of the very few exceptions. Each actor showed a side of them I had never seen before, and the casting director deserves all the praise, as every character had wonderful chemistry with anyone they shared the screen with. You can tell that they had a well made ready script before they started to get the actors, because what made it a perfect story with a beginning-middle and an end, was that they did not rely on the stars to patch up any plotholes or forgotten stories. At a time when even murder mysteries resort to remakes of classics that we all know the ending of - at least my generations and the ones older than that - it was a breathe of fresh air to have a story that surprised me so much. 

Watch it? If it isn't on one of your watchlists already, then you are a fool. Perfect for next Halloween, as it is a cold, autumn going into winter movie, with a scary old house and a murder mystery on our hands. And Daniel Craig delivers a perfomance I have never seen from him before. Truly marvelous.

Until the next item on my list!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Blogger: What a time to be a Star Wars fan!

This is not going to be a long entry, but one that got me feeling blessed at the end of a horrible year like 2020: and that is because of the expansion of the Star Wars cinematic universe.

This is going to be the 10th year of my blog, and as such, I wanted to talk about my favorite franchise of all time, because May the 4th seems very far away for now - which is when I have my usual yearly review -, and also because Star Wars seems to be the one thing that has been my companion ever since I started writing reviews. One of my very first entries ever on movies, or reviews of any kind, was "Why you should enjoy Star Wars Episode I, II and III in spite of public opinion", and I still proud of that. I love the prequel trilogy, especially because it gave life to so many great projects that helped survive the quarantine. Honestly, the addition of James Luceno's Darth Plagueis book is probably the reason I grew to care for The Phantom Menace, despite its faults. And when it comes to the Clone Wars cartoons, well, try to watch the last 4 episodes of the seventh season and try to tell me that this universe does not have some of the best writers in Hollywood. And I won't even start talking about the Timothy Zahn books because we will be here all day.

For the longest time I did not care for the extended universe, because it all felt like fan-fiction to me. I knew I wanted more, and shows like Clone Wars and Rebels showcased that I was not alone. Having them be part of the canon was their biggest appeal to me. Admittedly not everyone is a fan of how Disney has dealt with buying Lucasarts, but I had faith in them all along, and it paid off. Even with the new trilogy being a big mess (and also making some realize that perhaps the prequel trilogy was not a mess at all), they did not give up and we already have proof of the fact that live-action TV shows can be just as good as the cartoons. 

The Mandalorian was a great example of how - in the hands of good people - every Star Wars fan has something that will get them back into the universe. And speaking of universe, I think we can farely assume that we all had enough of the Skywalkers. I wouldn't mind seeing a young Luke, and quite frankly, if there was a way to give us as much Princess Leia as possible, I would give good money for it (if only Disney+ would come to... you know... the rest of Europe...). But this family, as crucial as they are in the history of the Force, are just one of many. My favorite thing about Episode VIII (which WAS a good movie, you stiff idiot), was the possibility of a whole new galaxy of Force wielders that have nothing to do with those that survived Order 66. I want more of that and maybe next to Grogu we can get there. One thing is certain: it is not just about the Force wielders, and Star Wars: The Bad Batch as well as Rogue Squadron will demonstrate that. And all the other SW projects on the way.

I still remember seeing Episode III in original language with my brother, and the theater was filled with foreigners and at the very end the applauded the movie. It is a custom in the States, but I had not experienced it before and it was cathartic. I love that movie, I really do. I am lucky to be alive now, to have seen the ending of Clone Wars and the beginning of everything new. I will still remain a fan of what is actual canon, slowly expanding to the huge comic universe as well as all those marvelous books, that clearly have a big inspiration on the writers of the new cinematic shows as well as the cartoons.

And I did not even mention the video games! Fallen Order had me crying like a baby, and I sure hope Cal Kestis shows up some more and not just in the games. 

I could go on and on, but I did want to take this minute to address that despire the horrible year that we had, and some hardships to follow in 2021, it is sure a great time to be a Star Wars fan!

_ _ _ _ _

If you'd like to read more from me, here is a list of all my writings concerning Star Wars:

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Now Streaming: WW84

Let us end the year with one of the most anticipated movies of 2020. It is an incredible time to be alive. This movie is not the first to come out streaming because of the virus, but based on the box office just in the past 5 days, I am sure it will not be the last. I am going to get into it, but beware that this review is full of spoilers!

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) comes accross an ancient relic that was left behind by a trickster god. With it, she is able to make one wish, any wish, come true, but there is always a price. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) wishes to use the power of the stone to become the man that he promised his son he will be, but its power might be too strong for anyone to handle, even Diana.

First of all, this was a worthy sequel. I f*cking loved it. I was waiting for the obvious reshoot scenes - could not spot them. I thought the ending might be rushed - like in ALL DC movies - it was not. I cried, I laughed, I was there with Diana. I loved the casting, the music, the story, the villains! OH MY GOD. I just loved the facial expressions on Pedro Pascal's Max, and how, with every single scene Kristen Wiig's Barbara showcased a new side of her newly found personality. I liked that she too took the time to discover her new powers, as she slowly lost her old self. I was scared of the make up, but Cheetah looked badass. I appreciated how Diana always took a defensive approach and only attacked her when she had absolutely no other chance. Even at her last she did not see the enemy in her. Coming back to Max Lord: I loved that we did not get to see the God who made the stone, there was absolutely no need to end it in another fight scene. This villain was just like many others in the sense that they had a troubled childhood, a sad beginning that drove them to madness - as power often does - but he deserved punishment and not death. Wonder Woman is a fair hero, and as the movie highlighted, the truth is all that matters. As a matter of fact, the truth is that we cannot have all we want, because it might lead to chaos. Pascal had a stunning performance, like Barbara, he gradually became someone completely different, who learned in the end that what mattered was what he already had. He was different from most villains and it was a welcome change, honestly. This movie is very different from DC movies too, it had colors for once... and just like the first Wonder Woman movie, there was a beginning, middle and an end. 
And first point, part B: I am very critical when it comes to comic book accuracy, however, that is because the fact that some movies take bits from the comics and do not actually look at how they adapted other things - time, heroes, villains, cities, etc. - it leaves HUGE plotholes. I have never once commented on a different interpretation / adaptation if within the scope of the movie it makes sense. Here, both Max Lord and Barbara Minerva have very different backstories when it comes to the comics, but they made sense here and they were "adapted" to this story. Second, I do not know why someone would not like this movie, but I decided not to watch a single review. You might read this one, which can make it sound like I am a hypocrit, but really, I feel that this movie was set up to fail in many ways. Had it gone to the theaters in May, it would have had a difference reception in my opinion. With each week that it was delayed, the hype for it just grew and grew. I personally decided to sit down and let the story take me with it and it did. I loved every minute of it. Right now, I just cannot start arguments with haters, honestly. When I encounter a good argument I will have a conversation about it, but after the shit that DC has been trying to push down our throats... nobody can convince me that this is not a good movie.
Third, the love. Diana and Steve were always set up to be the perfect couple, who cannot be. I loved that when Steve was shown what the world is like now, it wasn't a quick funny montage, but a slow paced walk, an adventure that they took us, the two of them, a beautiful date, and I too felt that was introduced to the world again. The colors, the music, the atmosphere and everyone who enjoys living in it. However, there is the heartbreak of them not being able to be together, and when Diana renounces her wish, my heart broke into a million pieces. After having lost everything she still believed in the good of people, and she is just the strongest superhero out there. Fourth, the music. I have watched this movie twice now in 72 hours and I got to pay more attention to it, and there were moments when you do not notice how well the music helps you be part of the movie. When Diana gives her final speech, that piano accompanying her made my bones shiver. This original score is definitely going among my favorites. 

So watch it? I might seem completely biased, but if you got this far I can tell you that I was very worried. When I heard that they were doing reshoots and knowing DC movies in general and the horrible decision Warner has been making... I decided to be sceptical. But when I sat down to watch it, any and all of my worries quickly faded and I let the story take me with it. I am so happy this movie exists and I heard that the third has been greenlit with the director Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot returning, and I trust these too. 

Until the next item--- wait. 

This wild and painful year is finally over. I don't want to push some happy positive thought on you, because I do not know what the next year brings. However, I am hopeful, and despite everything, I still believe in the good of people, like Diana did. So do have a happy New Year, and if you find some kindness in your heart, make sure to pass it on! Take care, see you next year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Now Streaming: Happiest Season

I have a segment called "Fresh from the Theatre", but seeing that more and more things are getting released online on streaming services, and I might actually view them at home myself, I will talk about those movies in this new segment "Now Streaming". These will also be listed in a separate group on the "Reviews" page. Just click Ctrl+F and type in the movies you might be looking for, or click through the archive on the right hand side!

_ _ _ 

Well, this year was a shitshow. However, a lot of firsts occured as well, one of them was having the token gay couple finally becoming main characters in Christmas movies instead of having them be in the background to meet quotas as far as casting and screenwriting decisions are concerned. To me, this is the best time to be alive. Thinking of all the movie and TV shows that had protagonists that I looked up to... and to know that my kids will already have stories that show inclusion and tolerance and acceptance makes me very happy. To have this movie this Christmas season is a blessing. So let's just jump into it.

Happiest Season (2020)

Harper (Mackenzie Davis) takes her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) home for the holidays, however, turns out that she has not come out to her parents yet. With her dad, Ted (Victor Garber) running for office, and his wife Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) trying to convey the image of the perfect family, there is a lot on the line for Harper. In the end, Abby needs the help of her best friend John (Daniel Levy) to endure the holiday season.

Before we head into the movie review, let me just say: this movie HAS to exist. It does not matter if it is good or bad, as many people have to see it as possible because we need more. First, there is no perfect movie out there. Second, there is no perfect Christmas movie out there. Three, like how many shitty Christmas movies have you actually seen? Like really... I mean REALLY. You have no excuses here, so even if this isn't perfectly your cup of tea, we all know you want more Kristen Stewart in your life, so come on, give it a go! Fourth, show people that we do want more LGBTQ+ content and that love really is all around us, even in a 2020/pandemic/nightmare/quarantine situation at Christmas time. 

That having been said, I do have to say some small things about the story, that I do have to review as if it was any other movie. I watched this with my sister, and we agreed that the last 20 minutes of the movie made up for the anxiety filled stomachache that we felt through the first and the second act of it. However, important to note, I would not have felt that anxiety had it not been for the wonderful acting on the part of Stewart. Her body language was spot on, and actually, it was spot on for all the actors. I could tell when they were uncomfortable, they were anxious, they were happy, excited, scared... I could go on. But the strength of this movie was not in the actual dialogue but in the body language and that is very hard to convey through camera, and for that reason, hats off to all of the cast and the direction.
At this point I do have to admit that there is a bit of actual criticism that has to be said. I had some issues with the sisters, but I decided to chose between the two biggest issues, and I decided to leave the sisters alone. My criticism would come from how I think people in a family actually act, but I have really great siblings, so it would be quite biased. So let us instead focus on the main characters. The issue stems from Abby and Riley (Aubrey Plaza): they were perfect as far as characters go. Maybe too perfect. And there has to be a contrast, as this is mostly about how Harper came to terms with her sexuality and was able to be honest to herself as well as her family. But instead of it being a character reaching the goal, the same way Abby and Riley did, it ended up in antagonizing her whilst the other two were on a pedestal. I still think it was logical the way she behaved with her parents, because of who they were and the other pedestal on which they put their oldest and middle daughter. But she had friends (as superficial as they might have seen in their hometown), an actually nice ex-boyfriend that seemed understanding and caring; she had and ex-girlfriend that clearly would have reconnected with her, had she apologized; and also a young sister that struggled her whole life to have a relationship with her siblings. Harper had every chance possible to have a confidant and she never took it. She put herself in the difficult position and I know that it is hard to find someone to confide in, but it is even harder when you don't try. The movie started with a series of pictures of the great year that Harper and Abby had, but it forgot to show us any reason why Abby would actually love Harper so much. They just shared with us how off-putting her behavior is and how undeserving she is of Abby. And this is something that I watch out for in any book/movie/TV show: give me reasons to care. When I would rather have the main character hook up with someone else, that is an issue. We watch romantic comedies because we want the main characters to end up together, and here, I would have been fine with a break up as well, and because of that I was not sold on the love part of the movie. I will not blame pre-come out Harper, because we have all been there, and the fear of not being accepted weighs on you heavily. On the bright side, the fact that Abby did not forgive Harper right away, (after being outed by her sister, the worst this possible that could happen to someone, and yet it remained unaddressed), but Harper had to go the extra mile and run after her and convince her made up for a big portion of the issues with Harper's character, and with getting me back to care. 

What worked? John's character was a ten out of ten. First of all, he had the best lines. He was funny, witty, honest, sometimes crushingly honest, and he was the most loyal friend I have ever seen. Despite having moments when he might have seen distant, he always came through, and ended up helping more people in this family than just Abby. I also love that he was a gay men who was best friends with a lesbian: this whole stupid cliché of gays and lesbians not getting along has to stop. They had a wonderful relationship, and I wanted to highlight this because in movies best friends are very much the "support" cast, and they do not really have an arch of their own. The difference comes when the story is about the friendship. This movie was about romance, after all, and family, but there was still place for most characters to grow and John was one of them. I have seen very few stories of this kind. Really, since Abby was perfect in most ways, it was the rest of the cast that had to evolve, and it's hard to keep track of so many characters, but the movie did a great job. 

Watch it? Yes. The reason I could nitpick and criticize small things is because there was good material to work with. If you have read my blog, you know, that I either get super detailed when I want to improve something good, or when I want to take apart something horrible. This is definitely the former, as at the end of the day, I would love to re-watch this movie any Christmas, so that in my book makes for a good movie. Honestly, instead of a light hearted romantic comedy / Christmas movie, I would categorize it with the more serious ones, like Love Actually (2003). And I am putting that out there because if you do want to watch it and you are expecting laugh out loud moments, then know that that is not what the movie was going for. The holidays are a difficult season for a lot of people, and this movie reflects it quite well. 

Until the next item on my list, and until then:

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

My Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

This is a difficult topic, but I decided to talk about music a little bit because it has been a while since I made a list of any kind. I find that a good soundtrack can elevate any movie, but putting this list together was actually quite easy for me: I only listed the soundtracks that I have been listening to ever since I have seen that given movie. I still have many of them on actual CDs (that's right kids, I am old), and sometimes I pop them into my Xbox and listen to them loud enough to make sure that my neighbors know what WE are listening to. 

Before we head into the list, allow me to add a couple of honorable mentions:

  • The Greatest Showman (2017): This has an original score, but it is a musical movie, and not a score or a collection of songs from various artists. And since it is a good musical (read my review here!), I am sure that someone will try and bring it to the big stage, in which case it is no longer a movide soundtrack. Finally, as I do admit that it was a very well made score, I personally only love a couple of the songs. 
  • Mamma Mia (2008) & Here We Go Again (2018): This would be a cheat, as it is not only rewritten for a musical, but they are all ABBA songs. ABBA is outstanding, years later, they built a legacy that will live on for ages past even my time, I am sure. But it is not so much a soundtrack, but a big cover CD with great actors doing them, but cannot be considered original.
  • Across the Universe (2007): This has the same problem, as the one before it, as it is a musical movie, but The Beatles have built a legacy. I would not be surprised if more people got inspired to use their songs to write stories, as they did with Yesterday (2019)
  • Hamlet 2 (2008): One my favorite comedy movies, it has a mix of original songs and various artists as well. I do not listen to every song, but some of them have been on repeat and the original score here is fantastic and funny. Highly recommended to musical lovers!
  • Billy Elliot (2000): Of all the movies I have seen in my time, this one uses the soundtrack better than any to position the viewer in the time period in which the story is set. This is quite a sad movie, and the soundtrack too sometimes takes me with it, so I do not listen to it as much, but I learned about The Clash and T. Rex and for that I am extremely grateful. 
  • Teen Titans GO! To the Movies (2008): I did not include any cartoons on this list, because they are a whole other category. Disney likes to go for a musical interpretation while all the other cartoons and animations like to mimic them. However, there is one movie out there that only has only a couple of songs, but they are just out of this world, and that is Teen Titans GO!. I have had those couple of songs on repeat every since I first heard them. 

I will now dissect that top 10 list into two separate lists, one containing original music score, and the other, the soundtracks with a selection of songs. I had to do this, because I did not really have 10 for each... also, I find that when it comes to the quality of music they complete each other. The collection of songs sometimes is indeed as good as the original score, and the original score makes me want to listen to it the same way I consume pop music. However, to help you reader when you are looking for music to listen to, it was easier to collect them into two groups. So enjoy!

Original Music Score

Music by Tom Howe. I remember waiting for this movie to come out and I was going insane, as they decided not to have in the theaters here in Hungary. So as I was *coughs* looking at pirating websites, I came across the soundtrack, which was also available on Youtube already. I put it in after watching the trailer for the 100th time and I just loved it. It took me on an emotional adventure that I was enjoying very much. When I did see the movie, it felt familiar to me, it felt like a piece of my heart already, because of that beautiful score. (Read my review of the movie here!)

Music by Daft Punk. This is just one of those soundtracks that I like to put on when I am working. It gets my blood going and pumping just at the right speed. It is a shame I did not see this movie on the big screen, but if they ever bring it back, I gonna be among the first to by a ticket because I want to hear it the way it was meant to be heard. 

Hanna (2011)
Original motion picture soundtrack music by The Chemical Brothers. Not a lot of things stayed with me from this movie, but what did was the score that I went and got the minute the movie was over. It is my number one background music when I am reading any academic texts for university. It hits a variety of notes and I think that is why I love it so much. It is one of those that is hard to talk about unless you check it out yourself. (Read my review of the movie here!) 

Music by Hans Zimmer. I do not think I need to introduce this fantastic composer to you. It goes without saying that its hard to choose one original score by Zimmer, but looking at my playlists this is number one. What I love about it is that it has that holiday season undertone that I need when it is Christmas season and I need to work/read and cannot have songs with lyrics. However, it is not just christmassy, actually, I have found myself listening to this at different times during the year too. It is just a delightful soundtrack to any time of the day and it adds a nice strength to anything you are doing, and reminding you of this great movie too.

Chocolat (2000)
Music by Rachel Portman. This is a peculiar little movie, that has a music that enhances its fantastic and magical tale. This is my spring score, I love to clean and be productive around the house while imagining Vianne next to me setting up shop. I even got tracks from this album to my dad, and he is a complete different generation and these soundtracks always bring us together. A lot of times original score goes unnoticed in the background of the movie -- this is also a testament to the fact that they do work perfectly. But in my opinion, the best soundtrack is the type that not only goes noticed but elevates the scene/moment/movie to a whole other level. The original score of Chocolat is a perfect example of how music can make everything better, even sweets!
 

Movie Soundtrack

Sister Act (1992)
Original Music and Adaptations by Marc Shaiman. Of all the movies that I have ever seen, I do believe that this is the one that stuck with me the most. It has original score, pop songs as well as gospel covers. The music is an essential part of the story and as a result it sticks with you. Of all the movie soundtracks I ever wanted to know (pre-youtube era) this was definitely number one. I recommend it highly!

Music by Miles Goodman
. For years, me and my brother, looked for tapes, recordings, the original album of this movie's music because there was one particular song that we just needed to get our hands on. When everyone goes to the dance, Scott goes onto the dancefloor and there was a song playing in the background and he and Boof start dancing too. This, of course, turned out ot be the first track on the album, but it took us years, literally after Youtube came into the picture that we finally found it. It was "Flesh On Fire" by James House, and if there is any song I can think of that defines my childhood (and the 80s) it is definitely this one. Every song, and the original score is a knockout on this one. (Read my review of the movie here!)

Music by Blake NeelyTears For Fears, The Cure, The Smiths, The Psychedelic Furs, Buzzcocks and Echo & The Bunnymen... do I need to say more? This soundtrack is every hipsters wet dream. Not to mention, that if you did not know any of these bands and musicians, you are in for a treat. All my life, aside from the time when I still listened to the radio, my playlist was composed of artists I learned about from movies and TV shows. Of course, these big names needed to introduction to me, but these bands have a LOT of songs, and it is very fun to see which make the cut to be in the movie. Even if you do not watch this movie -- although you should -- the soundtrack should definitely be on your Spotify list. (Read my review of the movie here!)

Music by James Newton Howard. The movie has a beautiful original score too, but as you can see, that is not where I listed this album. The songs are not in the movie, but where either written for it or chosen for it. There are a lot of albums like this, and I remember listening to it for months before the movie finally came out. It perfectly encompassed the sadness and excitement of Catching Fire, and I even reread a couple of chapters in the book while listening to the tracks. Just looking at the list of artists... Coldplay, Of Monsters and Men, Sia, Christina Aguilera, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, The Weeknd... not to mention Ellie Goulding's "Mirror" which is just the most beautiful song I have ever heard on a soundtrack album. This is just a wet dream when it comes to contemporary artists. However, this is not my number one album simply because it evokes very specific feelings in me. The dread, scare and hopelessness of the movie comes with it for me, and although I sometimes do feel that way, it is not one of those albums that I can just pop in whenever. (Read my review of the movie here!)

Music by John Frizzell. A lot of the songs are covers, but it does not matter. The story is about a small band that wants to make it big and they are abused by a larger company and are elevated to fame very quickly and things fall apart once up there. Now, being a small time band, they do have a lot of cover songs, but oh-my-god... they are the best covers. I have mentioned this at the very beginning, when I talked about musical movies, that covers can help you learn about famous bands (because, in a way, a cover is a tribute); but what really makes the movie great is the original songs, and from the point of view of the story, the difference between the two is highlighted perfectly. I loved the covers and discovering the originals too. This album is a number one for me, because I can literally listen to it anytime, anywhere, and whenever. (Read my review of the movie here!)

What are some of your favorite soundtracks? I am always looking to expand my list. Funnily enough I only listen to ones after I have seen the movie, and when it comes to video games, I usually check out the scores even before playing the games. I am a big music lover, so I am always looking for more: if you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments section below!

Until the next item on my list!